Wasn’t I Supposed to Glow?
We all hear about how pregnant mothers emit a special glow – They have perfect skin, are always calm, and spend their pregnancy smiling and relishing in the experience of growing a baby. Reality? For most of us at least – far from it!
Don’t get me wrong pregnancy is a fantastic stage in a woman’s life, full of new experiences and the opportunity to understand ourselves a little better. However, with the combination of hormonal changes and massive life changes, it can also be a really difficult time.
During the first trimester as our pregnancy hormones increase, we can experience changes in mood, concentration, as well as our general feeling of wellbeing. Some women describe it as feeling as though an alien has taken over their bodies – they no longer feel in control, feel scared, and feel overwhelmed by morning sickness and the impact this is having on their ability to function.
Within just a few days of conception our hormones start to change. In fact, some of my patients who are particularly sensitive to hormonal changes, can tell me they are pregnant before tests can even give a positive confirmation.
While these hormonal changes are essential for your baby, they are not always enjoyable for mum (or dad).
Contrary to what the name suggests, morning sickness can occur anytime. It is caused by:
- Rising levels of Oestrogen and Progesterone, which cause the stomach to empty more slowly.
- Our heightened sense of smell, which can cause nausea in response to particular perfumes, cigarette smoke or various foods.
- Later in pregnancy, many women experience nausea and vomiting again. As your uterus grows it causes pressure on your stomach, pushing it up against your diaphragm so it can’t hold as much food.
To relieve nausea
- Eat small frequent meals in the day.
- Have easily digestible low fat food.
- Avoid foods and smells that aggravate the nausea.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Sip ginger tea or ginger ale, which can have a calming effect on your stomache.
- Motion sickness bands or acupuncture and hypnosis can help but first always check with your GP first.
- If the nausea/vomiting is severe or non responsive then you must see your GP as it may have some other cause, or need more specific treatment.
Tender Swollen Breasts:
Your breasts may become tender, sensitive and heavier during the first few weeks of pregnancy due to the increase in oestrogen. As pregnancy progresses heavy breasts can cause neck and shoulder discomfort, so buying a good supportive pregnancy bra is important. It is also important to wear a good supportive bra when breastfeeding, and easier to wear one that is specially designed for breastfeeding. Prolactin (another hormone) also increases during pregnancy to prepare your breast tissue for lactation and the release of milk.
Passing Urine More Frequently
Initially this again the result of increased hormone levels. However as your baby grows and your uterus enlarges it presses down on your bladder. Eventually this can cause a loss of control especially when sneezing, coughing and lifting. It is wise to empty your bladder as frequently as you need to, which will help prevent urine infections and incontinence.
If you find you are getting up frequently during the night to go to the toilet, try to consume most of your fluids earlier in the day, and restrict fluid intake in the evening – especially tea and coffee.
Tiredness is very common during the first and last 3 months. Mothers often blame anaemia for this and start taking iron tablets. However, it is usually due to the increasing progesterone level, or during later pregnancy, the extra weight you are carrying with your baby.
Progesterone has to increase during pregnancy – and it can make you tired. However, once the hormone levels settle, the tiredness also tends to diminish – especially during the mid trimester. As you near delivery however, many women find that the tiredness returns in response to your growing baby, increased pressure on your bladder, stomach and bowel and back-ache.
To combat the tiredness – if possible, take it easy. Reduce your expectations in terms of what you want to accomplish each day and accept that growing a baby takes lots of energy…
Ensure you eat a balanced diet with enough iron and protein, as well as plenty of fruit and vegetables. Also try and keep up your exercise – ideally walking. Exercise promotes the production of ‘feel good hormones’, increases the oxygen in your brain, and triggers the release of thyroxine, which boosts your energy levels.
Food Aversions and Cravings
Food aversions and strange cravings are common during pregnancy, and we believe that it is the increasing hormone levels and changes in our sense of smell, which cause them. Generally, they are strongest during the first and third trimesters. Sometimes, some women even have the desire to eat “non food’ material – a condition called Pica.
As hormone levels rise during the first trimester, they cause the walls of the blood vessels to relax, which means that your blood pressure drops causing dizziness.
To avoid dizziness caused by this drop in blood pressure:
- Avoid prolonged standing is possible. If you are standing and start to feel dizzy, sit down to avoid the possibility of fainting.
- Get out of bed or a chair slowly
- If you are feeling dizzy whilst driving, pull over to the side of the road and take a break.
If your dizziness/ faintness is severe, especially if accompanied by abdominal pain or vaginal bleeding, then see a doctor urgently – you may have an ectopic pregnancy.
An ectopic pregnancy is one where the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. This means that it can only reach a certain size before causing pain and possible rupture of the tube. Symptoms from an ectopic pregnancy usually occur in the first trimester, commonly around 9-10 weeks of pregnancy.
Heartburn and Constipation
Pregnancy hormones slow the movement of food through the digestive system to ensure more time for nutrients to be absorbed into the blood stream and supplied to your baby. This slowing of passage through the intestines can result in constipation. Include lots of fibre and lots of fluid in your diet, and keep up with your walking or other physical activities to helps.
These hormones, which cause muscles to relax also affect the muscle at the entrance to your stomach. This results in highly acidic stomach contents leaking back into the oesophagus (the tube passing through your chest connecting the mouth and stomach), resulting in burning and pain (indigestion). Where possible, eat small meals and don’t eat a meal within 1-2 hours before going to bed.
Later in your pregnancy the enlarged uterus exerts pressure on your stomach, bladder, and bowels, aggravating incontinence, constipation and heartburn.
Mood swings are really common during pregnancy and so entirely normal. However, there is a difference between feeling emotional, little low, or a little more anxious than normal, and depression or anxiety. If you have suffered from anxiety or depression pre-pregnancy there is more of a risk that you will experience it during pregnancy or in the post delivery stage. It is really important that you discuss this openly with your GP so that they can look out for you and help you quickly if your symptoms re-emerge.
Mood swings do not always progress on to significant pregnancy depression or anxiety, but they can still have a significant effect. Constipation, heartburn, nausea, strange cravings, dizziness, needing to go to the toilet more often, sore breasts, and tiredness are more than enough to impact your mood. However, there are also changes in metabolism and hormones, especially the oestrogen and progesterone, which can affect your mood. Some women are much more sensitive to hormonal change than others and will often have experienced significant premenstrual symptoms such as tender breasts, fluid retention and mood changes (even depression) at period times. This means that they are more likely to experience more pronounced mood changes in early pregnancy (and possibly at menopause). Dr’s suspect that it is caused by the way Oestrogen ‘talks’ to the parts of our brain that are involved with mood regulation. Mood swings often leave us feeling anxious and depressed and this can affect our relationships, so make sure you talk to your partner so that they know what to expect and can give you the support you need.
- Accept. Mood swings are normal. Your body is undergoing massive changes and it makes sense that it will impact how you feel.
- Rest. Take 20-30 minute breaks during the day as you can (and need to). This is particularly important after delivery if you are missing sleep because of night feeds or your new baby just hasn’t got the hang of ‘day and night’ sleeping times yet.
- Exercise. Any exercise will do, but exercise that results in some sun exposure such as walking outside, increases the concentration of ‘feel good’ hormones in your body. This is important during pregnancy and also after delivery.
- Eat well. Eating a healthy diet with plenty of protein, fibre, fruit and vegetables, and drink plenty of water. This will help stablise your energy levels and reduce the intensity of your mood swings.
Understanding the changes in your body’s hormones and the impact of these means you are prepared and can cope more easily if you are finding your pregnancy challenging. Remember – The ‘Every Woman Glows During Pregnancy’ is simply a myth!
Also remember that most of your symptoms should settle by the end of the first trimester. If they don’t settle, or if you are feeling overwhelmed, it is imperative that you speak to your GP or Obstetrician – they will be able to help.