pregnancy discomforts

11 Pregnancy pains and discomforts and how to treat them

Your body will go through many changes throughout pregnancy that can bring on some symptoms. We outline some of the most common pregnancy pains and discomforts.

The majority of the changes that your body goes through during pregnancy will be directly related to a surge of hormones like relaxin, oestrogen, progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin, also known as hCG. These natural chemicals can bring on lots of positive changes, like fuller breasts and thicker, shinier hair. Others may not be so pleasant, but you can rest assured that most of the changes will go away once your baby is born. Most women will experience at least some of the following signs and symptoms of pregnancy:

Body aches

As your uterus grows bigger, you may feel aches and pains in the back, abdomen, groin area, and thighs. Many women also have backaches and aching near the pelvic bone due to the pressure of the baby’s head, increased weight, and loosening joints. Some pregnant women complain of pain that runs from the lower back, down the back of one leg, to the knee or foot. This is called sciatica. It is thought to occur when the uterus puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.

How to treat
  • Lie down.
  • Rest.
  • Apply heat.

Seek advice from your GP or midwife if the pain does not get better.

Breast changes

A woman’s breasts increase in size and fullness during pregnancy. As the due date gets closer, hormone changes will cause your breasts to get even bigger to prepare for breastfeeding. Your breasts may feel full, heavy, or tender. In the third trimester, some pregnant women begin to leak colostrum from their breasts. Colostrum is the first milk that your breasts produce for the baby. It is a thick, yellowish fluid containing antibodies that protect newborns from infection.

How to treat
  • Wear a maternity bra with good support.
  • Put pads in your bra to absorb leakage.

Visit your GP or midwife if you feel a lump or have nipple changes or discharge (that is not colostrum) or skin changes.


Many pregnant women suffer from constipation. Signs of constipation include having hard, dry stools; fewer than three bowel movements per week; and painful bowel movements. Higher levels of hormones due to pregnancy can slow down digestion and relax muscles in the bowels, which can leave many women constipated. Also, the pressure of the expanding uterus on the bowels can contribute to constipation.

How to treat
  • Drink 10-15 glasses of water daily.
  • Don’t drink caffeine.
  • Eat fibre-rich foods, such as fresh or dried fruit, raw vegetables, and whole-grain cereals and breads.
  • Try mild physical activity, e.g. a short walk.

Tell your doctor if constipation does not go away.

Heartburn and indigestion

Hormones and the pressure of the growing uterus cause indigestion and heartburn. Pregnancy hormones slow down the muscles of the digestive tract, so food tends to move more slowly causing digestion to become sluggish. This can make many pregnant women feel bloated. Hormones also relax the valve that separates the oesophagus from the stomach. This allows food and acids to come back up from the stomach to the oesophagus. The food and acid causes the burning feeling of heartburn. As your baby gets bigger, the uterus pushes on the stomach making heartburn more common in later pregnancy.

How to treat
  • Eat several small meals instead of three large meals – eat slowly.
  • Drink fluids between meals – not with meals.
  • Don’t eat greasy and fried foods.
  • Avoid citrus fruits or juices and spicy foods.
  • Do not eat or drink within a few hours of bedtime.
  • Do not lie down right after meals.
  • Propping yourself up with pillows in bed can help to reduce symptoms.

If symptoms don’t improve after trying these suggestions, ask your doctor about using an antacid medication.


Many pregnant women complain of dizziness and light-headedness throughout their pregnancies. Fainting is rare, but it does happen even in some healthy pregnant women. There are a whole host of reasons for these symptoms. The growth of more blood vessels in early pregnancy, the pressure of the expanding uterus on blood vessels, and the body’s increased need for food all can make a pregnant woman feel lightheaded and dizzy.

How to treat
  • Stand up slowly
  • Avoid standing for too long
  • Don’t skip meals
  • Lie on your left side
  • Wear loose clothing.
  • Keep yourself cool in hot weather.
  • If you begin to feel faint, lie with your head flat and feet elevated. 
  • Drink plenty of water.

Seek advice from your GP or midwife if you feel faint and have vaginal bleeding or abdominal pain.


About 20%of pregnant women feel itchy during pregnancy. Usually, women feel itchy in the abdomen. However, red, itchy palms and soles of the feet are also common complaints. Pregnancy hormones and stretching skin are usually to blame for most of the itching. Usually, the itching goes away after delivery, but if it persists, it needs to be reported to your GP or midwife to rule out a condition known as cholestasis.

How to treat
  • Use gentle soaps and moisturising creams.
  • Avoid hot showers and baths.
  • Avoid itchy fabrics.

Seek advice from your GP or midwife if symptoms don’t improve after a week of self-care.

Pregnancy pains and discomforts

Morning sickness

In the first trimester, hormone changes can cause nausea and vomiting. This is called ‘morning sickness,’ although it can occur at any time of day. Morning sickness usually subsides by the second trimester.

How to treat
  • Eat several small meals instead of three large meals to keep your stomach from being empty.
  • Don’t lie down after meals.
  • Eat dry toast, plain crackers, or dry cereals before getting out of bed in the morning. 
  • Eat bland foods that are low in fat and easy to digest, such as cereal, rice, and bananas. 
  • Sip on water, weak tea, or clear soft drinks.
  • Or eat small blocks of ice.
  • Avoid smells that upset your stomach.

Seek advice from your GP or midwife if you have flu-like symptoms, which may signal a more serious condition, or you have severe, constant nausea and/or vomiting several times every day.

Fatigue in pregnancy

Feeling tired is very common in pregnancy and is normally caused by low levels of iron. It’s very important to keep your iron levels up during pregnancy. You can do this by either taking a supplement recommended by your midwife or GP or through a change in your diet.

How to treat
  • Increasing your iron levels through diet is recommended for pregnant women suffering from fatigue. Lean red meat is the best source of iron in the diet. Other good sources are chicken and turkey – particularly the dark meat and oil-rich fish.
  • Other sources of iron include peas, beans, dried fruit, green vegetables and some fortified breakfast cereals. Having some salad vegetables, citrus fruits or a glass of fruit juice with your meals will boost your iron absorption.


Many women develop mild swelling in the face, hands, or ankles at some point in their pregnancies. As the due date approaches, swelling often becomes more noticeable.

What might help
  • Drink eight to 10 glasses of fluids daily.
  • Don’t drink caffeine or eat salty foods.
  • Rest and elevate your feet.
  • Ask your doctor about support hose.

Seek advice from your GP or midwife if your hands or feet swell suddenly or you rapidly gain weight – it may be pre-eclampsia.

Stretch marks

Stretch marks are small, streak-like lines in the skin that appear most often on the abdomen in the later stages of pregnancy when the stomach is rapidly expanding to accommodate a growing baby. Some women also get them on their buttocks, thighs, hips, and breasts. Stretch marks are caused by changes in the elastic supportive tissue that lies just beneath the skin. They start out pink, reddish, brown, purple or dark brown, depending on your skin colour. They later fade, although they never completely disappear. Gaining no more than the recommended amount of weight – in most cases 25 – 35 pounds (11-16kg) and gaining it slowly may reduce your chances of getting stretch marks.

How to treat

It is crucial to moisturise. Skin becomes more pliant, more plasticised, and better able to stretch when it’s well hydrated. Moisturise three or four times a day with products that contain cocoa butter or shea butter as a prime ingredient.

What is hyperemesis gravidarum?

Some pregnant women experience excessive nausea and vomiting. This condition is known as hyperemesis gravidarum and often needs hospital treatment. It is not a common condition, but it can be severe – the symptoms are much worse than morning sickness. If you’re being sick all the time and can’t keep food down, tell your midwife or GP as soon as possible.

The nausea and vomiting are usually so severe that it’s impossible to keep any fluids down, and this can cause dehydration and weight loss. Hyperemesis gravidarum needs specialist treatment, and you will usually need to be admitted to hospital so that doctors can assess your condition and give you the right treatment. This can include intravenous fluids given through a drip and treatment to stop the vomiting. Hyperemesis gravidarum is unlikely to harm your baby. However, if it causes you to lose weight during pregnancy there is an increased risk that your baby may be born smaller than expected.

More like this:

Embarrassing symptoms of pregnancy
5 things first timers need to know about pregnancy
Worrying pregnancy symptoms

Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.


How to treat heartburn

Hugely uncomfortable, and often quite painful, heartburn affects a large number of people in Ireland.


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.