Dr Glenda McLaren
Obstetrician & Gynaecologist

Pregnancy FAQS

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A-Z of Frequently Asked Questions

Below is an A-Z list of common questions and problems encountered in pregnancy. The list is not exhaustive and if you cannot find the answer to your question here do not hesitate to contact Dr McLaren any time.

Iron deficiency is common in pregnancy. Taking a pregnancy multivitamin and having a balanced diet rich in iron is important and you may also need to take an iron supplement (Maltofer® or Ferrograd C®). 

Read more about Anaemia in pregnancy from the Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website.

Abdominal pain and discomfort is not uncommon in pregnancy. Bloating, wind and constipation can cause generalised colicky abdominal pain. Having a healthy high-fibre diet and keeping your bowels regular can minimise this discomfort.

Round ligament pain is very common during pregnancy and is often described as a “stitch-like” pain, particularly on the right side of the abdomen, associated with coughing, sneezing, walking or rolling over in bed.

Generally, these types of abdominal discomfort will settle spontaneously with rest and paracetamol. Any pain that is not short lived, is severe or is accompanied by bleeding needs to be investigated so don’t hesitate to contact Dr McLaren. 

During pregnancy, back pain is not uncommon due to the changes in your body and weight gain. In addition, caring for a newborn baby may cause additional strain on the back and neck muscles with lifting, bending and carrying your baby.

Your physiotherapist can assist with relief for back pain, and an exercise program to strengthen your back. 

Coughs and colds can occur in pregnancy and the following tips may make you more comfortable.

  • Ensure you get plenty of rest, and drink plenty of water.
  • Paracetamol is safe for fever and pain.
  • Don’t take Aspirin®, NSAIDs such as Nurofen® or Brufen® or any products containing pseudephedrine.
  • Throat lozenges are safe such as strepsils, and sipping lemon and honey.
  • Drixine® nasal spray is safe for a few days use.
  • Antihistamines are safe. We recommend Polaramine® in the first and second trimester, and Claratyne® in the second and third trimester for short term use only.
  • Pholcodeine Linctus® is safe for a dry cough.
  • Benadryl® or Robitussin DM® is safe for a chesty cough.
  • Talk to your doctor about ongoing cold symptoms.

This can be a very annoying symptom and can be due to the relaxing effect of the pregnancy hormones on the smooth muscle of the bowel which slows the bowel transit time down, as well as the mechanical effect of the baby pressing on the bowel.

Having a healthy, balanced, high-fibre diet with wholemeal breads, wholegrain cereals, fruit and vegetables, beans and lentils and exercising daily will help to maintain a regular bowel habit.

Make sure you also drink plenty of water throughout your pregnancy.

Movicol® sachets (1–2 per day), Agarol® or Coloxyl® are all safe to take. 

Some iron tablets may cause constipation and there are liquid formulations of iron as an alternative which can be less constipating.

It is important to maintain good oral hygiene in pregnancy. A common symptom of pregnancy is gingivitis, as the pregnancy hormones make the gums more vascular and prone to bleeding. During your pregnancy it is a good idea to see a dental hygienist to have your teeth cleaned and have a routine dental check-up.

Eating a healthy diet low in sugar and acid and high in calcium will help reduce the risk of dental decay.

Should your dentist need to do any further work during your pregnancy it is safe to have a dental X-ray with appropriate shielding and it is safe to have a filling with local anaesthetic. If you need antibiotics, your dentist will know what is safe to prescribe. Category A antibiotics are safe to use in pregnancy.

After a normal birth, it is safe to drive a car when you are comfortable and not too tired.

Following a Caesarean section, it usually takes three weeks before you are able to drive a car. You shouldn’t drive if you are too tired, distracted by pain or taking strong analgesics (for example, Endone®).

In the first and second trimester, it is not uncommon to feel faint, as your blood pressure drops due to the pregnancy hormones and the progressing increase in size of the uterus. Hot weather and standing for prolonged periods can also contribute to feeling faint. 

Feeling faint can be reduced by drinking plenty of water, having a well-balanced diet, eating iron rich foods and avoiding standing for long periods. 

Having regular antenatal visits to check your blood pressure and regular blood tests to check your haemoglobin and iron levels is also important.

The flu vaccine is recommended for all pregnant women. During pregnancy, you are more at risk of getting the flu and if you do catch the flu, it can be more severe. Having the vaccine during pregnancy also protects your baby as the antibody crosses the placenta.

Dyeing your hair and having foils are generally safe during pregnancy. As a precaution, it is probably best to avoid using hair dyes in the first trimester.

Haemorrhoids are a common problem during pregnancy. They are made worse by constipation in pregnancy and the mechanical effect of the baby pressing on the rectum.

Try to avoid constipation and straining by having a high-fibre diet, eating prunes and drinking pear juice and plenty of water. Regular exercise also helps maintain a healthy bowel habit.

Several over the counter creams for haemorrhoids are safe to use in pregnancy including Rectinol®, Anusol® and Proctosedyl®.

Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is very common in pregnancy. Symptoms include watery eyes, a runny nose and repeated sneezing. 

Topical nasal corticosteroid sprays are safe to use in pregnancy and can be bought over the counter. Rhinocort®, Beconase® or Otrivin® are all safe to use and help to unblock your nose.

Antihistamines can also be useful, especially at night to relieve symptoms. They can cause drowsiness when taken during the day. Polaramine® is safe to take in the first and second trimester and Claratyne® is safe to take in the second and third trimester to relieve symptoms.

Headaches are a common symptom of pregnancy and can be due to the changing pregnancy hormones. Other causes are dehydration, lack of sleep, prescription eye changes, referred pain from teeth and gums and high blood pressure. Paracetamol® is safe to take.

You should NOT take Aspirin® and non-steroidal medication such as Brufen® or Nurofen® in pregnancy.

Any headache which fails to settle with Paracetamol®, rest and fluids needs to be investigated further and you should call your GP or Obstetrician to be reviewed and have your blood pressure checked.

Heartburn is a common symptom of pregnancy which often gets worse in the last few weeks as your baby grows. It is due to the hormones of pregnancy relaxing the smooth muscle in your stomach and the mechanical effect of the baby pressing on the stomach causing acid to reflux up into the Oesophagus.

Below are some suggestions that can relieve heartburn:

  • Have small frequent meals and eat slowly
  • Try to have a smaller meal at dinner
  • Avoid spicy and fatty foods
  • Drink fluids and water in between meals rather than with them
  • Avoid coffee and foods that give you heartburn
  • Try warm milk before going to bed
  • Sleep on extra pillows
  • Try peppermint tea

There are a number of over the counter preparations that are safe to take. Rennie®, Mylanta®, Gaviscon® and Zantac® are all effective and safe over the counter preparations for heartburn. If your symptoms don’t settle you may need stronger medication available on prescription from your Doctor. 

The skin can become dry, itchy and more sensitive in pregnancy due to the increased blood supply, hormonal changes and the stretching that occurs in late pregnancy. Wearing loose clothing and using a moisturising cream can help.

Itching can, however, be a sign of a more serious problem called cholestasis particularly if there is an abdominal rash. If itching becomes severe, especially in the palms of your hands and/or the soles of your feet, it is important to talk to your Doctor who may arrange a blood test to diagnose the cause and arrange effective treatment.

Vaginal thrush is also common and causes itching especially in the warmer months and if there is diabetes. Read more about itching and pregnancy from the Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website. 

Leg cramps are common, especially at night, and are often caused by the hormones of pregnancy. Other causes can be calcium and magnesium deficiency, however, if you have a balanced healthy diet and are taking a multivitamin the cause is more likely to be hormonal.

Morning Sickness is a common symptom of early pregnancy and is due to the rapidly rising level of pregnancy hormone. The following tips may be of assistance:

  • Eat small frequent snacks
  • Eat dry toast or a dry biscuit before getting out of bed.
  • Avoid spicy and rich foods and strong food smells e.g. coffee
  • Drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest
  • Avoid fatty foods and dairy products
  • Try ginger ale or ginger beer or flat lemonade
  • Vitamin B6 and ginger can help, morning sickness formula and an antihistamine at night (Doxylamine, Restavit ®)
  • Commercially available “sea bands” from the chemist
  • Acupuncture
  • Prescription medicines such as Maxolon® and Zofran® 

Read more about morning sickness.

Nose bleeds are not uncommon in pregnancy due to the increased blood flow and the effects of the pregnancy hormones.

The main precaution to be aware of is the risk of inhaling lead particles when sanding old paint surfaces containing lead paint. If there is any doubt, it is best to get professional help and advice particularly if renovating and painting old furniture and old houses. When painting, make sure the room is well ventilated.

It is not uncommon to experience heart palpitations during pregnancy as your heart rate increases slightly to pump additional blood around through the placenta. These may feel like a thump or bump in your chest, or a change in the rhythm of your heart beat.

It is also important to check your iron levels as low iron and anaemia of pregnancy can aggravate palpitations.

Talk with your Doctor about any palpitations you are experiencing. In some circumstances, it may be appropriate to have a consult with a specialist  Cardiologist.

It is safe to pest control your house during pregnancy and a good time to do this is before baby comes. Some companies offer natural pesticides, however, it is safe for companies to use standard chemical pesticides providing you avoid inhaling any fumes and avoid direct contact with the pesticide.

It is advisable to avoid sleeping flat on your back after 24 weeks due to supine hypotension, where your blood pressure can drop while lying flat on your back. This can reduce the blood flow in the placenta and can make you feel faint whist at the same time reducing blood flow to your baby.

Sleeping on either side is fine and you may find a body pillow more comfortable as your baby grows.

The majority of women experience stretch marks in pregnancy due to the gradual weight gain, often on the abdomen and legs. There is no particular cream that will prevent stretch marks although many women find Vitamin E, Sorbelene and Cocoa Butter cream may be useful.

Many women notice swelling of their ankles especially in late pregnancy and in hot weather. Prolonged sitting or standing can aggravate this.

Swelling when combined with high blood pressure can be a sign of pregnancy-induced hypertension or preeclampsia, so make sure to discuss this with your Obstetrician. 

Thrush is another common symptom in pregnancy.  Avoiding too much sugar in the diet and wearing loose fitting cotton especially in summer can help. Canesten® pessaries and cream are safe to use in pregnancy without the applicator.

Many women experience varicose veins during pregnancy. Support stockings can help as well as avoiding sitting or standing for pronged periods. Vitamin C may be of benefit as well.

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