Managing everyday pain during pregnancy
From back ache and abdominal pains, to headaches, cramps and fevers, pain during pregnancy is common and can make even the easiest day to day activities feel like hard work1.
As your body prepares for the birth, it is common to experience some discomfort. You may also feel pain because of the way your baby is moving, the size of your baby, or the extra volume of fluid you are carrying.2 Although this can be alarming, in many instances it is harmless and there are thankfully many safe ways to relieve the pain.
Some studies suggest that between 50% and 70% of all women experience back pain during pregnancy3. As you gain weight, your centre of gravity changes4 and to compensate your body starts to use muscles and ligaments differently. To prepare your body, hormones also soften your joints and loosen your ligaments, and your uterus expands up to 1,000 times its normal size.5 This process, together with the extra stress placed upon your abdominal muscles can affect your posture and place extra pressure on your lower back when you carry out everyday tasks.
If back pain is disrupting your sleep or your daily routine, it is best to get advice from your doctor. They should be able to show you exercises that can help strengthen your back and abdomen.6 You may also find it helpful to wear comfortable shoes with padded insoles, sit upright, or add extra cushions to the chairs you use at home and work. Sleeping with your knees bent, using a body pillow and sleeping on your side may also help.7
Pain-relievers such as paracetamol are often used to relieve mild to moderate pain in pregnancy8, but as every pregnancy is unique, it is important to consult with your doctor before you take any medication.
Joint ache and pains
Although painful, abdominal and pelvic pains are not unusual during pregnancy. These are often related to the ligaments near the uterus stretching from extra weight.9 As these ligaments loosen, and the body adjusts, you may also experience extra pressure on the nerves in the legs. This can cause sudden leg pain, cramps or even sciatica.10
Moderate exercise such as brisk walking or swimming may help relieve aches and pains. Your doctor may also be able to recommend exercises that reduce pelvic discomfort, plus give you advice on the pain-relievers that may be appropriate.
Swelling in the feet and ankles known as 'oedema' can also be common. As the uterus expands, it places pressure on major blood vessels and may affect your circulation. These symptoms can often be relieved by raising your feet when sitting or sleeping, avoiding standing for long periods and using supportive tights or stockings.11
Cold, flu and fevers
Colds and flu can be especially worrying when you are pregnant, but in most instances there is very little to be anxious about.12 During pregnancy the immune system lowers its defences and this can leave you more susceptible to infection.
Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and washing your hands regularly are all good ways to reduce your chances of catching a cold or the flu.13 However, if you do fall ill, try and get some rest, drink
plenty of water and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. You may also wish to take paracetamol to lower your temperature. Please remember to consult your doctor before taking any medication.14
In most cases your cold and flu will soon disappear. However, it is important to talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following:15
- Your cold produces green or yellow black nasal mucous, or lasts more than 7 days
- You have a temperature of 38 degrees (100.4ºF) or above
- Severe headaches or headaches accompanied by blurred vision
- Persistent back pain
- Severe or persistent abdominal pain
Pregnancy can trigger headaches and migraines even in women who don't normally suffer from them. These can be worse in the early stages and usually improve or stop completely during that last six months.16 Resting and taking time out to relax may help, as can light stretching exercises like yoga17. You could also consider discussing with your doctor whether a pain reliever is appropriate.