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Coping with Common Discomforts During Pregnancy
The following are the most common pregnancy concerns and the strategies to deal with them while you are on the job:
Backaches are common during pregnancy because of the increased weight you're carrying, especially if your baby is resting on your spine. Neck and shoulder aches can be due to tension and/or the increased weight of your growing breasts. Lower back pain that extends or shoots down one buttock and into one leg is probably sciatica, caused when the baby's head compresses the sciatic nerve. The tips that follow will help to relieve the discomfort of backaches or avoid them altogether:
- Drive comfortablyMove your car seat forward to keep your knees bent and higher than your hips. Use a small pillow to support your lower back area.
- Lift correctlyStabilize your body first by assuming a wide stance and tucking in your buttocks. Bend at the knees, not at the waist, and lift with your arms and legs, which will take the stress off your back. Lift objects only chest high. If your job demands frequent heavy lifting, ask to be assigned to less taxing duties.
- Limit your standingTry not to stand in one place or one position for too long. If your job requires long periods of standing, keep one foot on a raised surface, such as a step or a box, to prevent your lower back from curving inward; or stand on a small, skid-proof rug. When standing at a table, lean forward with your knees slightly bent, and support your weight with your hands or elbows.
- Use ice or a cold packPlace a bag with ice, wrapped in a towel, against the small of your back when you're sitting down.
- Relieve strainWhen seated at your desk, prop up one leg on a footstool, stack of files, trash can, or anything else available. When walking, sitting, or lying down, avoid putting stress on your back muscles by tucking in your buttocks. Keep your back from arching forward when you stand or lie on your side. At work or at home, you can also lean forward in a chair and lower your head to your knees for thirty seconds. Rise and repeat six times, up to six times a day.
- Stretch dailyTry setting the clock on your computer to beep at you every thirty minutes to remind you to stretch.
- Avoid wearing high heels to workWear sturdy shoes, with a heel no higher than one inch. Save higher heels for special meetings and appointments with clients, and place thin, foam-rubber inserts in the toes to reduce pressure.
- Wear a maternity beltA wide, soft, supportive elastic band that wraps around your lower back and under your belly can take over part of the job of tired, stretched abdominal and back muscles as it cradles the weight of your growing belly.
- Poor posture can also cause your back to acheTry to keep your shoulders and hips in line as you walk, and keep your back straight by tucking a pillow behind you when you're seated.
More than 70 percent of pregnant women experience some fluid accumulation in their feet, legs, face, and hands. This condition is related to hormone buildup in your system, which results in the kidneys collecting more water and salt than normal. If your job keeps you on your feet, you are also more likely to experience edema
If you experience sudden, extreme swelling, you should immediately alert your physician. This could be a warning sign of preclampsia or toxemia. Mild swelling, which is considered normal and beneficial, can bee relieved by these methods.
- Raise your legsProp up your legs at work on anything available: a stack of papers, books, or a box. Also, elevate your feet and hands above your heart to reduce swelling by gravity. If possible, lie down during the day on your left (heart) side, not on your back. This position prevents your uterus from compressing major arteries and lets your system reabsorb the fluid. Also try walking around the block on your lunch hour.
- Soak your feetTired, burning feet should be soaked at the end of a workday. Rotate your ankles to reduce swelling.
- Keep water at your deskConsuming extra water will help to draw fluid from puffy tissues back into your bloodstream to be excreted by your kidneys later. Have a glass or a squeeze bottle of water nearby throughout the day.
- Wear loose clothingAlthough you always want to look well dressed at work, choose looser clothes for maternity wear. Wear elastic support hose, too, and remove tight-fitting rings and other jewelry. Keep an extra, larger pair of shoes in your office to wear when your feet swell.
- Watch your dietStay away from fatty foods, eat plenty of protein, and cut down on salt, which causes fluid retention.
- Avoid chemicalsChemical diuretics have been found to be harmful to a pregnant woman. Try taking a couple of spoonfuls of apple-cider vinegar, a natural diuretic, before each meal. Herbal and homeopathic remedies can help.
During your first trimester, you may experience extreme fatigue
. By the second trimester, your body will probably have adjusted, and you may feel full of energy. By the third trimester, however, you may feel exhausted again and need more rest. There's no cure for this; your body is just reflecting the strains being put on it. These are things you can do to help combat work fatigue:
- Retire earlyNever mind the undone chores you see all around you.
- Try to reduce worryingMaking an effort not to worry about work and home concerns can relieve the tension that builds up during the day.
- Delegate responsibilitiesIf you're in a position to delegate responsibility when the pressure becomes too great, do so. Most coworkers will understand and be cooperative, so don't feel guilty about doing it.
- Learn your daily rhythms of alertness and fatigueDo your strenuous or creative work during alert times; rest during tired periods. Take a short nap every day during your lunch hour. If you don't have a room to retire to, rest your head on your desk or find an empty conference room or lounge you can use. If possible, ask your employer to reduce your hours temporarily if you just can't keep up near the end of your term.
- Combat anemiaAnemia can result in tiredness, weakness, and fainting. Add more iron-rich foods to your diet, such as lentils and green leafy vegetables. Doctor-recommended iron tablets can help as well.
Headaches are extremely common during pregnancy. They may be caused by hormonal changes over which you have little control. But you may alleviate the problem by doing the following:
Heartburn and Indigestion
- RestSit in a dark, quiet room with your eyes closed. Try meditation, yoga, or other relaxation techniques until it passes (see Stress Reducers for Working Moms-to-be).
- Breathe fresh airAvoid stuffy, overheated, smoke-filled rooms. Step outside, if possible, for a breath of clear air.
- Eat regularlyLittle or no food over a long period causes your blood sugar level to drop. Excessive caffeine can cause headaches as well.
- Try to reduce stressWhenever possible, avoid unnecessary stressful situations and find ways to control the stress you cannot avoid.
- Take calciumCalcium tends to quiet your nerves and ease a headache. If the headaches are regular, take up to four 450-milligram calcium tablets a day. If you suddenly develop a severe headache, call your doctor. It could indicate the onset of toxemia.
- Cut down on your salt intakeEspecially during pregnancy, too much salt can cause headaches and high blood pressure.
- Use cold compressesPlace a cold, moist cloth on your forehead or on the back of your neck. Add a few drops of essential oil of lavender on your washcloth.
- Use linimentsRub peppermint oil, Tiger Balm, or white flower oil into your temples, or drink peppermint tea.
- Take nonaspirin pain relieversGet your doctor's approval first.
The heart has nothing to do with this problem, which was named long before it was understood. Heartburn
involves regurgitation of stomach acid back into the throat or esophagus. It's a mild form of indigestion that, once again, is caused by your hormonal changes. You may experience a burning sensation in your upper abdomen or lower chest, a bitter taste in your mouth, and belching. Here are ways to relieve this problem:
- Eliminate certain foodsStop drinking citrus fruit juices or beverages made from them. Eliminate rich, greasy, and spicy foods from your diet. Instead, take snacks to work, such as yogurt and honey, papaya, apples, or toast. Also stay away from caffeine-filled drinks.
- Eat small amounts regularly rather than a few big mealsAvoid eating too much, too quickly.
- Drink waterA glass of water will wash away the acid. Then drink a little milk, buttermilk, or cream to coat your stomach. Or try some peppermint tea.
- Chew gumChew a stick of gum after meals or sip a carbonated drink.
- Try a tablespoon of honey in a glass of warm milk.
- Use antacidsAsk your physician about using Maalox or Gelusil to relieve the discomfort. These are products you can keep in your desk drawer and use whenever necessary without disrupting your work. Liquid antacids are more effective than tablets.
- Change your positionTry sitting or standing. Avoid lying down; it may only worsen the condition. Sleep propped up with extra pillows an elevated head may help.
- Remain upright after eating.
- Try some herbal and homeopathic remedies.
Constipation and straining to move your bowels may cause hemorrhoids (varicose veins of the rectum caused by pressure). While hemorrhoids are common in pregnancy, they shrink right after delivery. If they cause you pain at work, try the following aids:
- If you sit for long hours, use a pillow or a rubber doughnut-shaped cushion to relieve the discomfort. Apply ice packs or pads soaked in witch hazel or Annusol. Drugstores sell Tucks, which work well too.
- If you stand for long hours at work, take sitting breaks whenever your supervisor gives you the okay.
Muscle cramps in the back, groin, and legs caused by slow blood circulation and pressure on certain nerves are common occurrences. If you cramp up at work, give these ideas a try:
Nausea, Vomiting, and Morning Sickness
- Change your position by sitting in another position for a few minutes.
- If you're standing when the cramp occurs, keep your weight evenly distributed and flex your knees. Avoid pointing your toes. Instead, bring your toes upward, pushing out with your heel.
- Place a hot-water bag or heating pad directly on the cramped muscle.
- Drink lots of fluids. Place two tablespoons of honey in a glass of warm water to help your muscles relax.
- Wear support hose to help relive leg cramps. A well-fitting maternity girdle and low-heeled shoes will relieve the strain on your muscles as well.
Many women suffer from occasional nausea because of the pressure on organs and the high levels of estrogen in the body, especially in early pregnancy. If you are prone to vomiting, keep towels, a trash can, and mouthwash or breath mints at your desk, and figure out the quickest way to the bathroom. If you are driving, have a big bottle of ice water handy and drive with the window down or with cool air on your face. Keep plastic grocery bags ready. There are steps you can take to fend off nausea, among them:
- Eat little but frequentlyGet plenty of protein. Keep high carb foods like dry crackers, pretzels, popcorn, and toast at your desk. Bananas are nutritious and kind to queasy stomachs.
- Stay away from coffee and spicy, sweet, or greasy foodsAdd a drop of peppermint oil directly on the tongue or mix with honey. Papaya enzyme and ginger capsules (found in health foods stores) are also helpful.
- Drink carefullyDrink fruit juices or carbonated drinks at the end of, rather than during, meals. Find out whether very hot or very cold drinks (like ice water) are best for you. Sip on some clove, Raspberry, or ginger tea.
- Try acupunctureWear an acupuncture bracelet found at most stores (e.g., Sea Bands) or apply pressure on your wrist yourself. Gently press on a spot at the center of the underside of your wrist, about three finger-widths below your balm.
- Use iceBring an ice pack to work. If nausea strikes, fill it with ice and hold it against your forehead or stomach. When an ice bag is not handy, use a cold, moist towel instead.
- Breathe deeply.
The tiny blood vessels of the nose become more congested during pregnancy and break open easily. That's why nosebleeds
are so common. Dry air tends to worsen the problem. You might try these techniques:
- Apply pressureLean your head forward (not backwards, because you could swallow and choke on your blood), and apply pressure to the bridge of your nose with your fingers for at least four minutes. Keep tissues handy on your desk to protect your clothing.
- Try VaselineApply Vaseline with a cotton-tip swab to each nostril to stop the bleeding.
- Use a sprayIf your nose feels uncomfortably full after a nosebleed, mix ½ teaspoon of salt with ½ cup of warm water, and spray each nostril with the mixture.
Your basal metabolic rate (the rate at which you spend energy) increases by 20 percent during pregnancy. This causes sweat glands to work overtime and the blood flow to your skin to increase. You're likely to feel uncomfortable in both warm weather and cold. It will take a little extra effort to keep yourself cool, so try to do the following:
- Bathe dailyA daily bath is a must during pregnancy. Also use a good antiperspirant.
- Dress in layersAs the office gets warmer, you can remove a layer at a time until you're down to a thin blouse.
- Keep tissues nearbySometimes sweaty palms make it difficult to work. A box of tissues, a handkerchief, or even a towel are handy things to keep conveniently nearby.
- Wear foot padsIf your feet become less tolerant to heat, use foot pads to keep perspiration under control.
- Keep a fan in your office or at your workstation.
- Schedule your timeMake sure you're not outside between 11:00 and 3:00 when the sun is at its strongest.
- Try not to accept work assignments that could take too much of a physical tollAn all-day business conference is draining enough under any circumstances, but for mothers-to-be, such an event can be downright exhausting.
Your uterus is placing pressure on your bladder, that's true, but also you're drinking more water to relieve constipation, dehydration, and possibly to treat a urinary-tract infection. To be on the safe side, do the following:
- Empty your bladder frequently throughout the dayYou may have to explain to your boss that you need more frequent toilet breaks.
- Wear a sanitary napkinBe prepared in case you can't make it to the restroom in time.
- Tell your doctorFrequent urination may also be the result of an infection. If the problem increases, talk to your doctor.
When veins become weakened and enlarged because they've had to work harder to circulate the blood, they are called varicose veins. Heredity also plays a part in their development. Pregnant women will often develop them in their legs, and less often, in their genital area. You can expect them to fade dramatically after birth. While you're still pregnant, however, there are efforts you can make to reduce the threat, such as:
- Move around oftenWalking and exercising provide the best protection against varicose veins. Elevate your legs when you're sitting to hurry the return of blood from your legs.
- Wear support hoseEspecially if you stand for long periods, wear elastic support stockings or maternity pantyhose, which you should put on while lying on your back. Avoid tight clothing.
- Don't cross your legs for long periods of time.
Increased water retention and elevated hormone levels may cause vision disturbances. The difficulty is only temporary; just take these precautions while waiting for it to pass:
- Cleanse contact lenses oftenCloudy contact lenses interfere with your work. Keep a lens-cleaning kit at work and use it whenever necessary. If contacts don't fit as well as usual, wear eyeglasses instead.
- Use eye dropsAsk your doctor to recommend a good brand of eye drops and use them several times during the workday.
- Avoid eye strainYou may not be able to cut down on reading if your work responsibilities require it. But be sure to rest your eyes in the evening if they've been bothering you. Avoid watching TV.
© 2005 by Marla Schram Schwartz. Excerpted from The Working Woman's Baby Planner with permission of its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
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