Don’t push it during pregnancy

Anatomical overview of the pathway of the vagus nerve. You might be surprised at what it can do...

Anatomical overview of the pathway of the vagus nerve. You might be surprised at what it can do…

We had an appointment with our OB/GYN and an ultrasound specialist last Friday and the news couldn’t have been better: No sign of blood in or around the placenta, and the baby’s organs and vital signs were all healthy and normal, hooray! Plus, we received another 4D picture of the baby and I think she looks just like me. 🙂 We were so happy we almost didn’t mind that my doctor managed to convince us to get obscenely expensive “medicine” ($150 for probiotic powder?!?). Almost.

Anyhoo—the other stuff was still very good news. And very good news calls for celebration, of course. And the way Bjorn and I celebrate very good news is through eating — A LOT. Of course.

So the next night, we headed off to the one place where a pregnancy-induced vegetarian can really go to town: the all-you-can-eat salad bar at Sizzler. And I got down, all the way to Chinatown—and downtown, uptown, midtown, and veered around a couple of other towns that probably still don’t have names.

More than pleasantly stuffed, we started to waddle home, which is only about a 5-10 minute walk away. However, I started to feel a bit hot and flushed, so we hailed a taxi. By the time we reached home, I felt better but I started to feel, how shall I put this delicately, like I needed to take a giant dump.

Actually, this feeling was warmly welcomed as I had been constipated the past few days. (Sorry to say that this post is only going to get more graphic, but truly there is a lesson to be learned from this experience, really!) I settled comfortably onto my throne, and at first, things went well.

Now constipation is common in pregnancy by all accounts. And by all accounts, one of the worst things you can do when constipated is really strain at having a go, as all that pressure can lead to hemorrhoids. Being mindful of this fact and deathly afraid of getting said hemorrhoids, I wasn’t bearing down but only giving what I’ll call “half-power” pushes. I thought I was being safe, so I was totally unprepared for what happened next.

Suddenly, I felt hot. Sweat broke out all over my body. My legs started to tingle, like they had fallen asleep. A disorienting feeling swept over me, and wait, was that nausea, too??  I didn’t know what was going on, but it felt awful and bewildering. Because my legs were tingling I thought maybe they had fallen asleep and I would feel better if I stood up.  What I really wanted to do was crawl onto the floor of the shower and lay curled up on the cold tile, but I was afraid that if Bjorn couldn’t see me he wouldn’t realize until it was too late that something was wrong.

I stood up and surprisingly had the presence of mind to flush. I opened the door and leaned against the doorway, trying to form words, but all I could do was breathe heavily. Fortunately, it was loud enough that Bjorn could hear and he came over. I sank to my knees and crawled over to a chair and rested my forearms and my head on its seat. Sweat was dripping down my face and body. I still couldn’t speak. But I felt loads better as soon as I felt the cold air from the air-conditioner blowing on my back.

After a few minutes in this position, I felt well enough to move (and besides, my knees were hurting.) Bjorn helped me over to the bed where I lay down. After about 5-10 minutes I felt completely recovered. So well in fact that I couldn’t believe what had just happened.

After some intense Googling, I deduced that I had experienced a vasovagal attack. What happens in such an attack is that the vagus nerve, which runs from your brain to your abdomen, gets overstimulated and causes a drop in heart-rate or breathing. These attacks can lead to fainting, but fortunately, this one didn’t. But apparently, if you strain enough during a bowel movement, you can stimulate the nerve so much that you knock yourself out. Yes, you can faint on the toilet just from going #2. (I know, right??) Also disturbing to know, pregnant women are more prone to these attacks, according to

What I Learned:

-Vasovagal syncope, or fainting, is often preceded by warning signs such as, “a feeling of warmth, paleness, sweating, nausea, yawning, and hyperventilation” ( As soon as you experience any of these, lie down immediately, preferably on your left side, to prevent fainting.

-Vasovagal attacks, from what I gathered, don’t harm the baby, but fainting can lead to all sorts of unpleasantness, like injuries and seizures (!) so if you do faint, contact your doctor.

-Don’t overheat. As soon as I feel warm or flushed, I need to slow my roll and find some A/C, stat!

-Don’t overeat. Sadly, I fear my buffet-going days are over for the time being.

-Most importantly: Don’t. Strain. EVER. It doesn’t take a whole lot to stimulate the vagus nerve. I thought I had to be really grunting and pushing, but all I did was apply slightly more pressure than usual and I started to feel woozy.  Although I will concede that this one is kind of a toughie, seeing as how constipation is such a prevalent problem during pregnancy. My pro-tip: They tell pregnant women to drink lots of water so they won’t get dehydrated, but drinking a lot of water is also important in that it helps softens stool. Gross, but true.

*By the way, I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV, so run all care by your doctor and/or do intense Googling for yourself. 😉

4 thoughts on “Don’t push it during pregnancy

  1. So excited to hear your ultrasound news!!! Your blog has become so informative. I feel like I am getting to know a whole new side of you. Please take it easy Jammie. I was really tensing up during the middle of your post.

    • Thanks Jenn! Yes, I have learned my lesson and am slowing my roll waaaaay down. Although I did have to have one last buffet meal. I had to, I just had to! 😀

  2. We rejoice with you on the good news. Other things that help to prevent constipation are figs and prunes and of course fresh fruits like papaya and oranges. Soak the dry fruits until they are soft and the water is actually quite tasty to drink. Two big glasses of room-temperature water or water mixed with some orange juice first thing in the morning will also be helpful. Good luck!

    • Those are really good tips! I’ve started doing the 2 big glasses of room-temperature water first thing in the morning and I have noticed a difference!

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