OMG! Is this NORMAL?! What you didn't expect when you're expecting

A confused pregnant woman

Yay – you’re pregnant! You’ve read up on the pregnancy books so you know what to expect, right? Morning sickness, bigger boobs, an expanding belly – tick, tick, tick. And of course you’ll be “glowing”. Then there are the things that no one ever told you about …

Here are 10 things you might NOT have expected in pregnancy:

1. Brain fog – AKA ‘baby brain’, ‘pregmentia’

Many women notice they become more forgetful and have a reduced concentration span during pregnancy. But is “baby brain” a real thing?

A study at Deakin University found that mild changes in memory and cognitive function can occur in pregnancy, but probably not enough to be obvious to anyone but you.

Treatment: this will eventually resolve over time – but you might want to be more careful about where you leave your keys, and write important stuff down.

2. Sleep problems – regular waking, insomnia and vivid dreams**

Sorry ladies – this doesn’t just happen AFTER the baby arrives!

Hormonal changes, regular toilet trips and pregnancy aches and pains can wake you more often during pregnancy or make it hard to sleep. When you wake from REM sleep you are also more likely to remember your dreams.

Treatment: relaxation techniques, regular exercise in pregnancy and advice on sleep positions can help you to sleep better.

3. Increased hair growth

During pregnancy there is a reduction in normal hair loss, an increased growth of hair follicles and faster hair growth from hormonal changes.

Treatment: you don’t have to do anything. But after you have your baby you may experience an increased rate of hair loss for a few months in compensation – which is again normal.

4. Blocked nose and nose bleeds

This can affect up to 65% of pregnant women. Pregnancy hormones make your nasal membranes produce more mucous so you become more congested.

Treatment: you can’t use many common nasal sprays in pregnancy, but saline sprays or a humidifier in your room at night can help. Also try to avoid smoke, pollens and other irritants.

5. Increased vaginal discharge

It’s not just your nose that makes more discharge. Many women notice a regular milky white or creamy discharge down below too – and again those pesky hormones are to blame.

Treatment: you don’t usually need to do anything. Please DON’T use douches or treat yourself for an infection. See your GP, Obstetrician or Midwife if you are concerned, or if your discharge is coloured or smelly.

6. Varicose veins... down there

OK, so you may have expected varicose veins, but perhaps not in the vulval region. A combination of pregnancy hormones, increased blood flow to the genitals and the pressure of the growing uterus on your pelvic veins can all contribute to this problem. It can make your vulva look bruised, swollen and feel tender and throbby.

Treatment: try to avoid standing still for long periods, rest lying down when you can, and definitely avoid constipation. Support garments for the groin can also help.

7. Itchy skin and rashes

Mild itching is common in pregnancy as the skin stretches and your body tends to be a little warmer during pregnancy which can make you itch. However, there are other possible causes for itching.

PUPPPs (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy) appear as a pimple-like rash around your stomach in late pregnancy, and can spread to the breasts and top of the thighs. And boy is it itchy!

Obstetric cholestasis – a liver condition which can occur in pregnancy – can cause itching on the hands and feet, which is worse at night. There is usually no rash. This condition needs immediate medical attention.

Treatment: always get checked by your doctor, as a rash or itching can be from other causes, and cholestasis can be dangerous for you and your baby. For PUPPPs and usual itching, a soothing moisturiser like vitamin E, sorbolene, or aloe vera can help. Try to keep cooler too. This will resolve soon after you have your baby.

8. Bigger feet

Swelling from extra fluid in the body, increased weight load on the feet, and the effect of the hormone relaxin on foot ligaments can all combine to flatten the foot arches which elongates the feet. They might then stay that way for good.

Treatment: comfortable well supporting shoes, in a bigger size if required, are essential. Support socks and elevation of the feet can help with swelling.

9. Bladder issues

You may or may not expect to be going to the toilet ALL THE TIME in pregnancy thanks to hormone changes which cause an increased urine production. But what about those embarrassing leaks when you sneeze or cough? Surely that only happens AFTER the baby is born?

Actually as many as 80% of women can get urinary leakage during pregnancy. Your growing bub can put a lot of pressure on your pelvic floor muscles, and hormonal changes can make those muscles a bit more stretchy and weaker than usual. This can make it harder to “hold on” and cause you to leak.

Treatment: pelvic floor exercises are recommended for all pregnant women, and if you’re leaking, it is best to see a Women’s Health Physio to make sure you are doing them right. Also avoid constipation, drink a good amount of fluid and practise good bladder habits.

10. Constipation and haemorrhoids

If you were paying attention above, you will have noted you should avoid constipation. Yet constipation can be really common in pregnancy. Increases in progesterone slows bowel activity. Some pregnancy vitamins can also make your motions firmer, and a decrease in general activity levels also doesn’t help. The combination of straining with your bowels and increased pressure on the dilated pelvic vessels from your growing baby can then cause haemorrhoids – painful little swollen lumps around your perineum and anus.

Treatment: prevent constipation by increasing fibre and fluids, do more regular exercise and speak with your doctor about stool softeners that are safe to use in pregnancy. Learning good toilet tactics for your bowels can also help. If you have haemorrhoids, manage constipation as above, plus apply ice packs and elevate the area when possible.

In conclusion

As you can see, pregnancy can bring many unexpected, and some not so welcome, changes. However, the good news is you can do things to help in most cases.

To get some help with your pregnancy problems, contact us at Life Cycle Physiotherapy.

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