Frequently asked questions
Below is a list of frequently asked questions around pregnancy and birth. Click on the question to find your answer.
If you require more information or you cannot find the answer to your question, please contact your community midwife or a member of their team. If you are concerned about your health or that of your baby it is important that you seek further medical advice.
Morning sickness is a natural and normal part of pregnancy, although not every woman experiences it, it can leave you feeling tired and drained.
The best advice for women suffering from morning sickness is the eat little and often throughout the day and take the opportunity to rest as much as you can, it really can help; avoid too many rich, fried or fatty or highly-spiced foods. Relaxation and complementary therapies may help to reduce your stress levels.
It is important to keep well hydrated, sipping iced water, lemon juice, barley water or whatever you can manage. You may find it helpful to take some ginger tea or vitamin B6. Wrist bands used for travel sickness may also have some affect.
Most women usually begin to feel their baby move between 16 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. There is no set number of normal movements.
If you think your baby’s movements have slowed down or stopped, contact your midwife immediately.
Contact details: Day Assessment Unit (DAU) Stoke Mandeville Hospital 01296 316106 Monday to Friday 8.00am to 6.00pm Weekends & Bank Holidays 9.00am to 5.00pm Labour Ward Stoke Mandeville Hospital 01296 316103/4
More information about your baby’s movements can be found on this information leaflet
<<Link to DOCUMENT: Fetal movement_nhs england rfm infographic >>>
Most research, although limited studies have been formally done, show it is safe to colour and/or perm your hair during pregnancy. Most women decide to wait until after 12 weeks of pregnancy before using hair colour, as the risk of the chemical substances harming the unborn baby is much lower. If you do choose to dye your hair, follow the standard advice, in particular:
- Wear gloves
- Leave the dye on for the minimum time
- Work in a well-ventilated room
It is not recommended to dye your hair more than 3 to 4 times during pregnancy.
Highlighting hair, rather than a full head tint, reduces the risk. Semi-permanent pure vegetable dyes, such as henna, are also a safe alternative.
But remember – the hormones of pregnancy can affect your hair’s normal condition and so your hair may react differently to colouring or perming as compared to when you’re not pregnant. Your hair may act unpredictably when pregnant; it may be more, or less, absorbent, or may be more prone to frizz.
There is a huge amount of misinformation out there about sleep positions when pregnant! You should rest and sleep in whatever position you are most comfortable. The human female body is ideally prepared for any position and no one position will put the unborn baby in jeopardy.
During a typical night, people frequently shift their positions, so it is unlikely you would sleep the entire night on your back anyhow – pressure on your bladder would usually necessitate one or more trips to the bathroom anyway! Sleeping on your back means the increasing weight of the womb downwards can give you backache, and press on your bowels making you more prone to constipation and therefore piles.
As stated above, your unborn baby will remain unaffected.
However, sleeping on your left side is the ideal when you’re pregnant. Blood flow to your placenta is improved when you’re on your left, improving nutrient flow to your unborn baby. Sleeping on the left side also helps your kidneys eliminate waste products and fluids more efficiently from your body. This in turn reduces swelling to your ankles, feet and hands. It is helpful to have a pillow or two between your legs so that the upper leg lies even with your hip bone and a second cushion to support under your baby bump.
Feeling really tired in the first trimester is very common, but this usually starts to ease during the second trimester. Resting more is the only answer, but is difficult if you haven’t told friends, or more importantly, your boss, about the pregnancy. You may have to tell work earlier, so that at least your immediate colleagues are aware. Pregnancy is the start of huge changes in your home and work life, so try and organise things that are going to help you do the best job you can during the last few months of working, such as working from home or reducing your hours gradually.
Insomnia is surprisingly common in pregnancy – usually due to a combination of anxiety, hormone changes and feeling physically uncomfortable. Mild physical exercise before sleep has been shown to be particularly helpful, as well as the typical advice – avoid caffeine in the evenings; don’t eat a large meal too late; hot, milky drinks and a warm bath before bedtime; avoid using you laptop/computer before bed as it stimulates your brain and keeps you awake.
All these infections can affect a pregnancy in different ways, depending how far through the pregnancy you are. So, if you think you have been exposed to any of these infections, speak to your GP or midwife.
In practice, over 90% of the adult population, and therefore 90% of pregnant women too, are immune to all these infections, even if there is no definite history of previous illness. But, the risk of transmission from a close contact is relatively high if you aren’t immune. So, if there is doubt, discuss with your GP or midwife about having a blood test to check your immunity. In the rare case where the pregnant woman is not immune, immunity injections can be given but this does not always have any affect if contact with a carrier has already occurred.
Up to 90% of pregnant women get stretch marks by the last few weeks of pregnancy. They are more common in younger women, those with large babies and women with high BMIs. Stretch marks develop as a result of physical stretching and hormonal factors loosening the skin’s elastic fibres.
Stretching of the skin and increased oestrogen hormone also cause itching – especially over the bump, on the breasts and sometimes on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands.
General measures to help reduce the occurrence of stretch marks and soothe itchy skin include:
- Use moisturises liberally and often.
- Limit bathing the whole body to 2 to 3 times a week (and showers are better than sitting in a bath). But do wash arm pits and the genital area daily during a strip wash.
- Pat the skin dry with a soft towel, rather than rubbing.
- Avoid washing products that contain strong detergents or perfumes.
- Use pH-balanced washes or mild soaps.
- Avoid getting too hot, including hot baths and showers.
- Try calamine cream or lotion if the itch is particularly stubborn.
- Taking some piriton at night may help with the itch – seek medical advice.
- Pre-existing skin conditions which cause itch may change during pregnancy – eczema tends to get worse. Fungal infections often get more severe during pregnancy. Acne tends to get worse during the first trimester but later usually improves significantly due to rising levels of oestrogen (but then goes back to ‘normal’ once you’ve had the baby).
Back pain usually develops between the 5th and 7th months of pregnancy. Light exercise and simple pain relief (paracetamol) is often enough. A recent large study review also showed that exercising in water, massage therapy, acupuncture and back care classes all do help.
Pelvic girdle pain tends to start in the front of the pelvis, but pain can move round to groins and back. If this sort of pain occurs, see your GP for referral to physiotherapy.
Heartburn or indigestion affects around 80% of pregnant women and can be a real problem throughout your pregnancy. This is because in the first few weeks, the new pregnancy hormones in your body slow down your digestive system, making big meals harder to digest. Later on, the size of the growing baby starts to push up on your stomach, slowing down the emptying of your stomach and literally pushing the digestive acids upwards, into your food pipe (oesophagus). Things you can do to minimise the likelihood of getting heartburn include:
- Eat little and often – 5 or 6 small meals rather than 3 bigger meals per day.
- Good posture! Sit up straight to take the pressure off your stomach.
- Typically fried or spicy food makes heartburn worse. You’ll soon realise which foods are no good for you.
- Sleep well propped up (bearing in mind your feet are elevated too, to reduce your varicose veins and piles!). Lying flat allows stomach acids to trickle up into your food pipe causing the typical burning pain behind your breast bone.
- Drinking milk really does help soothe the burning sensation.
If heartburn continues to be uncomfortable, antacids, such as Gaviscon Advance (others are available) can be bought over the counter – speak to a pharmacist for advice.
Piles or haemorrhoids are actually swollen veins around the anus which commonly feel sore, ache or itch. They are a common problem in pregnancy because some of the pregnancy hormones make your veins relax. The same thing going on can also cause swollen vulval veins and varicose veins in your legs. All these problems tend to settle quickly after the birth.
Here are some things that might help ease the discomfort:
- The main way to help reduce the likelihood of developing piles is to avoid constipation. Eating foods high in fibre, fruit, vegetables and drinking plenty of water will prevent your bowels from becoming sluggish.
- Try to avoid standing for long periods.
- Take regular exercise to improve your circulation.
- Sleep with the foot of the bed slightly elevated on books or bricks to help raise the feet and aid venous blood flow back to your heart (think gravity!).
- If your piles are sore, try holding a cloth wrung out in iced water against them to ease the pain.
- If your piles stick out, you can gently push them back inside using a lubricating jelly.
- Several brands of soothing creams, ointments and suppositories are available over the counter and are safe to use in pregnancy – ask a pharmacist to advise.
- Treatments containing a local anaesthetic will ease the pain better but can only be used for short periods, 5-7 days at the most, as they may irritate or sensitise the skin around the anus – again, a pharmacist can advise.
Iron supplements make anyone’s stools darken in colour; some people find it goes almost black. This is not a cause for alarm, and your stools will go back to more normal colour once you stop taking the iron tablets.
You are more likely than usual to develop thrush while you’re pregnant due to the pregnancy hormones affecting your body. You are most prone in the third trimester. However, there is no evidence to suggest that having thrush will affect your unborn baby. If you do get thrush you should avoid using oral anti-thrush treatments, but it is safe to use vaginal pessaries and topical anti-thrush creams. Both are available over the counter – ask a pharmacist.
Some women prefer to try complementary therapies for vaginal thrush in pregnancy. Such therapies include bathing the genital area with diluted tea tree oil – no more than 1 or 2 drops in the bath as more may cause skin irritation.
This is known as carpal tunnel syndrome, caused by fluid retention placing additional pressure on the wrist. Up to 50% of women get this during pregnancy, some in just one wrist, others in both.
Hold your hands up in the air and wriggle your hands and fingers. You may find wrist splints, which you can buy from a chemists’ shop, to wear at night, will help. The problem can go on for up to 3 months after you’ve had the baby.