Managing Early Symptoms
We've all heard the horror stories of nausea, vomiting, and bone-crushing fatigue from women who have been there, and this creates a lot of preconceived notions about what to expect when we're expecting. The truth is, every woman is different, and the symptoms that accompany the first few months of pregnancy can be surprising.
Headaches: Dr. Kalish says that headaches are one of the most common symptoms in early pregnancy. "It is believed that the body's increased production of estrogen during this time causes the headaches," she says. "Tylenol is safe to take, but stay away from aspirin or products like Advil and Motrin."
Heartburn: "One thing I was totally unprepared for is how debilitating heartburn can be during the first trimester," says Kate Galloway, 31, from Minneapolis, Minnesota. "Sure, you expect a woman in her third trimester to have it; her stomach is basically in her chest at that point! But no one talks about how bad it can be early on." Galloway, who is now in the second trimester of her first pregnancy, was able to reduce her heartburn by drastically changing her diet. When it flares up, she takes over-the-counter medications like Zantac. "Rolaids and Tums really didn't help me," she says. "And they're awful to eat!" Over-the-counter antacids are generally considered safe to take during pregnancy, but it is advisable to speak with your doctor before you choose to take any kind of medication.
Nausea: Most women go into pregnancy prepared for the prospect of morning sickness. What they may not be prepared for is the all-day, low-grade nausea that is so common during these early months. "I find that reassurance really goes a long way in helping women to deal with nausea," says Dr. Kalish. "They might be nauseated all the time, but never actually get sick, and this worries them. But it's normal." Also normal are food aversions and extreme sensitivity to smells. "Coffee is one of my favorite things in the world—something I thought I could hardly go a day without having—and right away it was one of the first things that made me nauseated," says Galloway.
Eating more frequently is one way to head off nausea, which can often be caused by an empty stomach. Saltine crackers and ginger (ginger ale and ginger-flavored candies) are helpful as well, but Galloway warns that salty foods and carbonated drinks can trigger heartburn. Dr. Kalish recommends making an effort to avoid any foods or smells that may make you queasy, and says taking vitamin B6 may be one of the easiest ways to feel better quickly. "Studies have shown that B6 can be very effective in treating pregnancy-related nausea," she says. "There are also over-the-counter acupressure remedies like Seabands, a product that is worn around the wrist to treat motion sickness. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the efficacy of Seabands, but they certainly can't hurt. There's nothing dangerous about them."
Cramping: Menstrual-like cramping and other PMS-like symptoms in the weeks immediately following a positive test result can send a woman into a tailspin of worry. But cramping is actually a fairly common pregnancy symptom. "No one knows exactly why it happens," Dr. Kalish says. "It may be because the uterus is starting to stretch and prepare itself for a growing baby. As long as there is no bleeding, there is usually nothing to be concerned about." She recommends relaxing, and if the cramping becomes more severe or lasts for more than an hour, calling your doctor.
So what if you're having no symptoms at all? It doesn't necessarily mean that something is wrong. Some women simply have an easier time of it than others. However, if you've been experiencing the full range of symptoms—nausea, fatigue, sore breasts—and all of that suddenly comes to a stop, it would be worthwhile to check in with your doctor. A sudden loss of symptoms could be an indicator of a lost pregnancy.