Embarrassing bodies: Pregnancy side effects

Ward off unwanted pregnancy ailments with a foolproof action plan, says Louise Pyne

Thought pregnancy was all about coveting a neat little bump and honing a gorgeous glow? Pregnancy affects women in different ways and while many lucky mums-to-be sail through the entire nine months looking and feeling fantastic, the less fortunate struggle with a long list of unsightly symptoms. Here, we’ve put together an expert plan of attack to help sidestep those unpleasant side effects and restore the feel-good factor.

Excess gas

Feeling more gassy than ever? This unattractive (yet totally normal) side effect of pregnancy is due to elevated levels of the hormone progesterone, which naturally slows down digestion. Thankfully, a few diet tweaks will help to curb excess flatulence and burping. “High-fibre foods like wholemeal bread and brown rice, drinking plenty of water and keeping active will help to alleviate the problem. Also try to eat little and often, and avoid fatty and spicy foods,” advises Pradnya Pisal, London Gynaecology’s consultant gynaecologist, london-gynaecology.com.


Slow digestion is one of the main culprits of gestational constipation. Your stomach takes longer to empty as it’s being squashed by your growing foetus, so the movement of waste through the bowel tends to be delayed. “Constipation can be helped by increasing your overall fluid intake, drinking a little prune juice and staying relatively active – think walking, swimming and yoga,” explains consultant obstetrician Richard Sheridan of The Birth Team, thebirthteam.com.


There’s a good reason health experts harp on about strengthening your pelvic floor during pregnancy. Staying strong down there doesn’t only ease childbirth, working those all-important vaginal muscles can prevent embarrassing bladder leaks. “The pelvic floor muscles (which also surround the opening of the bladder) relax to prepare for the birth of the baby and due to pressure of the enlarged uterus on the bladder,” says Pradnya. To feel your pelvic floor muscles, try to stop the flow of urine next time you’re on the loo. These are the muscles you need to tone. Aim to squeeze them 10-15 times in a row as often as you can.


Think a flawless complexion is a pregnancy given? Not always. Many mothers-to-be battle stubborn breakouts thanks to hormones that increase the skin’s production of natural oils. “You can reduce acne flare-ups by using a mild cleanser with lukewarm water in the morning and at night,” recommends Pradnya. “Also use oil-free skincare products and avoid squeezing or picking spots.”

Leaky breasts

As your body gears up for the big day, your breasts may start leaking colostrum. OK, it might sound gross, but this nutritionally dense yellowish fluid is the first milk your newborn will receive upon breastfeeding and it’s simply your body’s way of making sure everything is ready for your baby’s arrival. “You can use tissue or absorbent nursing breast pads inside your bra to prevent milk leaking on to your clothes,” advises Pradnya.

Varicose veins

Varicose veins have got to be one of the least attractive, common pregnancy ailments, and whether you’re blessed with long limbs or have a naturally petite frame, the risk remains the same. “This is because pressure on the blood vessels in the lower abdomen causes engorgement of the veins in the leg,” says Richard. “Wearing support tights can help varicose veins and thankfully they tend to improve post-partum.”


Let’s face it, thrush is never pleasant, but it’s even more of a nuisance during pregnancy. Most pregnant women notice an increase in vaginal discharge, but if you experience itchiness and thick, smelly discharge you may have a yeast infection. “Get yourself checked out at your GP if you think you may be at risk, and wear light cotton underwear and avoid tight clothing to minimise any discomfort,” says Richard.

Excess hair growth

Elevated levels of androgenic hormones can affect hair growth and, on the plus side, many women experience more lustrous tresses as a result of changes in their natural hair growth cycle. On the downside, however, you may also notice thicker body hair. You can safely thread, wax, tweeze or shave these extra hairs away, but avoid using chemical depilation products, as these may be harmful to the foetus.


As your baby grows, so does you risk of haemorrhoids, and this uncomfortable condition is common during the third trimester. “Caused by dilated blood vessels around the rectum and anus, and the pressure of the enlarged uterus, haemorrhoids are not dangerous and usually subside after childbirth,” says Pradnya. “To minimise the risk, avoid standing for prolonged periods and undertake regular exercise daily.”