Embarrassing conditions that affect women during pregnancy

By PENDA HONEYGHAN

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

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PREGNANCY is marked by a number of bodily changes and moms-to-be look forward to the amazing new features such as glowing skin, a thick head of hair, and of course the gorgeous bump. Unfortunately, consultant obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Keisha Buchanan said that pregnancy symptoms are not always blush-worthy, and can come with quite a bit of embarrassment. The good thing, though, is that they are likely to be temporary.

Below she shares some of the common pregnancy symptoms that can be quite embarrassing for moms-to-be.

Excessive gas

“There is an increase in pregnancy hormones such as progesterone; this causes intestinal bloating and increases flatulence. This symptom can start to occur even before the woman realises she is pregnant, and is marked by belching and passing wind. At times the urge can be sudden and severe and occurs in public areas,” Dr Buchanan said. She noted that this flatulence lasts for months and is not typically relieved by gas medicines. She said staying away from certain foods such as beans, lentils, broccoli, cabbage and carbonated beverages can help to ease the gas production.

Haemorrhoids

Haemorrhoids can present for the first time or be exacerbated during pregnancy. Dr Buchanan said the condition may be triggered by a number of things including constipation and increased intraabdominal pressure as a result of the growing foetus.

“Straining during childbirth can also cause haemorrhoids to form. The haemorrhoids can cause bleeding and anal itching, pain and discomfort, and may be embarrassing to some women as they can be visible during sexual intercourse,” Dr Buchanan said. She recommended keeping hydrated, exercising, and a high-fibre diet that can ease constipation, which is the most common haemorrhoid trigger.

Vomiting

Most pregnant women complain about vomiting; it is one of the most common symptoms that occur during pregnancy and it peaks at about eight to 12 weeks.

“Vomiting can be sudden and unexpected and can occur anywhere and anytime. It can also be an early giveaway that the woman may be pregnant,” Dr Buchanan said. She pointed out that this may be triggered by any number of things including odours, motion sickness, or something that was eaten. To prevent vomiting Dr Buchanan recommends that the woman avoids going hypoglycaemic, which requires eating meals often five or six times per day. In addition to this, she should also have smaller portions each time, avoid greasy, oily foods and proteins that are hard to digest such as beef, pork, and spicy foods.

Diarrhoea

Another common pregnancy symptom is diarrhoea; this symptom tends to occur in the latter part of the pregnancy. Dr Buchanan explains that this occurs most commonly when the baby's head engages and presses on the bowel triggering pressure on the bowel hence more frequent, inconvenient bathroom stops.

“Incontinence of stool can also occur after pregnancy especially after normal delivery in which there was excessive straining. This is usually self-limiting and resolves in a short space of time or with therapy, but it may require wearing pads and can be very embarrassing,” Dr Buchanan explained. She recommends pelvic floor exercises with a physiotherapist to help to strengthen the pelvic muscles.

Urinary frequency/incontinence

“Urinary frequency and incontinence are common conditions in pregnancy, and this occurs from as early as five weeks. This happens as the womb grows and presses on the bladder more, and the frequency gets progressively worse and incontinence can also get worse,” Dr Buchanan said.

She said that when this happens some women intentionally limit their fluid intake in order to decrease the amount of time they need to use the bathroom; unfortunately, this can make the woman dehydrated. To avoid dehydration, she recommended that women aim to consume at least the recommended six to eight glasses of water per day.

“If frequency becomes too excessive it's important to get assessed for bladder infections and diabetes. You should also avoid caffeinated beverages and sodas as these cause excess urination,” Dr Buchanan advised. She encouraged women to empty their bladder as often as they can, especially when travelling long distances, otherwise they run the risk of messing themselves up.

Vaginal discharge

Vaginal discharge increases during pregnancy and is normal; however, Dr Buchanan said that if there is an odour or itching with the discharge this may be sign of an infection.

“For example, if the colour is yellow or green this may be a sign of an STI. However, vaginal discharge that is odourless, does not itch or burn, and is white in colour is usually normal,” Dr Buchanan said. She said that to manage the increase in the quantity of discharge, women can use panty shields. She said while the discharge may be a bit annoying, the upside is that it improves lubrication during sex.

“While this excess volume of discharge can improve lubrication, some women may feel embarrassed during sex, but they shouldn't as it's natural and your partner needs to understand that this is a normal change in pregnancy,” Dr Buchanan said. She advised women that if they are ever in any doubt about the reason behind their discharge, then it's always best to get swabbed to screen for STIs and treated if one is present.

Stretch marks

One common change in pregnancy is weight gain and a common result of the rapid weight gain is stretch marks. These commonly appear on the abdomen, breasts, arms and limbs and at times they may be quite large and very dark in colour. Sometimes weight gain may be excessive and women dread this because they feel that they are unattractive. Dr Buchanan encouraged women to exercise and eat healthily to prevent excessive weight gain in pregnancy.

Excessive sweating

Another common fear for pregnant women, especially those pregnant in the summer or who live in a tropical climate, is the heat. Even if ordinarily they would rarely sweat, they may notice that during pregnancy, with the increase in their metabolic rate, sweating also increases. This is made worse by living in a warm climate.

“Excessive sweating can be somewhat embarrassing, especially when it's visible under the arms or the back of your clothes. It's important to wear cool, comfortable clothing and keep well hydrated and try to keep as cool as possible with the aid of air conditioning or a fan,” Dr Buchanan advised.

Swollen feet/varicose veins

“Swollen feet and varicose veins are also common due to increased intra-abdominal pressure and pressure on the venous system in the lower limbs. This increases swelling in the legs, that cause swollen feet,” Dr Buchanan said.

Some women with very swollen feet may feel a bit embarrassed, especially when their feet can't fit into their shoes. This challenge can be addressed by elevating the legs or by using compression stockings which can prevent the swelling in the legs even though they may find this unattractive.

“On the point of varicose veins, these are common and may be considered unattractive, but these usually improve after pregnancy. Just like with swollen feet, compression stockings can prevent them from getting more extensive,” Dr Buchanan advised. She said that progressively worsening varicose veins can cause venous insufficiency and leg ulcers later in life.

Dr Buchanan said that while many women are embarrassed by some of the changes that occur in pregnancy, they should try to view them as part of the process of bringing a new life into the world, rather than becoming fixated on them.

“Always remember that the changes that your body undergoes are normal and most of these changes will revert after the pregnancy,” Dr Buchanan said.


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