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Pregnancy

Pregnancy is proof that your body is amazing and can do brilliant things! Of course this means dramatic changes to your body, many of which can cause discomfort. This is compounded by the fact that it is generally recommended to avoid the use of many otherwise everyday conventional remedies, including pain medication. This is where natural remedies can be of great assistance, but still should be used with caution. Below are a range of common problems, either particular to pregnancy or  more common during pregnancy, along with some ideas to help with managing them. There are also some links to useful resources.

 

Use With Caution - Even Natural Products!

 

While there are many pharmaceutical products which should be avoided during pregnancy, there are also quite a few natural products which should also either be avoided, or used with caution as different points during pregnancy. For example, while the herb rosemary is perfectly safe in the sort of quantity which you might eat, rosemary essential oil should be avoided during pregnancy, as it is too stimulating. Please see our reference page on Aromatherapy and Pregnancy to see the specific details regarding our products and pregnancy, as well as some wider advice concerning use of aromatherapy and herbal remedies when you’re expecting.

 

Morning Sickness

 

No-one knows for certain what causes morning sickness, although it’ is believed to be connected to increased levels of oestrogen and human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG). While it’s commonly known as ‘morning sickness’, it can happen any time of day or night. It tends to be worse during the first trimester, and many women find is starts to calm after week 20 or so.  There are plenty of things you can do to help:

 

  • Rest: Making sure you get plenty of rest is important during pregnancy anyway, but it may also aid your symptoms.

  • Diet: Making sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet is of course vital - you’re building a baby right now and your body needs the right building blocks to do so! However, certain dietary choices can help reduce the nausea. Eating something high in protein before bedtime can help regulated your blood sugar, which can help calm the queasiness. Making sure you eat something plain first thing in the morning before you even get up might seem like the hardest thing in the World, but might make a big difference. Try putting a couple of plain crackers or crispbread in a grip-seal bag and leaving it on your bedside table for morning.  

  • Acupressure: A lot less hassle than it sounds, most chemists and even big supermarkets carry travel sickness bands which you wear on your wrists which are based on the principles of acupressure. They’re inobtrusive and cheap, so definitely worth trying.

  • Vinegar or Lemonade: Some women swear by a teaspoon of cider vinegar in a glass of warm water, which is a lot less nasty than it sounds! Equally, some swear by flat lemonade. Sprinkling a little sugar into lemonade and stirring quickly is a good way to get the bubbles out.

  • Aromatherapy: The scent of bergamot, peppermint, orange, lemon, grapefruit, lavender or lime can be beneficial in calming nausea. It’s probably best to put a little on a handkerchief than using a diffuser the first few times as, if it doesn’t agree with you, it’s easier to move a handkerchief than a whole room! Our bath range has some relaxing natural options with these oils, too.

  • Herbal Help: The best herbs for nausea are ginger or peppermint. Any form of ginger will do, whether it’s ginger beer, ginger biscuits, crystallised ginger - whatever works for you. Some people find chewing on a mint leaf useful, or a cup of peppermint tea. We make a soothing tea specially for pregnant mums - why not give our Morning Guaran-Tea a try?

  • Relax!: No-one likes being told that something that is seriously bothering them is ‘mind over matter’ - it sounds horribly smug! However, a long hot bath or meditation can help you take control and kick the sickness into touch.

  • Vitamin B6: Many folks swear by Vitamin B6, but do not exceed the recommended dose and talk to your healthcare provider if you are unsure

Tiredness

 

Tiredness is part-and-parcel of having a baby - after all, think of all the extra work you’re body is having to do - it’s effectively moonlighting in construction! This is most likely to be worst in the first couple of months and the last couple of months. However, there are a few things to try that may lessen the exhaustion:

 

  • Anaemia Check: Anaemia (iron deficiency) is common in pregnancy, can be diagnosed with a simple blood test and is easily treatable. If you’re very tired, see your healthcare provider, who will be able to make sure you have enough iron. A diet rich in leafy green veg, blackcurrants, and lean red meat will help prevent anaemia in the first place.

  • Rest: It sounds like a really obvious answer, but making sure you get plenty of rest is vital.

  • Diet: I know this seems to come up all the time, but there’s a reason for that! Eating as well as you can is really important, with plenty of fresh fruit and veg. Make sure you have some protein with every meal. Food is your fuel, and running out of fuel is the fastest way to feeling sluggish!

  • Water: Dehydration is responsible for a lot of fatigue. Make sure you drink 8 decent-sized glasses of water each day if you can, and space them out.

  • Aromatherapy: Citrus oils, as well as being helpful in dealing with morning sickness, can also be helpful in combating tiredness. Please see our reference page on Aromatherapy in Pregnancy for more information.

 

Constipation

 

Constipation is common in pregnancy, because your body has increased levels of the hormone progesterone, which slows down the action of your intestines, leading to sluggish digestion. The longer the that waste sits in the large intestine, the more liquid is removed from it, which can lead to harder movements and a more difficult and uncomfortable time on the loo. There are plenty of things you can do to help reduce the impact of this. Here are just a few suggestions:

 

  • Water: Make sure you drink plenty of water - at least 8 glasses per day, as dehydration can make constipation worse.

  • Diet: Fibre is your friend! There are two types of fibre - soluble and insoluble, and it’s the insoluble type that is of particular use here. Good sources are lentils, wholegrains, oats, beans, wholemeal and granary bread, pulses and fruit with edible seeds, like tomatoes and strawberries.

  • Cut the caffeine: Caffeine is a diuretic - which removes water from the body, and can make constipation worse. If you’re suffering, keep coffee, tea, chocolate and cola to a minimum.

  • Exercise: Gentle exercise can help kick-start a sluggish digestive system. A gentle walk, tai chi, yoga or just simple stretching can all be beneficial.

  • Avoid Senna: Senna is a very popular herb for treating constipation, and is available widely. It’s known for it’s gentleness, but should be avoided in pregnancy. A more suitable option is dandelion tea, which can be drunk daily.

  • Aromatherapy: Citrus oils such as sweet orange or bergamot, mixed with a carrier oil (you only need a tiny amount of essential oil - 2-3 drops per spoonful of carrier) and gently massaged into your tummy may help. Alternatively, massage your tummy in the bath. Be gentle, though!

 

Back and Pelvic Pain

 

As well as all the things which might otherwise cause you back pain if you weren’t pregnant, there are additional factors in pregnancy; and over half of pregnant people will suffer back pain during their pregnancy. There are three broad types of pain - true back pain; pelvic girdle pain (which is the type which tends to be brought on by pregnancy), and sciatica. Sciatica is rare, with less than 1% of pregnant folks suffering sciatica in pregnancy. Much more common is pelvic girdle pain (PGP), which is experienced by up to half of all pregnant women. As your baby grows, you are carrying additional weight, which may affect your back. In addition, your gait or posture may change, and your body itself is changing, with your pelvic girdle widening in preparation for childbirth. Treating pelvic girdle pain is very different from typical back pain. If you are unsure of the type you have, see your GP or other healthcare provider.

 

  • Support Yourself: Support belts can help spread the weight of your growing baby to take some of the pressure of your back and tummy muscles. In addition, maternity wedge and ‘sausage’-shaped pillows can be used to support your tummy when you’re lying down.

  • Physiotherapy: Particularly with pelvic girdle pain, physiotherapy may be beneficial. Your GP can advise and refer you for treatment.

  • Softly, softly: Sleeping on a softer surface can be useful with PGP. Try using a mattress topper, or putting a spare duvet under your sheet.

  • Exercise: With PGP, regular pelvic floor exercises can help, as can regular gentle movement. Rest regularly, and don’t overdo it.

  • TENS: Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a method of pain relief which delivers a tiny electrical current through the skin to stimulate the nerves. It can be a safe and effective pain relief method, and is  often used during labour. TENS machines are available to hire or buy online or from many pharmacies or even supermarkets.

Heartburn/Acid Reflux

 

Heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux are all very common in pregnancy, particularly in the late stages. The main reason for this is that progesterone relaxes the valve at the top of your stomach. This then causes a small amount of stomach acid to surge upwards into your oesophagus. The oesophagus doesn’t have the same lining as the stomach, which is designed to cope with acid, so this leads to discomfort. Also, your baby can press up on your diaphragm and force the acid upwards, especially if your baby is large or in the breech (bottom down) position. The following may help you deal with acid reflux and heartburn naturally:

 

  • Make it an Uphill Struggle! Lying down after a meal can make it easier for acid to escape, so make sure you sit upright after meals. If it gets really bad, sleeping propped up on pillows may also help. Try to eat your main meal at lunch, or else eat as early in the evening as possible, to give you time to digest your food before bed.

  • Diet Eating little and often, rather than big meals, will almost certainly be more comfortable as well as helping to prevent heartburn.  Spicy, rich, fatty and fried foods can make the symptoms worse, as may tea, coffee, sugar and some artificial additives.  

  • Herbal Help: Raw garlic, or a garlic supplement, can help reduce the severity of your symptoms. Peppermint tea can aid digestion, and many ladies find ginger or chamomile tea helpful as well. Slippery elm is safe during pregnancy but it’s not the most pleasant infusion to take in its natural form, so you may prefer a supplement.

  • Fluids: Drink plenty of fluids between meals, but avoids drinks at mealtimes, as they can dilute stomach acid, making digestion less efficient.

  • Aromatherapy: Lemon, orange, bergamot or neroli oils can be helpful. Try using three or four drops in a bowl of boiling water and inhale with a towel over your head. Alternatively, mix into a teaspoonful of olive oil and massage it gently into your chest, stomach or upper back, or mix into your bath water.

  • Acupressure: Stimulating the Pericardium 6 (P6) acupressure point (the same one used to relieve sickness) can help relieve heartburn. The easiest way to do this is to use a travel sickness acupressure wristband.

 

Haemorrhoids

 

Haemorrhoids are groups of blood vessels inside the rectum which can become swollen or inflamed - they are a specific type of varicose vein. It’s a common problem in pregnancy, but one which many people are embarrassed about discussing. You become more prone to haemorrhoids (commonly known as piles) during pregnancy for several reasons: Firstly, progesterone relaxes the walls of veins, making yo more prone to varicose veins of all types, including piles. In addition, constipation is common in pregnancy, which can cause haemorrhoids. Finally, the growing baby and womb puts pressure on the pelvic veins, slowing the return of blood from the lower body and causing veins below the womb to swell. While haemorrhoids  are not a serious problem, they are uncomfortable, but can be eased using simple home remedies:

 

  • Diet: Prevention is better than cure, and preventing constipation will not only reduce your likelihood of getting haemorrhoids in the first place, but will also make them less uncomfortable. Ensuring you get plenty of fibre and keeping hydrated makes a big difference. If you’re already suffering, adding fibre in the form of oat bran or similar to your food (such as in yoghurt) may help.

  • Exercise: Make sure you get some gentle exercise every day, as this will also help prevent constipation. In addition, daily pelvic floor (Kegel) exercises will help prevent haemorrhoids as well as help prepare you for birth. Try to avoid long periods of standing or sitting in one position - keep moving!

  • Cool Off! Some people swear by a cold compress such as an ice pack. A popular natural remedy is a witch hazel compress, which is very cooling and can be soothing. To make one, apply plenty of witch hazel to a sanitary pad or similar and pop it in your underwear as you would a panty liner.

  • Warm Water: Many people find warm water soothing, so why not try a warm bath, or a sitz bath (available from chemists) if you don’t have a bathtub. It’s a basin you can put over the toilet bowl and use to submerge your bottom in water.

  • Keep It Simple: Avoid coloured and fragranced products which may irritate this delicate area, such as chemical bath additives, coloured and fragranced toilet tissue, or body powders or lotions. Instead, try a cupful of Epsom salts and a few drops of tea tree or lavender essential oil. 

  • Seek Help: If your are in a lot of pain, or you notice any bleeding, please see your doctor or midwife or talk to your pharmacist. They will be able to provide you with soothing topical treatments if you need them. However, don’t use over the counter remedies without consulting a health professional or pharmacist.

 

Pain Relief

 

Our modern lifestyles have given us easy, convenient and affordable access to medicines for just about any minor ailment that may bother us. Over the counter pain relief medication gets thrown in the trolley with our staple groceries at the supermarket. However, it’s generally accepted that non-essential medication in pregnancy should be kept to a minimum. With this in mind, many ladies look for alternatives to their customary paracetamol during pregnancy. Advice on what medication can be taken during pregnancy varies depending on how advanced your pregnancy is and your personal circumstances, so always consult your doctor, midwife or pharmacist about this. However, you may wish to try some of these alternatives:

 

  • Get Physical: Gentle stretching can help relive muscle aches or cramps, and gentle massage can also be useful, whether you get your partner to give your aching feet or shoulders a rub, or you massage your own temples to help clear a headache.

  • Chill Out: Headaches can respond well to a cool compress. Run a face cloth (or tea towel, kitchen towel etc) under a cool tap, then wring out and place over your forehead, lie back, close your eyes and relax the pain away. Adding a couple of drops of lavender essential oil may also help.

  • Bathing Beauty: Many people find a warm bath soothing, whether you use it to ease aching muscles or relax a tension headache, so why not try a long soak with a cup of peppermint tea and a good book?

  • TENS: Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a method of pain relief which delivers a tiny electrical current through the skin to stimulate the nerves. It can be a safe and effective pain relief method, and is  often used during labour. TENS machines are available to hire or buy online or from many pharmacies or even supermarkets.

  • Acupressure: There is an acupressure point between the thumb and first finger on each hand which can help relieve headaches. To stimulate this, grasp the ‘web’ of flesh between your thumb and finger with the other hand, and press quite hard. Knead this point, which may be tender at first, and it should relieve headaches.

  • Meditation: Meditation scan be used to help relieve pain. It’s not necessarily something you can master overnight, but if you can ‘get the hang of it’ it can be a really useful trick! There are plenty of good books, CDs and classes which may help you.  

 

Dental Problems

 

It sounds odd, but hormonal fluctuations in pregnancy can cause a range of dental problems. This is one of the reasons why pregnant folks and those who have had a baby in the last 12 months get free NHS dental care. For more information on how to access this, ask your dentist or contact your local NHS Trust. At this time even more than as ever, prevention is better than cure, so a fastidious attitude to oral care and hygiene can save  a lot of dental work!

 

Itchy Skin

 

There are many reasons why you might be feeling a little itchy. Expanding bellies and bosoms can lead to stretched skin, which can itch. Increased oestrogen levels can cause red and itchy skin, particularly on the soles of your feet and palms of your hands. Also, if you are prone to itching normally (because of allergies, dry skin, eczema etc), then you may notice it more during pregnancy. In addition, just under 1% of pregnant women develop itchy, red bumps and  a rash that looks like hives on their tummies. This is called pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) or polymorphic eruption of pregnancy. It sounds scary, but it’s quite common, particularly with ladies having their first babies or having twins. It’s also harmless to your baby, although it can be very annoying and itch like crazy!

 

There are a couple of rare conditions, however, which are less harmless and require investigation. One such condition is emphigoid gestationis. Very occasionally, a pregnant woman develops a very itchy skin condition that starts as a hive-type rash and then develops into large blistering sores. It normally appears on the tummy first, before spreading to the arms and legs. It needs attention because it has been linked to growth problems for babies and early delivery. In addition, severe itchiness in the second or third trimester may be a sign of intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. This is a fairly rare liver problem, where bile doesn't flow normally and bile salts build up in your skin and make you itch all over. The condition itself doesn't cause a rash, but you may end up with red, irritated skin with little cuts in areas where you're scratching a lot. If you’re in any way unsure, seeing your GP or midwife is the best option.

 

However, if you've ruled out any of these more serious issues, and you just have itchy skin, there are lots of options for relief:

 

  • Soothe your Skin: There’s no need for expensive moisturisers. Simple vegetable-based oils and butters, such as coconut oil (the solid white stuff you find in the Asian/World Foods aisle of the supermarket) or even plain old kitchen olive oil can help soothe tight, itchy skin caused by stretching and reduce the risk of stretch marks. Rosehip oil is nourishing, and is great for stretch marks, too!

  • Oat so Soft: Ditch harsh soaps and detergents in favour of simple oatmeal - just simple value range supermarket own-brand porridge oats will do the trick - just stick them in the blender to grind them up. Oats contain a natural anti-itching compound which is really soothing. Putting a couple of handfuls of fine-ground oatmeal in your bath or washing with a muslin bag filled with oats can help. Avoid bathing in very hot water, as it can dry your skin out and make itching worse.

  • Loosen up and Chill Out! Wear loose clothing made from natural fibres and try to stay as cool as possible, as heat and tight clothing rubbing can intensify the itching. Natural fibres wick away moisture from sweating much better than their synthetic alternatives.

  • Softly Does It: Avoid aggressive exfoliation (and scratching!) and go easy with the towel, just pat yourself dry instead of scrubbing hard.

  • Go Au Naturelle! Artificial fragrances can irritate the skin so try to avoid artificially fragranced and coloured skin products. Making the switch from commercially-made body lotions in favour of good old coconut oil (the solid white stuff you find in the Asian/World Foods aisle of the supermarket), and ditching facial skincare products in favour of a home-made oatmeal and olive oil scrub, rose water to tone and a bit of rosehip oil applied on cotton wool to moisturise will not only help ease the itch, it’ll leave you with a happy wallet, too!