Discomforts of pregnancy

Essential information to rememberIf these tips don’t help you feel better, if your condition worsens, or if you have any concerns, call a health professional right away.

Your body changes throughout your pregnancy (see Physical changes). These changes sometimes cause discomforts that are generally harmless, but can sometimes be hard to bear.

The tables that follow outline some common discomforts of pregnancy as well as tips for relieving them.

Fatigue

Description Some suggestions
  • When:
    • Common from the beginning of pregnancy until the end of the 1st trimester
    • May come back in the 3rd trimester
  • Likely causes:
    • Hormonal changes
    • Poor sleep caused by:
    • Diminished nutrition due to nausea and vomiting
    • Insufficient iron intake
    • Decreased caffeine intake
    • Insufficient hydration

If possible, you can

  • Sleep longer at night (8–10 hours) or take naps
  • Relieve the problems interfering with the quality of your sleep
  • Adapt your diet to take your nausea into account (see Nausea and vomiting)
  • Increase your iron intake (see Iron)
  • Increase your daily water intake (see Drinks)
  • Ask for help with your everyday tasks.
Not feeling better?
  • Talk to a health professional.

Nausea and vomiting

Description Some suggestions
  • When:
    • Generally appears between 3 and 8 weeks of pregnancy
    • Often peaks around 8 weeks of pregnancy
    • Rare after 20 weeks
  • Frequency:
    • Nausea: 75% of pregnant women
    • Vomiting: 50% of pregnant women
  • Likeky cause: hormonal changes.

If possible, you can

  • Eat a little bit before you get up in the morning, for example crackers or toast
  • Get out of bed slowly
  • Try to rest during the day
  • Avoid going a long time without eating
  • Eat smaller amounts more often (small meals and snacks)
  • Adjust your diet:
    • Choose foods that you tolerate and feel like eating
    • Avoid strong odours and food textures that make you queasy
    • Eat cold foods or food in liquid form
  • Drink between meals instead of during meals
  • Get information about acupressure
  • Ask your pharmacist if there are any products that may relieve your discomfort
Not feeling better?

Talk to your health professional if

  • The nausea or vomiting is interfering with your daily life
  • You are losing weight

See a health professional right away if

  • You show signs of dehydration: feeling of thirst; dry mouth, lips, and nose; less urine than usual or dark urine; dizziness and weakness
  • You have severe, persistent vomiting

Leg cramps

Description Some suggestions
  • When: during the second half of pregnancy
  • Frequency: over 50% of pregnant women
  • Cause: acid build-up (lactic and pyruvic acids) in the leg muscles. This build-up causes harmless but extremely painful cramps.
  • Distinctive feature: they occur mostly at night.

When you have a cramp, you can

  • Stretch your leg by pointing your toes upward
  • Massage the affected muscles
  • Get out of bed
  • Walk around

Don’t worry if you feel a little discomfort or soreness the next day; it is nothing serious.

Not feeling better?

Talk to your health professional.

See a doctor right away if you have significant pain that lasts more than an hour and is accompanied by redness and swelling.

Heartburn and acid reflux

Description Some suggestions
  • When: from the start of pregnancy. Symptoms can get worse as the pregnancy progresses.
  • Likely cause: hormonal changes associated with pregnancy. These changes slow digestion, causing stomach fluids to move up into the esophagus.

You can

  • Avoid eating or drinking before going to bed
  • Sleep with your head elevated
  • Wear loose clothing
  • Eat in a seated position
  • Adapt your diet:
    • Eat smaller amounts more often (small meals and snacks)
    • Eat protein-rich foods at each meal (see Protein foods)
    • Reduce your intake of fatty foods
    • Reduce your intake of citrus fruits, tomatoes (and tomato products), and spices if these foods irritate you
    • Reduce your caffeine intake (see Coffee and caffeinated beverages)
    • Drink between meals instead of during meals
  • Ask your pharmacist if there are any products that may relieve your discomfort
Not feeling better?

Consult your prenatal care provider if

  • Symptoms persist
  • Your symptoms are accompanied by fever, nausea and vomiting, or severe headaches

Constipation

Description Some suggestions
  • When: mostly in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy
  • Frequency: up to 40% of pregnant women
  • Likely causes:
    • Pregnancy-related hormonal changes that slow digestion
    • Iron supplements
    • Expansion of the uterus, which puts pressure on the intestine
  • Gradually increase your intake of fibre-rich foods:
    • Whole grain foods
    • Fruit and vegetables (fresh, dried, frozen, or canned)
    • Legumes, nuts, and seeds
  • Increase your daily water intake (see Drinks)
  • Get regular physical activity (see Physical activities)
  • Go the bathroom as soon as you feel the need
  • If you have hemorrhoids that cause pain when you have a bowel movement, see Hemorrhoids.
Not feeling better?

You can

  • Talk to a pharmacist or other health professional, who may suggest you take fibre or psyllium supplements. If you do, make sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid making the constipation worse
  • Talk to your healthcare professional if constipation persists or gets worse

Hemorrhoids

Description Some suggestions
  • When: mostly in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy
  • Frequency: 30% to 40% of pregnant women
  • Likely causes:
    • Expansion of the uterus puts pressure on the veins near the anus, which makes them swell
    • Constipation can make symptoms worse
  • You can take sitz baths
  • If you also are constipated, follow the recommendations on Constipation
  • If you have pain, your pharmacists can suggest a product to provide relief
Not feeling better?
  • See a doctor or your prenatal care provider

Varicose veins and swelling

Description Some suggestions
  • Likely causes:
    • Increased volume of blood and pressure from the uterus
    • Restricted blood circulation, which can cause fluid retention in the legs
  • Distinctive features: varicose veins are primarily found on the legs, vulva, vagina, and anus

you can

  • Elevate your legs when possible
  • Sleep on your left side
  • Get regular exercise (see Physical activities)
  • Avoid sitting or standing for long periods without moving
  • Wear compression socks

Varicose veins on the anus are called hemorrhoids. Tips on treating them are presented on Hemorrhoids.

    Not feeling better?
    • Talk to your health professional

    Numbness and pain in the hands

    Description Some suggestions
    • When: in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters
    • Frequency: about 33% of pregnant women
    • Likely causes: fluid retention in the body (oedema or swelling), which pinches the median nerve in the wrist
    • Distinctive features:
      • Often affects both hands
      • Mostly occurs at night
      • Goes away after the birth
    • You can try an orthotic device or a wrist protector like the ones worn for rollerblading. Wear them for a few hours a day or at night whenever you feel pain or numbness. If necessary, seek advice from a pharmacist or other health professional.
    Not feeling better?

    Talk to your doctor if

    • You experience weakness in your hand
    • The problem persists after the birth of the baby

    Back pain

    Description Some suggestions
    • Frequency: about 50% of pregnant women
    • Likely causes:
      • Lordosis, i.e., arching forward of the spine due to abdominal weight
      • Ligamentous hyperlaxity, i.e., loose ligaments (see Ligaments and joints)

    Regular and varied physical activity can help relieve back pain during pregnancy (see Physical activities). For example, you can

    You can also

    • Wear shoes that provide good support
    • Keep your back straight and bend your knees when you lift things
    • Put a plank under your mattress if it’s too soft
    • Choose chairs that have good lumbar support or use a small cushion
    • Sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees for better support
    Not feeling better?
    • If the pain persists, increases, or spreads to your legs, talk to your health professional
    • If you are at the end of your pregnancy and you are having back pain that spreads to your abdomen or comes and goes regularly, you may be experiencing your first contractions (see Contractions).

    Pregnancy gingivitis

    Description Some suggestions
    • When: starting in the 2nd month of pregnancy
    • Frequency: up to 100% of pregnant women
    • Likely causes: hormonal changes make gums more sensitive, i.e., more likely to swell or bleed

    To prevent the swelling and bleeding from getting worse, you can

    • Brush your teeth at least twice a day
    • Use dental floss every day. Don’t worry; it’s normal for your gums to bleed more when you floss

    Normally, the swelling and bleeding will diminish about one month after you give birth.

    Not feeling better?
    • If necessary, see a dentist

    Acupressure: A method of applying pressure to a specific point on the body to reduce various symptoms

    Esophagus: Muscular tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.