Pregnancy can be an exciting journey, and every pregnant woman will experience different changes in her body during this time. At our antenatal classes, we talk about the usual symptoms that can occur, including the ones people don’t often talk about in public. Our Midwife Penny has outlined some helpful information about some of the common pregnancy related changes that people rarely mention.
Not only can your breast increase in tenderness and size in pregnancy but they may also produce milk called Colostrum. This can occur from as early as 16 weeks of pregnancy.
Colostrum is the first milk full of rich antibodies that helps your baby’s immune system. It is usually a straw like colour and has the consistency of honey.
You may only leak a few drops or a small patch irregularly over the pregnancy period. Some women leak a little more than that which may require wearing breast pads. Whether you leak breast milk or not is no indication of lactation success postnatally.
Increased Vaginal Discharge
Almost all women have an increase in vaginal discharge during pregnancy. This is called Leucorrhoea, a milky white discharge. During pregnancy, the increased level of oestrogen and the increased blood flow helps the vaginal walls and cervix to soften and vaginal discharge increases to help create a protective barrier for the vagina, cervix and uterus.
The vaginal discharge should always be mucousy white and odourless. The discharge is made up of old cells from the vaginal walls, secretions from the cervix and normal bacterial flora from the vagina. Some women need to wear panty liners for the duration of pregnancy because of the amount of discharge which can feel wet and uncomfortable.
It has been estimated that up to 30% of women suffer from haemorrhoids in pregnancy. The volume of blood circulating around your body increases and high levels of the progesterone hormone relax the blood vessel walls. Veins below the uterus are more likely to become swollen or stretch due to the pressure of the uterus. Haemorrhoids are the swollen blood vessels in the short tube that connects the rectum with your anus. They can be very uncomfortable, cause anxiety with toileting, can be itchy or cause bleeding when opening bowels. Over the counter ointments can be used in pregnancy as a short term treatment to ease pressure, discomfort and help reduce the haemorrhoid size.
Constipation in pregnancy can also exacerbate haemorrhoids with regular straining to open your bowels. A high fibre diet, good hydration and regular exercise can help reduce the risk of pregnancy haemorrhoids.
Due to the increase of the hormones progesterone and oestrogen and the ever increasing heaviness of the uterus on the pelvic floor, varicosities around the vulval area can cause a great deal of discomfort, particularly in the third trimester of pregnancy for around 10 % of women. Similar to the varicose veins that can be found in the legs, vulval varicosities can swell, throb or generally be a heavy discomfort when standing for long periods. Usually the varicosoites can be seen as bulging veins around the vulva along the perineum. To minimise discomfort, avoid squatting, straining and standing for long periods. Rest, lying left or right side, ice and support stockings can give good relief. Normal vaginal delivery is still recommended and symptoms are usually alleviated significantly with birth.
Thrush is a yeast infection caused by a yeast like fungus called Candida Albicans. When pregnant we are more at risk of developing thrush because of the changing levels of hormones like oestrogen which can cause an increase in a vaginal glucose called Glycogen. Our normal balance is disrupted, and we get thrush.
Thrush when pregnant does not harm the baby. However, treatment is recommended to alleviate symptoms, such as stinging along the perineum, itching and a ‘cottage cheese’ like discharge. Treatment by way of a vaginal pessary, applicator and topical canestan cream is recommended and can be purchased over the counter at the pharmacy. We would always recommend that you seek medical diagnosis before treatment.
Probiotics such as Acidophilus and well balance healthy diet can help prevent thrush.
Urinary Stress Incontinence
Pregnancy can interfere with the normal way your urethra contracts and relaxes. Hormonal changes and added pressure on the bladder can cause pregnancy stress incontinence. More than 50 % of women will have experienced stress incontinence at some stage throughout pregnancy. Our pelvic floor feels like it gives way and we can leak urine when coughing, laughing, sneezing or participating in exercise.
Helpful hints to improve pelvic strength in pregnancy include:
- Regular pelvic floor exercises
- Ensure good toileting habits – scheduled bathroom breaks.
- Avoid constipation
- Keep well hydrated
- Yoga or Pilates for good core strength which helps ensure pelvic strength
- Seeing a physio for advice and ongoing pelvic floor training
The good news is that pregnancy incontinence is likely to be temporary can be improved significantly after birth with good health, exercise and ongoing pelvic floor strengthening.
We are very happy to discuss any of these issues in more detail over the phone or during your appointments at Dr Morris’ rooms.