Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 6: Common Changes in Pregnancy

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HealthWiki > A Book for Midwives > Chapter 6: Common Changes in Pregnancy

During pregnancy a woman’s body changes. These changes can sometimes be uncomfortable, but most of the time they are normal. In this chapter, we describe some of these changes, and discuss ways to help women feel better. We also explain how to tell when a woman’s discomfort may be a sign that something dangerous is happening with her pregnancy.

There are many ideas about how to treat the discomforts of pregnancy. We cannot explain all of these ideas here. If you know remedies or treatments for these problems which we do not explain, use the remedies that work for you. We do not have all the answers. But use these ideas to help you decide if remedies are helpful or if they may be harmful. Not all remedies work.

Changes in eating and sleeping

Upset stomach (nausea) and dislike of some foods

Many women have nausea in the first months of pregnancy. Sometimes it is called morning sickness. No one knows for sure what causes morning sickness, but for many women, the way they eat affects it. If the nausea is mild, encourage the woman to try any of these remedies:

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  • Eat a food that has protein before bed or in the night. Some good foods with protein are beans, nuts, and cheese.
  • Eat a few crackers, dry bread, dry tortillas, dry chapatis, or other grain food when she first wakes up in the morning.
  • Eat many small meals instead of 2 or 3 larger ones, and take small sips of liquid often.
  • Take 50 milligrams vitamin B-6, 2 times each day. (Do not take more.)
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  • Use acupressure to relieve nausea. Find the spot 3 fingers above the wrist between the 2 tendons on the inside of the woman’s arm. Press on this spot, moving your finger in small circles. Press firmly but not hard enough to hurt. If acupressure is going to help, the woman should start to feel better within 5 minutes.
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  • Drink a cup of ginger, mint, or cinnamon tea 2 or 3 times a day, before meals. To make mint or cinnamon tea, put a teaspoon of mint leaves or a stick of cinnamon in a cup of boiled water. Let the tea sit for a few minutes before drinking it. To make ginger tea, boil crushed or sliced ginger root in water for at least 15 minutes.

A pregnant woman may suddenly dislike a food that she usually likes. It is OK not to eat that food, and she will probably begin to like it again after the birth. She should be careful that the rest of her diet contains a lot of nutritious food.

Food cravings

A food craving is a strong desire to eat a certain food, or even something that is not food at all, like dirt, chalk, or clay.

2 women speaking to each other.
I just want to eat clay.
You may need more calcium and iron. Try eating green vegetables, nuts, seeds, or beans instead. Dirt and clay can give you parasites and make you sick.

If a woman gets a craving for nutritious foods (like beans, eggs, fruits, and vegetables), it is OK for her to eat as much as she wants. But if she wants a lot of “junk food” (like candy, soda, or packaged snacks) she should eat nutritious food first.

A woman who craves things that are not food, like dirt or clay, should not eat them. They may poison her and her baby. They may also give her parasites, like worms, that can make her sick. Encourage her to eat iron-rich foods and calcium-rich foods instead.

Burning or pain in the stomach or between the breasts (heartburn)

A burning feeling or pain in the stomach or between the breasts is called indigestion or heartburn. Heartburn happens because the growing baby crowds the mother’s stomach and pushes it higher than usual. The acids in the mother’s stomach that help digest food are pushed up into her chest, where they cause a burning feeling. This is not dangerous and usually goes away after the birth.

Here are some things a woman can try to make herself more comfortable:

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As the baby grows, he pushes the woman's stomach up.
  • Keep her stomach less full by eating smaller meals more often and by eating foods and drinking liquids separately.
  • Avoid eating spicy or greasy foods, drinking coffee, or smoking cigarettes — all of which can irritate the stomach.
  • Regularly eat papaya or pineapple, which have enzymes that help the stomach digest food.
  • Keep her head higher than her stomach when lying down or sleeping. This will keep her stomach acids in her belly and out of her chest.
  • Calm the acids in the stomach by drinking milk or taking a low-salt antacid that contains no aspirin. (Antacids are not dangerous but they cost money and they make it harder for the body to use nutrients from food. Try other methods before using antacids.)


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Some pregnant women feel sleepy much of the day. This is most common during the first 3 months.

It is normal for pregnant women to feel sleepy. Their bodies are telling them to slow down and rest. But if a woman also feels weak, she may have other problems, like a sickness, depression, or anemia.

Difficulty sleeping

If a woman cannot sleep because she is uncomfortable or restless, it may help if:

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  • she lies on her side with something comfortable between her knees and at her lower back. She can use a pillow, a rolled-up blanket, banana leaves, or some other padding.
  • someone gives her a massage.
  • she drinks herbal teas that help her sleep.

Fighting, worry, and unhappiness in a woman’s house or family can make it difficult for her to sleep. If possible, a family should avoid arguing before going to sleep.

This page was updated:11 Sep 2019