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:

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5 things first timers need to know about pregnancy
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