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What to Eat When You're Pregnant and Vegetarian : Common complaints and how to deal with them - Dizziness and fainting, Dizziness and fainting Restless legs , Sleep problems and tiredness

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Dizziness and fainting

Half to three-quarters of pregnant women experience dizziness at some time. You may find that you feel light-headed when you get out of bed in the morning or if you get up from a chair too quickly. Standing still for long periods might also make you feel light-headed.

There are several possible causes:

  • low blood sugar levels due to not eating enough;
  • low blood pressure – this is common in early pregnancy as progesterone causes the walls of the blood vessels to relax;
  • low iron levels or anaemia;
  • getting too hot.

Whatever the cause, the first thing to do is make sure you sit down, so that you don’t fall down. It may help if you lie down on your left side or sit with your head between your knees, as this increases blood flow to your brain. When the immediate dizziness passes, it shouldn’t be too difficult to work out if you need to eat or cool down and then remedy the problem. Your midwife should be able to tell you if you have low iron levels from the results of your blood tests, and if this is the case the problem can be treated with iron supplements. Your midwife should also be able to tell you if you have low blood pressure, and if this is the case you just need to be more careful about getting up slowly and sitting down if you start to feel dizzy.

If you have actually fainted, it’s best to see your doctor to make sure everything is okay. You should also do this if you experience other problems too, such as a headache, pelvic pain or blurred vision.

Restless legs

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) involves a strong urge to move the legs and also sometimes the arms. Women generally find symptoms are worse when they settle down for a much-needed rest, particularly at night. RLS can occur at any stage of life but is two to three times more likely during pregnancy, particularly in the last trimester. It is estimated that between 10% and 25% of women are affected at some stage of pregnancy. Symptoms usually disappear after the baby is born.

It is not clear what causes RLS, but people who suffer from it have been found to have lower levels of dopamine in a region of the brain known as the substantia niagra. Iron is important in the production of dopamine, and low iron levels may be part of the problem. Certainly RLS appears to be more common in pregnant women with low iron levels, and symptoms tend to improve when iron supplements are given. In addition, folic acid supplements have been found to help alleviate symptoms, although the reason for this is less clear. Some people find that particular foods or drinks act as a trigger, for example coffee or sugary foods.

To help relieve restless legs, try the following:

  • Take some exercise every day, but avoid exercising vigorously just before bed.
  • Stretch your legs and massage them before you settle down for the night.
  • Take a warm bath before bed.
  • Avoid refined sugars and instead eat more low-GI foods.
  • Avoid caffeine completely, as this may have some effect.
  • If your iron levels are low, take iron supplements. You can also try folic acid supplements.
  • Try stretching, bending and rubbing your legs or walking around the room when symptoms occur.

Sleep problems and tiredness

Sleep problems are common in pregnancy, as it can be difficult to find a comfortable position as your bump grows. It can also be difficult to get a good night’s sleep if you’re suffering from nausea or heartburn or find yourself having to get up for a wee. Worrying, or even just thinking, about your baby and the future may also keep you awake.

Eight hours of sound sleep may not be possible for some time (maybe for years), but there are plenty of things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep and help you feel refreshed when you get up in the morning:

  • Use extra pillows and cushions to make yourself more comfortable. Using a foam wedge under your bump or a V- or U-shaped cushion may help.
  • Avoid exercise late in the evening as this can interfere with sleep patterns. Regular exercise will help you to sleep more soundly but it is better to do this earlier in the day.
  • Have a bedtime routine that includes quiet time and a warm bath before bed. Once you’re in bed there shouldn’t be any electronic devices such as laptops or smartphones; some quiet music or a book is much better. You should also try to get to bed at about the same time every night and avoid napping on the sofa beforehand.
  • Avoid having any caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
  • Don’t have a large meal just before bed, as this can lead to indigestion and heartburn . Instead have regular meals, including breakfast, lunch and an early evening meal, then maybe a small snack later on.
  • Drink plenty of fluids during the day but avoid having too much to drink in the evening.
  • Have a warm milky drink in the evening.

You’re bound to feel tired if you haven’t slept well, but having a lack of energy and generally feeling lethargic can have other causes, including anaemia and gestational diabetes, so talk to your doctor or midwife about it. In early pregnancy tiredness can be a particular problem, as hormone levels are altered, your body is starting to change and you’re probably still trying to do everything you would normally do. The obvious remedy is to slow down and look after yourself by eating and sleeping well.

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