Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

Insomnia, heart burn, back pain, constipation and stretch marks: the most brutal pregnancy symptoms and how to avoid them

Insomnia, heart burn, back pain, constipation and stretch marks: the most brutal pregnancy symptoms and how to avoid them

When it comes to pregnancy, changes to your body (for most of us) happen almost immediately. While you’ll probably notice changes to your body as soon as you find out that you’re pregnant, some might be surprised to learn that your body doesn’t stop changing as your bump continues to grow. 

Personally, it was the first and third trimester that I experienced the most change - from swollen breasts and weight gain to heart burn and back aches…just to name a few. 

But, compared to some, my pregnancy was a fairly easy and pleasant one. And I attribute this to the close attention I paid to my body and the hacks that I stuck to in order to keep a lot of pregnancy symptoms at bay - especially during the third trimester, which has definitely been the most challenging for me. 

Whenever I discuss pregnancy with fellow moms or moms-to-be, and I bring up how positive my experience was, I hear a lot about how ‘lucky’ I am and the conversation ends there.

To be honest, I resent this sentiment - that how great I feel is a matter of luck - because over the course of my pregnancy, I’ve worked really hard to feel good. 

It’s not to say that aches, pains and inconveniences don’t creep up on me just like they do with everyone else. But I’ve been really mindful about what causes certain symptoms and I’ve been disciplined in my habits to ensure that I am doing whatever I can to avoid bringing them on myself. 

And today I want to shed light on exactly what I’ve done to avoid or minimize certain symptoms, and how my actions (not luck!) allowed me to have a really positive pregnancy experience because I am hopeful that some or all of these tips, tricks and hacks could work just as well for each of you!

Insomnia - Nearly 8 out of 10 women have trouble sleeping during pregnancy, for a wide variety of reasons - a lot of which have to do with the physical and emotional changes they’re experiencing. Sometimes you can’t get comfortable, other times your mind is racing thinking about what’s to come. Personally I’ve had no issues getting to sleep and staying asleep. I’m even able to fall back asleep after several trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night. 

To make sure I get sufficient, quality sleep every night I’ve made a habit of the doing the following:

  • Eat dinner no later than 7:30PM every night and I try to keep it light so I don’t feel too full or uncomfortable, and there’s enough time to digest before I hit the sack. 

  • I stay off my phone for the hour or two before I aim to fall asleep (usually by 11PM). Whenever I use my phone before bed it leads to overstimulation, which causes me to overthink things and become unnecessarily anxious.

  • I use a noisemaker to help me drift off. I’ve been using a noisemaker to help me sleep for years, and it’s never failed me - even throughout my pregnancy. It’s great to drown out the noises in and around my house as well as the ones that creep up inside my head from time to time. 

Heart Burn - At some point in your pregnancy, it’s likely that you’ll experience heartburn. For some, it’s due to the progesterone hormone, which relaxes muscles during pregnancy, including the stomach valve that keeps acid out of the esophagus. For others, especially those nearing the end of their pregnancy, a growing uterus pushes the stomach and its contents upwards, which then forces acids into the esophagus. 

Heartburn is one symptom that did creep up on me in the third trimester. But as soon as it started happening, I was able to nip it in the bud by remembering to stick to the following:

  • Limit acidic and spicy foods.

  • Eat smaller portions - especially in your third trimester. In my case, my doctor recommended three small meals and two small snacks a day. Also, staying upright after you eat for at least an hour, but preferably 2-3 hours. And no snacking at night!

  • Have Tums on hand as a last resort if nothing else works. It’s a temporary fix, but it works. However, I try not to depend on them since pregnant women are limited to no more than 6 per day (which is not a lot if you’re eating/grazing throughout the day).

Back Pain - Back pain or discomfort is really common during pregnancy and should be expected by most women (to some degree). Back pain may be experienced during any point of your pregnancy; however, it most commonly occurs later in pregnancy as your baby grows.

Throughout my pregnancy, even well into my third trimester, I’ve had pretty minimal back pain. When it does happen, it’s pretty mild. In any case, here’s what’s helped me:

  • I kept weight gain, and the rate at which I gained it, manageable. Of course during pregnancy it is inevitable that you will get bigger; however there is no need (and it’s definitely not recommended) that you become enormous. The more weight you’re gaining, especially unnecessarily, the more your body will have to carry, which puts greater pressure on your muscles, joints and ligaments, causing you more pain. 

  • Staying active for me has included a healthy mix of low intensity steady state cardio, stretching and toning exercises such as prenatal yoga and pilates - about 4-5 days a week. All of these activities are known to not only relieve lower back tension but also create a stronger core, which is needed to support the rest of your body. 

  • Finding clothes that fit and flatter during pregnancy has been tough. But at all costs, I avoid wearing clothes that are too tight. A bra that doesn’t fit properly or pants that pinch your waist or hips will both contribute to back pain.

  • A heat pad or hot bath (not too hot) both offer great temporary relief, especially after a long day.

Constipation - Like so many other pregnancy symptoms, hormones are likely to blame if you’re suffering from constipation. For many, constipation can start as early as the second or third month of pregnancy, which is around the time that that your progesterone levels rise and cause the muscles in your bowels to relax, allowing food to stay in your digestive track for longer periods. For some, constipation gets increasingly worse as pregnancy progresses, as the uterus expands and cramps the bowels. 

I had absolutely zero issues with constipation at any point in my pregnancy. This is why:

  • My diet consists of mostly plant-based whole foods and so many of these foods are loaded with fiber, which is necessary for elimination. This means lots of fruits, as well as vegetables, whole grains and legumes at every meal. 

  • I drink 2-3 liters of water every single day, no matter what. Staying hydrated is critical for ensuring regular bowel movements. 

  • I workout about 4-5 days a week, and it’s believed that exercise is yet another remedy for constipation, as it is said to help decrease the amount of time it takes food to move through the large intestine.

Stretch Marks - From what I’ve heard, stretch marks are pretty common during pregnancy. While most women develop stretch marks on their stomachs, due to their growing belly, it’s not uncommon that they develop on other parts of the body too, such as breasts, thighs, hips and the butt. Generally, stretch marks will develop where larger amounts of fat are stored. 

Whether or not you get them may also have to do with genetics. 

So far, I’ve been able to avoid stretch marks (though I still have about 6 weeks left until I deliver and anything can happen). Here’s what I’ve done to help keep them at bay:

  • While I’ve gained about 30 pounds so far (I’m currently 34 weeks), I did so in a manner that was slow and steady instead of in large spurts. 

  • Starting in my second trimester,  I began moisturizing with Bio Oil, which is made up of a combination of plant extracts and vitamins suspended in an oil base. It is known for healing and preventing both scars and stretch marks. I apply it every day - morning and night. Apart from it’s effectiveness, it’s also really affordable and easily accessible - you can get it on Amazon, or at your local drug store or Target. 

As you can see, I have and continue to remain pretty mindful about the cause of certain pregnancy symptoms and take a disciplined approach to focus on habits that will help remedy whatever it is that I’m going through. And it has served me really well for nearly the entire duration of my pregnancy. I thought I would hate being pregnant, but focusing on caring for myself by way of nutrition, exercise, general wellness and common sense has truly allowed me to enjoy it. Early on, I made the decision to view pregnancy as something that I was doing as opposed to something that was happening to me. And with everything that I do, it is my aim to do it well.

I understand that every pregnancy is different and that some things may be out of our control. That said, I hope that sharing my approach inspires others to take a similar one, and that they reap the benefits of it just like I did.

Thinking about a plant-based diet? Read this first.

Thinking about a plant-based diet? Read this first.

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