How to cope with pregnancy symptoms, including excess gas, hemorrhoids, acne, and more.
By Lisa Fields
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
Pregnancy changes your life -- and your body.
You knew that your belly would expand, you'd feel more tired than usual, and you might throw up a few times as your pregnancy developed. But you may not have expected some of the other physical changes.
"So many things happen to a woman's body when she becomes pregnant, and most are shocking: hair growth on your belly, belching and constipation, increased vaginal discharge , and hemorrhoids, to name a few," says ob-gyn Michele M. Hakakha, MD, author of Expecting 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy.
"These aren't things that a woman usually talks about, so it's no wonder that there's a bit of embarrassment," she says."I always joke that half my day revolves around answering questions that begin with: 'This is a really weird one,' or 'This is really embarrassing, but I need to ask.'"
Don't be shy! Your ob-gyn needs to know what's going on with you to make sure your pregnancy is on track.
"The majority of the time, it's normal signs of pregnancy," says Kim Hoover, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "Reassurance is important -- letting women know that their gas, bloating, incontinence, stretch marks, and belching are normal."
Here are seven embarrassing -- yet completely normal -- symptoms that many pregnant women experience, plus what you can do to minimize them.
1. Excess Gas
Virtually every pregnant woman gets gassy. That's because pregnancy brings a hormonal surge that can slow down your gastrointestinal tract.
You might not be able to keep it to yourself, because you don't have the same control over your muscles during pregnancy.
When you're not pregnant, "most of the time you know it's coming and can keep it at bay until the coast is clear," says Michelle Smith, author of Taboo Secrets of Pregnancy: A Guide to Life with a Belly. But when you're pregnant, she says, "You'll think: 'Oh my gosh, did I really just fart in front of my in-laws? How can I show my face again?'"
Though you can't erase the problem, you can reduce your tendency toward gassiness with exercise and changes to your diet.
"Exercise helps increase the motility of the GI tract, allowing food to move through faster," Hakakha says. "The less time it has to sit around and ferment, the less gas is produced. Some foods are more likely to produce gas, so the best bet is to avoid them completely: carbonated drinks, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and dried fruit."
Dairy products can also cause GI distress during pregnancy, leading to flatulence . "Many women start drinking milk every day during pregnancy and think it's good for them, but they can't tolerate milk as an adult," says Sonja Kinney, MD, associate professor in the ob-gyn department at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Medicine.
If you're lactose-intolerant, you could try lactose-free milk or other calcium-rich foods.
You may have heard stories about pregnant women sneezing and accidentally emptying their bladders while standing among friends or co-workers. Most pregnant women who experience stress incontinence -- involuntarily leaking urine because of a jarring cough, sneeze, or laugh -- only lose a few drops, but it can still feel embarrassing.
Many doctors recommend that women wear panty liners to catch leaks during the last few months of pregnancy, when stress incontinence is more likely. Regular trips to the bathroom can also help.
3. Facial Hair
During pregnancy, hormones are responsible for hair growing in unwanted places.
"Most pregnant women are ecstatic to learn that they'll soon be sporting a beautiful mane of hair," Hakakha says. "But when we start talking about the breasts, abdomen, and face, the excitement soon turns to horror."
Waxing or tweezing are the safest methods for hair removal during pregnancy.
"Any time it's a cosmetic outpatient procedure, not medically indicated, most dermatologists and plastic surgeons will push it off until after pregnancy," Hoover says. "During pregnancy, laser treatments on the face can affect skin pigment, and it may cause scarring."
Some women develop a stronger sense of smell during pregnancy. Many develop an aversion to strong food odors, such as poultry or seafood. A smaller percentage of women begin picking up on their own scent, which can be embarrassing.
"Sometimes you can smell yourself vaginally, especially toward the end of pregnancy," Hoover says. "It could be because you have more mucus then. Some people get worried about the odor and bring wet wipes wherever they go, but no one else can tell, because your scent hasn't gotten stronger; your sense of smell has improved."
Tell your doctor about any new, noticeable vaginal odors to rule out a yeast infection, which can be safely treated with antifungals during pregnancy.
Ask any new mom about hemorrhoids, and she'll probably have an uncomfortable story to share, if she chooses to tell you about it.
"Hemorrhoids are a sure bet when a woman becomes pregnant," Hakakha says. "They often occur with constipation and the straining that ensues in an attempt to have a bowel movement. And we all know that constipation is one of the most common complaints in pregnancy."
Reduce your risk of developing hemorrhoids by avoiding constipation. Stay well-hydrated, eat more fiber, and use over-the-counter stool softeners.
"Consult your doctor about supplementary fiber, as well," Smith says. "Hold your nose and stifle your gag as you force it down."
If hemorrhoids develop, witch hazel pads and anti-inflammatory creams can help, and they're safe during pregnancy, Hakakha says.
Pimples and unsightly outbreaks are common, especially during the first trimester, because of the additional hormones coursing through your system. Certain acne medications, such as Retin-A, are off-limits during pregnancy, but other treatments are allowed.
"Most acne washes are safe, since the product does not sit on your skin for long periods of time, but ask your doctor before using any acne product," Hakakha says. "Use topical acne medication sparingly, only on affected areas. Products containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and azelaic acid are safe to use in small amounts."
7. Intimacy Issues
Weight gain and other physical changes can make you feel unattractive around your partner. Don't let that lead to communication and intimacy problems.
"Some people get embarrassed about being physically intimate," Kinney says. "The discharge will change, there's a potential for vulvar swelling. They feel very uncomfortable and don't feel they look attractive."
If you're having trouble broaching this topic with your partner, consider inviting them to an ob-gyn visit, particularly if you've discussed your intimacy issues with your doctor at a previous appointment.
"Having a provider say that these are all normal things can help," Kinney says.
Quick GuideEarly Signs & Symptoms of Pregnancy
Michele M. Hakakha, MD, ob-gyn in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif.; author, Expecting 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy.
Kim Hoover, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.
Michelle Smith, author, Taboo Secrets of Pregnancy: A Guide to Life with a Belly.
Sonja Kinney, MD, associate professor, department of obstetrics and gynecology, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Medicine; medical director, Olson Center for Women's Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Reviewed on February 28, 2012
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