Pregnancy and baby

Common health problems in pregnancy

Can I take common medicines during pregnancy?

Media last reviewed: 12/04/2012

Next review due: 12/04/2014

Your body has a great deal to do during pregnancy. Sometimes the changes taking place will cause irritation or discomfort, and on occasions they may seem quite alarming. There is rarely any need for alarm but you should mention anything that is worrying you to your maternity team.

This page offers information on some of the more common problems – click on the links below.  

Constipation in pregnancy

You may become constipated very early in pregnancy because of the hormonal changes in your body.

Avoiding constipation

There are a few things you can do to help prevent constipation. These include:

  • eat foods that are high in fibre, such as wholemeal breads, wholegrain cereals, fruit and vegetables, and pulses such as beans and lentils (find out more about healthy eating in pregnancy
  • exercise regularly to keep your muscles toned (find out more about exercise in pregnancy)  
  • drink plenty of water
  • avoid iron supplements as they can make you constipated – ask your doctor if you can manage without them or change to a different type

You can find out more about the symptoms of constipation and treatment of constipation, including the safe use of laxatives during pregnancy.  

Cramp in pregnancy

Cramp is a sudden, sharp pain, usually in your calf muscles or feet. It is most common at night. Nobody really knows what causes it, but there are some ideas about causes of cramp and why it can happen in pregnancy.

Avoiding cramp

Regular, gentle exercise in pregnancy, particularly ankle and leg movements, will improve your circulation and may help to prevent cramp occurring. Try these foot exercises:

  • bend and stretch your foot vigorously up and down 30 times
  • rotate your foot eight times one way and eight times the other way
  • repeat with the other foot

How to ease cramp

It usually helps if you pull your toes hard up towards your ankle or rub the muscle hard. You can find out more about treatment of cramp, but remember always to consult your midwife, GP or pharmacist before taking painkillers in pregnancy. See Can I take paracetamol when I'm pregnant? 

Feeling faint in pregnancy

Pregnant women often feel faint. This is because of the hormonal changes occurring in your body. Fainting happens if your brain is not getting enough blood and therefore not enough oxygen.

You are most likely to feel faint if you stand too quickly from a chair or out of a bath, but it can also happen when you are lying on your back. You can find out more about causes of fainting.

Avoiding feeling faint

Here are some tips to help you cope:

  • try to get up slowly after sitting or lying down
  • if you feel faint when standing still, find a seat quickly and the faintness should pass – if it doesn’t, lie down on your side
  • if you feel faint while lying on your back, turn on your side

It’s better not to lie flat on your back in later pregnancy or during labour. Find out more about the symptoms that might mean you're going to faint, such as a sudden, clammy sweat, ringing in your ears and fast, deep breathing. You can also find out about treating faintness, including what to do to help someone who is about to faint.

Feeling hot in pregnancy

During pregnancy you’re likely to feel warmer than normal. This is due to hormonal changes and an increase in blood supply to the skin. You’re also likely to sweat more. It helps if you:

  • wear loose clothing made of natural fibres, as these are more absorbent and breathe more than synthetic fibres
  • keep your room cool – you could use an electric fan to cool it down
  • wash frequently to help you feel fresh

Incontinence in pregnancy

Incontinence is a common problem both during and after pregnancy. Sometimes pregnant women are unable to prevent a sudden spurt of urine or a small leak when they cough, laugh or sneeze, or when they move suddenly, or just get up from a sitting position. This may be temporary, because the pelvic floor muscles (the muscles around the bladder) relax slightly to prepare for the baby's delivery. You can find out more about the causes of incontinence and preventing incontinence. You can help to prevent incontinence by doing pelvic floor exercises.

When to get help

In many cases incontinence is curable. If you have got a problem, talk to your midwife, doctor or health visitor. You could also call the confidential Bladder and Bowel Foundation helpline on 0845 345 0165, Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 1pm. The Bladder and Bowel Foundation provides a factsheet on how to do pelvic floor exercises (PDF, 663kb)

Urinating a lot in pregnancy

Needing to urinate (pass water, or pee) often may start in early pregnancy. Sometimes it continues throughout pregnancy. In later pregnancy it is the result of the baby’s head pressing on your bladder.

How to reduce the need to pass urine

If you find that you need to get up in the night to pass urine, try cutting out drinks in the late evening. But make sure you drink plenty of non-alcoholic, caffeine-free drinks during the day. Later in pregnancy, some women find it helps to rock backwards and forwards while they are on the toilet. This lessens the pressure of the womb on the bladder so that you can empty it properly. 

When to get help

If you have any pain while passing water or you pass any blood in your urine, you may have a urine infection, which will need treatment. Drink plenty of water to dilute your urine and reduce pain. You should contact your GP within 24 hours of first noticing these symptoms. You can find out more about:

Don't take any medicines without asking your midwife, doctor or pharmacist whether they are safe in pregnancy.

Skin and hair changes in pregnancy

Hormonal changes taking place in pregnancy will make your nipples and the area around them go darker. Your skin colour may also darken a little, either in patches or all over.

Birthmarksmoles and freckles may also darken. Some women develop a dark line down the middle of their stomach. These changes will gradually fade after the baby is born, although your nipples may remain a little darker.

If you sunbathe while you are pregnant, you may find you burn more easily. Protect your skin with a high-factor sunscreen and don’t stay in the sun for a long time. Find out more about keeping skin safe in the sun.

Hair growth can also increase in pregnancy, and your hair may be greasier. After the baby is born, it may seem as if you are losing a lot of hair but you are simply losing the extra hair.

Varicose veins in pregnancy

Varicose veins are veins that have become swollen. The veins in the legs are most commonly affected. You can also get varicose veins in the vulva (vaginal opening). They usually get better after the birth.

If you have varicose veins you should:

  • try to avoid standing for long periods of time
  • try not to sit with your legs crossed
  • try not to put on too much weight as this increases the pressure
  • sit with your legs up as often as you can, to ease the discomfort
  • try support tights, which may also help to support your leg muscles – you can buy them at most pharmacies
  • try sleeping with your legs higher than the rest of your body – use pillows under your ankles or put books under the foot of your bed
  • do foot exercises and other antenatal exercises, such as walking and swimming, which will all help your circulation

Try these foot exercises:

  • bend and stretch your foot up and down 30 times
  • rotate your foot eight times one way and eight times the other
  • repeat with the other foot

Find out more about preventing varicose veins.

 

Page last reviewed: 26/02/2013

Next review due: 26/02/2015

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