An OB Shares the Secrets of Pregnancy

by Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway

woman looking at pregnant bellyHave you ever wondered what was really going on in there? Well you are in luck because today I will tell you all about it!

Over the next nine months, your body changes can leave you baffled. Should you call a doctor? What's normal? Below is a roadmap to ten common possible pregnancy side effects my patients bring up and the best responses to them:

1. Vaginal Spotting
Some women don’t know exactly when they became pregnant because they had "two periods" in one month. While any vaginal bleeding during pregnancy warrants a doctor's visit, the cause is usually the result of the fertilized egg settling into the uterus.

If you have a positive pregnancy test and complain of bleeding (heavier than what you have in the beginning or end of your period), your doctor should order an ultrasound test -- which uses sound waves to allow the doctor to see the fetus -- to make certain it is in your uterus and not your fallopian tubes (the tubes through which a mother's egg travels to reach her uterus).

If you're pregnant and the bleeding or spotting is accompanied by abdominal pain or cramping, see your doctor -- it could be a symptom of an underlying problem.

2. Dull Abdominal Pain
As your baby grows, uterine and abdominal muscles and ligaments stretch, particularly around the 20th week. The ligaments help the uterus attach to the wall within your pelvis. The sensation may feel like a stretching rubber band, causing a dull pain (called round ligament pain) that starts in the center of your lower abdomen and moves toward your hips.

This occurs more often in first pregnancies and you can treat it by placing a heating pad, set on low, on your stomach. The warmth helps relax the muscles and dulls the pain. The discomfort usually disappears as the baby grows and the ligaments get used to stretching. Speaking of stretching, the third trimester usually brings on another side effect of pregnancy -- stretch marks.

3. Teeth Problems
Toothaches and swollen, bleeding gums commonly develop when you're expectant. Here's why: Your baby requires a lot of calcium for his or her developing bones, and whatever calcium you get from food or drinks goes to baby first, leaving you short. (You may need to take calcium supplements.) See you dentist for cleaning and regular care.

4. Skin Discolorations
Not everyone gets that expectant-mother's glow. In fact, up to 70% of women develop darkened skin. Called chloasma or "mask of pregnancy," the facial stains are usually due to genes or hormonal changes.

Sunscreen and limiting your sun exposure may prevent the discoloration. Your skin probably will clear after delivery, but if it doesn’t, see a dermatologist. Also, don’t use skin lighteners or vitamin A while you’re pregnant: Vitamin A has the potential for causing birth defects and skin lighteners may contain bleach.

You also may develop a dark line down the middle of your abdomen (called the linea nigra) and your nipples may darken. Both stem from increased estrogen and melatonin hormones. The areas usually lighten after the delivery, but sometimes they never disappear completely.

5. Thicker (Then Thinning) Hair
One happy side effect is a lustrous mane. Alas, it's short-lived...and misleading. Your hair isn't actually growing more -- you're just shedding less.

During pregnancy, your hair's "growing stage" increases, meaning fewer hairs fall out. After delivery, however, the "resting stage" (when hair stops growing) is longer than usual, and hair loss increases.

It all should revert to normal within 15 months of delivery, but if hair loss is excessive, see a dermatologist.

6. Leg Cramps
Pregnant women sometimes complain about leg pain, especially in their calves. It may mean something simple, like you're not drinking enough water or getting enough calcium.

But it could be something more serious, such as a blood clot. They are usually swollen, red and painful to touch. If you're concerned, contact your physician or health-care provider to order a test (the Doppler flow study) that measures the blood flow through the leg.

If there's a blood clot, a doctor will immediately give you blood thinners and monitor you weekly.

7. Buttock Pain
Pregnancy can be a literal pain in the butt for some. If the baby's pressing on a nerve near the spine, you may develop sciatica, which causes a shooting, burning sensation in the buttocks, a pins-and-needles sensation or numbness. Pain in the lower back pain, back of the thigh or that runs down the back of the leg and foot are also symptoms.

You'll be uncomfortable, and a doctor can do little to change the baby's position in your womb. Apply a heating pad set on low to the aching spot for temporary relief.

8. Vaginal Itching
Annoying yet common, vaginal itching results from an increase in fungus in your body.

Here's why: Your immune system is less active during pregnancy, fighting fewer "foreign objects" and leaving fungus free to frolic and cause yeast infections. With a more vigilant immune system, your body could, in theory, reject your baby as an intruder.

Diet also raises the risk of yeast infections, especially dairy products, such as ice cream, yogurt, cheese and milk. Of course, getting enough calcium is crucial for your developing baby, so look for non-dairy, calcium-rich foods, such as spinach, beans including soybeans, fortified cereals and canned salmon with the bones.

9. Varicose Vaginal Veins
Also known as vaginal varicosities, these are worm-looking veins that show up in the last 12 weeks, mostly after week 35 of your pregnancy. That's when the baby's head is snug in your pelvis, pressing against the vaginal veins and enlarging them.

They're ugly but usually pose no threat. Some midwives recommend placing &fract14; cup of Epsom salts on a moist washcloth, mixing until it's the consistency of paste, then placing it on the veins (using light pressure) for 10-15 minutes. The salt will stimulate circulation and help relieve discomfort. Do not wear Spandex garments -- it may constrict the vagina and your growing abdomen.

10. Baby's Hiccups
In the last five weeks, you might notice your belly jumping up and down rhythmically. Relax -- nothing's wrong with the baby. He or she is just practicing how to breathe!

The muscle that helps humans breathe, the diaphragm, is getting stronger. Until your baby is born, he or she will receive oxygen through the umbilical cord. But once the cord is cut, the baby has to breathe on his or her own, so think of those hiccups as a dress rehearsal for breathing.

Pregnancy is both an adventure and a walk in faith. As your body transforms, relax. Know that rarely will any condition occur that you and your medical team can't handle.

Dr. Burke-Galloway's passion for babies inspired her to provide quality healthcare to medically underserved women, many of whom had high-risk problems. She is an expert in recognizing and managing obstetrical risks before they spin out of control and has prevented potential disasters for both mothers and their unborn babies. Dr. Burke-Galloway is also a medical malpractice consultant for the federal government. Linda Burke-Galloway, M.D., descended from two 19th-century midwives, is a board-certified ob-gyn and author of The Smart Mother's Guide to a Better Pregnancy: How to Minimize Risks, Avoid Complications, and Have a Healthy Baby. Read more from Dr. Burke-Galloway at her blog.

Copyright © Linda Burke-Galloway. Permission to republish granted to, LLC.


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