Is Pregnancy Getting on Your Nerves?
Pregnancy is an amazing time! You’re literally growing another human, which is simply incredible. Of course, this experience isn’t necessarily wonderful ALL the time. It can be uncomfortable and even difficult for many women. Learn why and what you can do to feel better...
One reason for pregnancy discomfort is all the extra hormones! Estrogen levels can increase by 5 to 75 times that of a non-pregnant woman. Additionally, progesterone levels are on average 10 times higher during pregnancy. That’s a lot!
Plus, recent research in the field of psychoneuroendocrinology has shown our hormones are closely linked with our nervous system. In fact, there are receptors for estrogen and progesterone in the brain AND the central nervous system.
Consequently, the hormone changes in pregnancy can impact a women’s nervous system. Combine that with the anticipation of life’s upcoming changes and there can be some bumps in the road.
For example, while postpartum depression is on most people’s radar, issues with mood and sleep can develop during pregnancy as well. Some women suffer from debilitating headaches, especially in the first trimester, and 75% of expectant women report sleep issues.
Increases in blood volume, swelling and shifting bones can irritate the nerves causing pain or numbness. Additionally, increased progesterone can slow down the nervous system making women feel excessively tired or sleepy. It also can exacerbate depression. Meanwhile, the high estrogen levels in pregnancy can speed the nervous system up contributing to headaches, anxiety and insomnia.
Even though I always knew I wanted to have a family, I personally struggled during my pregnancy. I would go to bed exhausted and then lie there for hours worrying. I would worry about money, then I would worry that I would not be a good mother, and then I would worry that I would never have time for myself again. Then I would start to wonder if I had made a mistake. I would finally fall asleep and a few hours later my bladder or my back pain would wake me up and it would start all over again. So I get it!
As naturopathic doctor — and as a woman who is now expecting for the second time! — here are some tips to help you navigate a few nervous system and mood issues that are common in pregnancy:
Hydrate. Dehydration is one of the most common causes of headaches. Blood volume expands 1.5x in early pregnancy plus we are creating amniotic fluid. We need lots of extra water in pregnancy and nausea can make it hard to drink enough. If you are suffering from headaches get at least 100 oz per day.
Rest. Developing a new human requires a lot of energy. If your body is sending uncomfortable signals try to slow down and take it easy. Stop and put your head down even if it’s for a quick 5 minute break in the car at work.
Get a massage or try craniosacral therapy. Muscle tension causes headaches. There are a lot of rapid changes in the body in early weeks. Breast get larger, joints start to relax, and realizing you have another mouth to feed can be stressful. If you notice your shoulders are tight get some body work to help them relax.
Take magnesium. Magnesium can calm the nervous system, dilate constricted blood vessels, and relax tense muscles thereby addressing many causes of pregnancy related headaches.
Use lavender and peppermint essential oil. One study has shown these essential oils relieve symptoms of pregnancy induced headaches.
Drink tea. There are a number of pregnancy safe herbs that calm the nervous system and alleviate pain. Try lavender, lemon balm, catnip, passionflower, and skullcap which are all useful for relieving headaches. Choose one or combine several herbs into a calming tea.
2. Anxiety and Insomnia
Get into therapy. First and foremost get a therapist on your team. Big changes are on the horizon, and no matter how much you want to be a mother it can feel scary. Having someone to talk to about your feelings allows you to process them so they don’t take over your psyche.
Take a calcium and magnesium. These minerals calm the nervous system and can help reduce anxiety and sleep issues.
Avoid caffeine. It can be hard to skip your favorite caffeinated foods and beverages when you are tired from not sleeping well, however caffeine raises stress hormones like cortisol.
Drink a calming tea. Refer to the nervine herbs - those that specifically help support the nervous system – mentioned above in the headache section.
Take Kava-kava root. This Polynesian plant has been used for centuries to calm anxious minds and relieve pain. There is good research showing its efficacy for improving sleep during pregnancy.
Practice meditation and relaxation exercises
3. Carpal Tunnel and Nerve Pain
Drink a mildly diuretic tea. Herbal diuretics like dandelion leaf, corn silk and nettles help eliminate excess fluids and decrease swelling. Nettles is one of my favorite herbs to use in pregnancy because it’s also rich in baby building minerals.
Take vitamin B6. Studies have demonstrated that B6 can be helpful in improving symptoms of carpal tunnel. B6also helps your liver process excess estrogen and support the neurologic tissue. Most studies use a dose of 50 mg per day.
Wear wrist splints at night. Since you have to sleep on your side during pregnancy you are prone to flexing your wrists while you sleep which can make carpal tunnel symptoms worse. Wearing a brace keeps the pressure off the nerve while you snooze. If the pain is in your legs get a body pillow and several other pillows so you can prop up your legs and belly. This will reduce the strain on your lower back while you sleep.
Practice nerve and tendon gliding exercises. Work with a physical therapist who can teach you these types of exercises. Research shows it helps!
Alright, Mamas! Let me know which tips help you the most. It’s important to get enough sleep and take care of yourself during pregnancy both for your own well being and that of your baby. Also, check out my Pregnancy Digestion Discomfort article for tips on dealing with heartburn, nausea, and constipation during pregnancy.
Note: if your symptoms do not improve be sure to let your OB/GYN or midwife know you are struggling. You also can work with an alternative care provider such as a naturopathic doctor who has experience helping pregnant patients.
Work With Dr. Hillary Roland, ND
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