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3. My Pounding Head

Headaches can be very common in pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. The most common are tension headaches, which most people experience whether pregnant or not. If you suffered with chronic headaches before, they may become worse during pregnancy. Though experts are not sure why, the factor behind headaches in pregnancy is probably the crazy hormone levels and the changes in your blood circulation. The good news is that for most women, headaches during pregnancy will probably lessen—and maybe even disappear altogether—by the second trimester. That is when the sudden rise in hormones stabilizes, and your body gets used to its altered chemistry. Other causes can include quitting your caffeine habit too abruptly as well as lack of sleep, fatigue, allergies, eyestrain, stress, depression, hunger, or dehydration.

Though most headaches during pregnancy are harmless, some can be a sign of a more serious problem. In the second or third trimester, a headache can be the sign of preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy-induced condition that includes high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and other indicators.

Relieving the Pain

The concern in pregnancy is over the products that can be used to relieve the pain of headaches. Most commonly used headache medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, are not recommended for use during pregnancy. Acetaminophen, or Tylenol, is safe to take but only as directed. Never take more than the bottle directs. In addition to over-the-counter medications, other remedies may help to relieve pain and should be tried first. For tension headaches, try a warm or cold compress applied to the forehead or back of the neck.

When should I call my doctor about a headache?

If you are in your second or third trimester and experience a bad headache, or a headache for the first time during your pregnancy, you should contact your doctor. If you have a severe headache that comes on suddenly, won’t go away, and is unlike any you have ever experienced, you should call your doctor. You should contact your doctor if you have a headache that worsens and is accompanied by vision problems, speech problems, drowsiness, and/or numbness. Also call your doctor if your headache is accompanied by a stiff neck and fever.

Pinpointing the trigger of your headache can help you to relieve it. If you are in a hot, stuffy room, get some fresh air. If the trigger is your screaming kids, drop them off with a relative or friend and take a break. Figure out what is triggering the problem, and try to defuse the situation. Take a warm shower or bath; if you have the time and money, get a professional to give you a massage and work out the knots. Since low blood sugar can be a trigger for headaches, make sure you keep your stomach full. Eat small meals every few hours so you don’t become hungry. Avoid food that is high in sugar like candy, which can cause blood sugar to rapidly spike and crash. If possible, avoid fatigue and take daily naps if you need them. Regular sleep patterns can be very helpful in reducing the number of headaches you get.

Regular exercise can also help decrease the stress that sometimes causes tension headaches. Try to adopt regular relaxation techniques into your daily routine. Meditation and yoga can be very helpful in reducing stress and headaches. Find a professional to show you safe yoga and other relaxation techniques. Headaches can be caused by something you don’t even realize is happening, such as eyestrain. If you find that after reading or sitting at your computer you get headaches, visit your eye doctor.

Even if you are a headache veteran, talk to your doctor about your headaches so that he can decide what type of treatment might be best for you during your pregnancy. Do not treat or diagnose yourself. If you have a headache that worries you, don’t hesitate to call your doctor.

Migraines and Pregnancy

Migraine headaches are fairly common in women of childbearing age. About two-thirds of women who suffer from migraines before becoming pregnant note an improvement in their symptoms after the first trimester. This is especially true if their migraines were normally caused by hormonal changes during their menstrual cycle. Others, however, notice no change, and some even experience more frequent and intense headaches.

About 15 percent of migraine sufferers experience these terrible headaches for the first time during pregnancy, usually in the first trimester.

Migraines are much different than tension headaches. A migraine is a type of vascular headache that occurs when the blood vessels in the brain constrict and then dilate rapidly. Some people experience visual disturbances or an aura before the headache occurs. The pain is usually concentrated on one side of the head and takes the form of severe throbbing. Some people also experience nausea and vomiting as well as sensitivity to light and noise. Little is known about what causes migraines. The best way to treat your migraine headache during pregnancy is to try to avoid one.

If you are a regular migraine sufferer, you won’t be able to take the medication that you were taking before pregnancy. You should talk to your doctor right away about what is safe to take so you know ahead of time what to do. When a migraine does hit, try to sleep it off in a quiet, dark room and apply a cold compress to your forehead or neck. A cold shower can help to constrict the dilated blood vessels. If you can’t take a shower, at least splash some cool water on your face and the back of your neck.

Some migraines are triggered by certain foods. If you know what these foods are, avoid them. If you don’t know, keep a food diary to try to pinpoint the culprits. Common offenders include foods containing MSG, red wine, cured meats, chocolate, aged cheese, and preserved meats such as hot dogs or bologna. As in treating other headaches, it is important to keep your stomach full and your blood sugar level up. Low blood sugar can also trigger migraines.

Try to stay physically active during your pregnancy. Evidence has shown that regular exercise can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. Start slowly, though, because sudden bursts of activity, especially if you are not used to exercise, could trigger a migraine. Get plenty of rest, and adopt regular sleep patterns by going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time very morning. Irregular sleeping patterns can be a big trigger for migraines. As with tension headaches, it is important to practice stress-relieving techniques.

4. Mouth and Gum Discomfort

Because of the hormonal changes that affect the blood supply to the mouth and gums, pregnancy can be demanding on your teeth and can make you more susceptible to mouth and gum discomfort. Increases in hormones can make your gums sensitive and make you more susceptible for gum disease such as gingivitis. Gingivitis is especially common during the second to eighth months of pregnancy and can cause red, puffy, or tender gums that tend to bleed when you brush your teeth. Having a sore mouth and gums can make it hard to eat certain foods, which can result in lower calorie intake or not eating from all of the food groups.

Taking Care of Your Teeth

It is important to see your dentist early in your pregnancy and to have regular checkups. Brush your teeth and tongue at least twice per day, and floss regularly. Chew sugarless gum after meals if you are not able to brush. Make sure you are taking your prenatal vitamins and calcium supplements daily, or as directed, to help strengthen your teeth and keep your mouth healthy. If you have any mouth or gum problems, see your dentist to keep them from interfering with your healthy diet.

If you experience problems with taste changes or recurring bad tastes, try using mouthwash. Often, chewing gum, mints, or hard candy can help lessen unpleasant tastes.

The taste of mint in toothpaste or mouthwash can trigger nausea in some pregnant women. If you experience this, try children’s bubblegum-flavored toothpaste so that you can continue good dental care.

The Fluoride Connection

Fluoride is a trace mineral found in most tap water. It is known for its dental cavity-fighting properties. It also bonds with calcium and phosphorus to form strong bones. A baby needs fluoride in the second to third month, as her teeth begin to form. During pregnancy, the recommended intake is 3 mg, with a tolerable upper intake level of 10 mg. There is no need for a supplement as long as you drink or cook with fluoridated tap water. Bottled water usually does not contain fluoride. Fluoride is not widely found in food. Significant sources include tea, especially if brewed with fluoridated water, fish with edible bones, kale, spinach, apples, and nonfat milk.

5. Battling Leg Cramps

Muscle cramps, especially leg cramps, can be another bothersome discomfort during pregnancy. They usually surface late in the second trimester and in the third trimester of pregnancy. They can occur at any time of day, but they occur most often at night.

The truth is that no one really knows exactly why women experience leg cramps during pregnancy. Fatigue in muscles that are carrying around extra weight, as well as circulation problems later in pregnancy, can cause leg cramps. Some believe they are caused by excess phosphorus and too little calcium, potassium, and/or magnesium in the blood. Though there is no concrete evidence that supplementing with these minerals decreases leg cramps during pregnancy, some doctors may prescribe them anyway. The best idea is too make sure you are getting plenty of these nutrients by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes all of the food groups. Some also believe that cramps can be due to inactivity, decreased circulation, and not enough fluids during pregnancy. Do not take any additional supplements unless you have talked with your doctor first. No matter what the reason, the good news is that there are ways that you can both prevent and alleviate your leg cramps. Here are a few tips:

• Avoid standing or sitting in the same position for long periods of time. That includes sitting with your legs crossed, which can decrease blood circulation in your legs.

• Stretch your calf muscles periodically during the day and especially before going to bed at night and when waking up in the morning.

• With your doctor’s permission, take a walk or engage in some other physical activity every day to help the flow of blood in your legs and extremities.

• Stay well hydrated throughout the day by drinking eight to twelve glasses of water daily.

• Make sure you are getting plenty of calcium in your diet through food and prescribed supplements. Aim for three servings of dairy foods per day.

• If you get a cramp, massage the troubled area. You can also try applying a hot water bottle or heating pad to your leg. Straighten your leg and flex your ankle and toes slowly up toward your nose.

Do not go overboard with your calcium intake to relieve leg cramps. Consume no more than three dairy servings per day, and take your calcium supplement only as directed by your doctor. Too much calcium and phosphorus may decrease the absorption of magnesium, which also may be needed to prevent muscle cramps. Too much calcium over an extended period of time can also inhibit the absorption of iron and zinc as well as cause other problems. The upper tolerable limit for calcium is 2,500 mg per day.

6. Can’t Sleep?

During the day, pregnant women seem to fight fatigue, but at night many end up fighting sleeplessness, especially during the first and third trimesters. During the first trimester, sleepless nights can be the result of endless trips to the bathroom due to increased need to urinate or from symptoms of morning sickness. Excitement, anxiety, and worrying about becoming a new mother can also disrupt normal sleep patterns. During the third trimester, physical discomfort due to the size of the abdomen, heartburn, backaches, leg cramps, and anxiety can all be culprits.

Don’t be alarmed if you experience sleep disturbances during your pregnancy. With all of the emotional and physical changes to deal with it is no surprise that a reported 78 percent of pregnant women experience sleep disturbances such as insomnia.

If you experience insomnia, it may help to take afternoon naps—but not so many that you find it hard to sleep at night—to drink warm milk, or to take a warm bath before bedtime. Find ways to relax yourself to sleep, such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, or reading before bedtime. Make sure your bedroom is at a comfortable temperature and that it is dark and quiet. Regular exercise during the day can also help. Above all, don’t worry or get yourself all worked up about not being able to get to sleep. That will only exacerbate the problem. Do what you can to relax and fall asleep. Do not take sleeping pills or other herbal remedies without talking to your doctor first. If you feel you have a serious sleep disorder, talk to your doctor.

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