There’s no denying pregnancy is pretty magical, it’s really quite incredible when you think about the fact that you are growing a tiny human being inside your body. Nature is pretty marvellous. But, well, despite what the media likes to portray of pregnancy, being pregnant doesn’t always feel that magical. Most media images of pregnant women show glowing skin, radiant complexions and a lot of the less fun aspects of pregnancy are very much glossed over.
This post will highlight some of those less enjoyable aspects – not because I want to scare anyone or put you off being pregnant. It is magical feeling those kicks and the symptoms really are different for everyone. But I just want to get this post out there for any mummies to be who are feeling less than yummy. Know that you are not alone, and what you are going through is perfectly normal.
Because, for some of us, pregnancy isn’t exactly a bed of roses.
Morning Sickness is yuk, I mean no one likes being sick at the best of times do they? It’s horrible and yes, ok so when you are pregnant morning sickness is actually a good sign as it proves that your body is filling with hormones, and can mean that things are going well with your new baby. But that still doesn’t make it nice. It’s not. For some people it is very much in the morning, hence the name, but actually, for a lot of ladies it can, and does happen any time of day. Or in fact, all day long,
Not every woman gets it (lucky them) and as with all things pregnancy related, it varies a lot from person to person. Some women just feel nauseous all of the time without actually throwing up, while others don’t feel too bad then suddenly have the urge to throw up. Some, really unlucky mamas get very poorly with it – this is called Hyperemesis Gravidarum and is particularly nasty.
Morning sickness is *usually* limited within the first trimester, but again, not so for everyone. For some women those 12 weeks come and go and they still feel rotten. You are teased with more deadlines. It may stop at 14 weeks, or 16 weeks, or 18 weeks. Each time you pin your hopes that the end is in sight, but for some really unlucky mamas, it doesn’t end and it stays for the entire pregnancy. Joy! Anything in this range is, sadly, normal and there’s not a lot you can do about it. If it is really severe and you struggle to keep any food down, see a doctor in case it is Hyperemesis Gravidarum, as they will be able to help you with that.
This can go hand in hand with morning sickness for the fact that it may be there purely in the first and last trimester, or it could stick with you throughout, or again you may not suffer at all. Pregnancy can be exhausting, and that’s ok. In the media we only ever see rosy, glowing, happy pregnant women who maybe throw up occasionally. I’m sure for some women pregnancy is like that. I know a very good friend who had a lovely smooth pregnancy and basically felt fine throughout. Unfortunately though for some women it is a lot harder than that.
You are growing another human being inside you, so it is ok if sometimes you feel like you could sleep for a week, or if you can’t find the energy to do the housework. It is ok to sit on the sofa some days and watch endless dvds or TV series on catch up. People are happy to tell you that ‘pregnancy isn’t an illness’ but my guess would be that those people either haven’t been pregnant, or if they have they were lucky and had a smooth ride. Obviously pregnancy isn’t an illness, but it can feel like it sometimes!
During my first pregnancy I was basically a zombie. The normal me was still in there feeling really frustrated but I did not have the energy for anything apart from trying not to be sick, or lying down in front of the TV. Thankfully this time I am much less of a zombie and now we are in the second trimester the exhaustion has eased off a lot.
You could be anywhere on that scale, and however you feel, know that it is ok. If you feel fine and normal then that is fantastic, but please don’t don’t judge other pregnant women who are having a less easy time. It doesn’t mean they are lazy or just whiny. For some women it actually is harder than for others. If you are struggling, don’t hate the pregnant women who are loving life, it’s not their fault they are having a much easier pregnancy than you!
Changing Body Shape and Image
Of course the biggest change to your body in pregnancy is the growth of your tummy. For some women there aren’t many other changes and they basically look like the models do – as if someone has stuck a bump on, and everything else is as it was pre-pregnancy. For other women, the changes don’t stop there. It is also possible, and perfectly normal, to gain weight all over. Your face, arms, boobs, legs, bum, back – literally all over. This isn’t always because you have been eating too much. For some of us, our hormones make our body react differently and the pregnancy weight-gain spreads everywhere.
Any change to your body in pregnancy can be more difficult than you would imagine to deal with. When the changes are happening all over it can be a particularly difficult. Your clothes suddenly don’t fit anymore and you may have a completely different body shape to get used to. As a pear-shaped woman the sudden expansion above the waist means I have a completely different body shape to dress, which can be a steep learning curve!
Clothes make up a large part of who we are and how we see ourselves. When you have to dress in a completely different way you can feel a little lost. All I can say is try and find what works for you – it will be different for everyone. There are some fantastic maternity ranges out there which give you a lot more comfort and some women fully embrace these. For other women, buying non-maternity clothes, just in a larger size is the way to go, and for others, a bit of mix and match works well. For example, I’ve been layering some maternity vests with some loose non-maternity tops, to try and keep a little of my style identity!
Again, different things work for different women so do what feels right for you. Whatever makes you feel the most confident and comfortable in your skin :).
Ah Boobs. Boobs become something different in pregnancy. They can expand, a lot, and I know that some women absolutely love this. If you’ve felt that your boobs are a bit small normally, you may really enjoy having the big boobs you’ve always wondered about. But for others, having bigger boobs isn’t something they’ve ever wanted and they are just a big pain, literally.
Because, yes, they grow, but they can also be quite sore, both while they are growing, and just in general throughout the pregnancy. Your nipples may also grow and they can get really painful too. So while the man (or woman) in your life may be loving this growth, it’s perfectly ok if you do not want to let them near them! (More on this later..)
One other thing that I think is worth mentioning is bras. There are lots of different maternity bras out there and in my first pregnancy I remember reading that underwired bras should be avoided as they can damage your milk ducts. If, like me, your boobs have expanded a lot, non-underwired bras can be a little less supportive, and honestly, a lot less flattering. For me I found non-underwired bras left me looking and feeling very wide up top and I really didn’t like the shape of my body when I was wearing them.
The good news is that I have since read that research has not found any link between underwired bras and milk duct problems, hooray! I am not a Dr or a Scientist so I can’t guarantee this, but what I have read is enough for me to try underwired bras this time round. I found them a little uncomfortable at first, mainly because they are so much larger than my usual bras and sit differently on my ribs, but now I am used to them they are not uncomfortable at all and I have been wearing them all the time.
Follow your body and what is comfortable for you of course, and if you would rather wear non-underwired bras then go for it, it really is personal choice. But, for me, personally I find underwired bras more supportive and more flattering and perfectly comfortable. I don’t feel pinched or squeezed in any way so can’t imagine there is an effect on my milk ducts. So if you aren’t happy in non-underwired bras, then they may be worth a try!
I couldn’t very well write this post without including a section about Stretch Marks. We all know they can happen when your body is going through such a big change as pregnancy. We’ve all read or been told about rubbing creams on your tummy to prevent them… but did you know they may not be limited to just your tummy? Oh no, they can crop up in other places too. Hormones play a big part when it comes to Stretch Marks, and some ladies may never get any, regardless of whether they are using a cream on their bodies. Other ladies will get loads even if they are rubbing the creams on.
There is not much you can do to predict whether you will get stretch marks, although if you have any already (from puberty etc.) there is a good chance that you will get some, and if your mother had stretch marks when she was pregnant, that can also be a sign that you may get them.
Do the creams work? Honestly I have no idea, many people swear by them. One thing I will say though, is that if you decide to use the creams (and what’s the harm eh? At least you’ll have lovely soft skin either way!) don’t limit the application to just your tummy. Other areas they can appear include boobs, hips, thighs, legs, lots of places in fact! Throughout my first pregnancy I slathered my tummy in cream, and didn’t get any stretch marks there until right at the end of my pregnancy. I did however get stretchmarks on my boobs, hips and some crazy ones on my thighs, even though I hadn’t even felt my legs had grown that much.
Sleep, ah yes, sleep. Now as with pretty much everything to do with pregnancy, it varies form person to person. Some mummies-to-be find their sleep interrupted by toilet trips very early on, and this either continues through the entire pregnancy or eases off in the 2nd trimester, only to reappear at the end. Other mummies sleep fine until around the middle, and others manage to sleep well almost all of the way through.
There are various reasons for troubled sleep when you are pregnant. The most obvious being toilet trips as those joyful hormones (yes, them again) can make you need to wee more often early on in your pregnancy. Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do to avoid it, as it is important to stay hydrated when you are pregnant. I found making an extra toilet trip immediately before sleep helped me get a bit longer shut eye, but I have no idea if this would work for everyone. Later in pregnancy when baby is squeezing your bladder there is even less you can do about the toilet trips I’m afraid! There’s just not a whole lot of room in there at that point!
Other reasons for trouble sleeping are aches and pains, and sleeping positions. If like me, you are normally a back sleeper, you eventually reach a point where you can’t do this anymore. To start with it will be ok but as baby grows there will come a time when sleeping on your back is not good, because of gravity meaning your baby compresses the main vein returning blood to your heart. Not good in general so at some point you will need to learn to sleep on your side, like it or not, unfortunately! Sleeping on your left is the best position, largely because it is the best position to avoid heartburn/acid reflux and aid digestion. You can get pregnancy pillows to help with this, I currently use a combination of a pregnancy pillow behind me to lean on, and then a small wedge pillow under my tummy to support my bump.
There are all sorts of associated aches and pains that can happen in pregnancy, I have PGP (Pelvic Girdle Pain), sometimes referred to as SPD (Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction) which is where the pregnancy hormone relaxin causes your pelvis to relax too much, and the various sections then grate together. This can cause a lot of pain. Other similar conditions are related to your Sciatic Nerve (also very painful) and restless leg which can occur alone, or in conjunction with other conditions. (This list is by no means exhaustive just what I can think of right now :)) You can also suffer with your lower back in general when pregnant because of the weight of the baby and new centre of gravity affecting your posture. My point is, none of these things help you sleep!
People will try to console you and say that the lack of sleep is good as it is preparing you for the arrival of the baby, but, well I’m sorry but I’m just not buying it. Sleeplessness in pregnancy is different to sleeplessness with a newborn. Neither is fun, I’ll grant you that, but they are definitely different. When you have a newborn I find you go into a bit of survival mode. Because you are so centred on the needs of your newborn, for a time you can actually manage surprisingly well on very little sleep. Like I say, that doesn’t make it enjoyable and I remember having some very odd conversations with hubby on the 3rd or 4th waking of the night, when you are slightly delirious, but somehow you survive.
It helps, that, in general (and after the initial birth recovery period) you are not lacking sleep because of pain or discomfort. You are lacking sleep to look after your child. Not because you need a wee for the 10th time that night, or because your leg won’t stop twitching. Not because you have shooting pains in your side, or hideous heartburn that makes you feel a bit sick. All of these things are incredibly draining, and pretty relentless. And, for the most part you are expected to continue acting like a normal human being when you are pregnant. You are still expected to work for much of it, to cook, clean, look after your children. People are a lot more sympathetic when you have a newborn, and you have maternity leave, which allows you to nap during the day, and if you are lucky family will be around to help.
Like I say, lack of sleep in pregnancy, and lack of sleep with a newborn, are 2 different things.
No I don’t mean you are going to poo yourself just because you are pregnant. But at some point in your pregnancy you may find that you accidentally wee yourself a little bit. You may do a big sneeze, or enjoy a very good laugh and then suddenly, aaaah! It’s not so fun. Another of the joyful things that your hormones can do is weaken your muscles. It’s a good thing as it helps make room for your baby, but one of the less nice effects, is that your pelvic floor muscles (which help you to control when you go for a wee) relax and therefore don’t do their job as well anymore.
The answer to this – Kegel. Kegel, Kegel, Kegel. As much as humanly possible. It’s pretty simple so just do it when you remember. Basically you just squeeze your pelvic floor muscles, release, and repeat. For more in depth info click here (probably a good idea to ensure you are doing it properly). Seriously, do it, you may regret it if you don’t!
Many of us know what affect our hormones can have on our mood at ‘that time of the month’ and well, I am sad to say that just because your periods may have disappeared for at least the next 9 months, the mood swings quite possibly haven’t. They may have. You may have a lovely and serene gestation. Or you may be prone to the worst mood swings of your life. Again there’s not really any way of knowing.
So maybe just be prepared to, erm, fly off the handle at the slightest provocation… or sit and weep for very little (if any) reason. All of this is ok, and perfectly normal. While of course it is absolutely unacceptable for anyone else to suggest that your feelings may be as a result of pregnancy hormones, I do find it helps to have that awareness yourself. That way, once the rage has subsided, and you can acknowledge that not washing up a teaspoon was in fact not the worst crime inflicted on you by man, you can offer an olive branch to your partner. I know they aren’t going through the same difficulties as you, but it is good to keep them on side :).
Difficult one and I am not going to go into too much detail but I guess what I want to say is that everything is normal. I have heard of women being uber horny when pregnant, and that is the image commonly shown of pregnant women in the media. I have to say though that while this is great if this is you, and perfectly normal (having sex won’t harm your baby), it is also perfectly normal if this is not you.
With all of the changes to your body, the sickness, tiredness, aches, pains, etc, it is perfectly ok if sex is the absolute last thing on your mind. Partners, I’m sorry, but you have to try and be understanding and let your lady take the lead on whether or not sex is on the table. Many men find the pregnant body very sexy and arousing, but it may be that the pregnant woman herself does not. That is ok, and perfectly normal.
Other people will have a lot of opinions… about everything!
I have never felt more judged in my life than I did when I became pregnant. Somehow it is like some people feel that being pregnant means that your body, life choices and anything else, is suddenly an open topic of conversation. Random strangers will feel it is ok to touch your bump, to ask when you are due, what are you having, do you hope for a boy/girl? Whether you want to have that conversation with a random stranger or not!
Of course a lot of people are very supportive but we can’t help comparing ourselves to others and I find some ladies are very happy to tell you that they loved being pregnant, isn’t it wonderful? Don’t you honestly feel better than you ever have? I’m sure for some ladies this is true but I also think some women actually lie, not because they want to be malicious, but because that is what people said to them and they don’t want to admit that isn’t how they feel.
Being pregnant is a blessing and there are many ladies out there desperate to get pregnant, or completely unable to conceive who would be desperate to be pregnant no matter how hard it is. Knowing that sometimes can make you feel as if you should keep any negative thoughts to yourself, but I disagree. Yes it is a wonderful thing, but that doesn’t make it the most fun experience of your life. Really, I wish people could be a bit more honest about their experiences, rather than try and put a glossy facade over their life – it only makes others feel inadequate!
There is also judgement over choices you will need to make – whether or not to breastfeed (no I am not getting into that debate right now, this post is quite long enough), whether you’ll opt for pain relief during labour, what brand of maternity wear you like, what buggy/pram/travel system you choose. Honestly just try and shut out any negativity or competition and do what feels right for you and your baby.
Not suitable for use in pregnancy
There are of course certain things you will know to abstain from in pregnancy. Alcohol, cigarettes, soft cheeses, pate, some seafood, but most of these are manageable. What is less wonderful is the amount of medication that you would take for granted in normal life, that you just cannot take when you are pregnant. It’s understandable really, I mean no drug company is going to want to test anything on a pregnant woman and I am pretty sure no pregnant woman would want to risk anything happening to their baby by being a guinea pig. The unfortunate result is that most every day medicines are out of bounds for at least 9 months (possibly longer if you choose to breastfeed).
Paracetamol is about as strong as you can get painkiller wise, so if you usually take an ibuprofen or aspirin for a headache or backache, think again. Not good when you are pregnant. If you get a cold, your usual cold and flu remedies are out, no decongestants, the trusty hot drink type medicines, nope. Only paracetamol.
Do you suffer from hayfever in the summer months? Sorry but other than some nasal sprays and eye drops you will have to just cope with it (that is basically what I was told by my Dr recently). There are some situations where they will say that you need to weigh up the pros and cons. Are you really suffering that badly to make it worth the risk of taking something? A Dr actually asked me that in my first pregnancy when I had hideous acid reflux that was making me violently sick. What was I saying about being judged? As if I would have been sat there in tears begging for him to check if there was any medication I could take if it wasn’t really bad… Thankfully a different Dr spent a little more time to actually help me and found a drug that had been found to be safe in pregnancy, which was fortunately effective. (It can be worth getting a second opinion).
Basically being poorly when you are pregnant can feel worse than at any other time in your life, largely because there is very little you can do to ease the symptoms. Obviously situations and illnesses vary so please check with your Dr. Please don’t take my word for it as I would be happy to be wrong!
Expect the Unexpected
I have highlighted a number of things that can and do happen in pregnancy but there is a whole lot more. Piles, acne, varicose veins, water retention, constipation, flatulence… All very lovely things to make the experience even more joyful for you! Then there are of course added, unexpected complications that you may never even have heard of. For example, I have a Bicornuate Uterus, meaning my womb is in 2 halves. I had never even heard of this before, however it significantly raises the chances of having a breech baby. I did not expect that would happen.
My point is that there are many things that no-one expects when they get pregnant, largely because we just don’t know very much about it. You see pregnant women in TV shows and films, or in magazines and the worst they really talk about is morning sickness, some difficulty sleeping, and maybe some difficulty walking when they get really big. So it is quite common to go into pregnancy with that rose tinted view and then be a bit dumbstruck when you are told about conditions and experiences that are all ‘normal’ and yet you have never even heard of them before!
As I said at the start of the post, this isn’t intended to put anyone off, or scare a newly pregnant woman into thinking this could possibly be the worst experience of their lives. I just think we all need to be a bit more honest about some of the ‘normal’ things that can happen in pregnancy, then maybe they will feel more normal, and less terrifying!
I would also love it if we could judge each other less and that if we see a pregnant woman suffering it doesn’t mean she is being pathetic or moaning for the sake of it. Or that she must be making some unhealthy choices to be gaining weight on her face and bum. It would be nice if we could realise that pregnancy is different for everyone, and that for some women every pregnancy is different. My second pregnancy so far is nowhere near as traumatic as my first (hooray!) and I’m actually glad I had it this way round. If I had this pregnancy first, and then got hit with my previous pregnancy experience second time round I would have been in for a serious shock!
For all you mamas out there.. have I missed any biggies? Please add them in comments, I have only really been able to speak about things that I have experienced or know other women who have.
If you are pregnant and reading this, I hope that despite all of these possible complications you enjoy your pregnancy as much as you can, and if you are suffering, I hope you know that you are not on your own.