Pain and discomfort
In early pregnancy, women may feel some breast tenderness, and mild period-like cramps. (See 'Symptoms and feelings in early weeks'). Although it is normal to feel some abdominal cramps, women should consult their doctor if worried or if the cramps are severe or accompanied by bleeding. (See 'Bleeding and miscarriage'). One woman's pain was so strong that she was admitted to hospital in case she had an ectopic pregnancy or an ovarian cyst. However, this degree of pain is unusual. Eventually all was well and her GP suggested it might be something like irritable bowel syndrome; changes to her diet helped.
- Age at interview:
- Children' 1, aged 11 months at time of interview. Occupations' Mother- academic researcher, Father- engineer. Marital status' married. Ethnic background' White British.
When did the pain go away?
It didn't actually [laugh]. I was back in hospital about four weeks later because it had - I went back to work in, the beginning of January and about two weeks later I was getting lots of pain walking. I went back to my GP who referred me straight back to the hospital and then they admitted me for three days and ran lots more tests. And by this stage I was 8 or 9 weeks pregnant so then they did a scan and it was all fine. But they couldn't do any more kind of invasive tests because I was pregnant. So then I went back to my GP. So they didn't really help me [laugh]. So I went back to my GP who decided that it might be something like bowel-related and gave me some anti, some stuff for irritable bowel syndrome which he decided that it might be, which helped. So then I just cut wheat and dairy out of my diet because one of my colleagues had said her daughter suffered from something similar and she'd done that. And that actually helped. But for the whole of my pregnancy I just ate no wheat and no dairy and - because every time I ate something like that and then it flared up again. So I really don't know what caused it to be quite honest [laugh].
As the baby grows bigger during the second and third trimester of pregnancy, it can press on the joints and internal organs such as the stomach, bladder and lungs, and cause discomfort. This explains why some women feel breathless and get backache or aching legs, especially when standing for a long time. One woman had had helpful advice at an antenatal physiotherapy class about managing a tingly feeling in her legs. Another was surprised to start feeling breathless quite early in pregnancy, at 13 weeks.
- Age at interview:
- Children' 1, aged 4 months at time of interview. Occupations' Mother- post graduate student, Father- Engineer. Marital status' single. Ethnic background' Mixed Irish/Polynesian. Read by an actor.
I went to two different sorts of antenatal classes. I went to one organised by the midwife that she, that you learnt about labour, the processes, process of labour and pain relief and breastfeeding. And I went to a physiotherapy one which was based in our local hospital, maternity hospital. And it was the same group of people at both, so I suppose it was one but split into two different places. Both of them I found really useful.
What did you learn at the physiotherapy one?
At the physiotherapy one you learnt about how you, what pains you had in pregnancy. I had really tingly legs and it was because I was standing in a bad position and other people had really bad back pain. And we did some massage and we did breathing techniques for during labour and we did exercises to do after the birth like pelvic floor exercises and ones to try and get your stomach back in shape.
How's that going?
Slowly [laughs] yeah, yeah. No, it's, it was a chance to ask a physiotherapist about any problems that you might be having, and actually at the end of one of our sessions she asked me to stay behind at the end because I'd been complaining of some symptoms that no-one else had and so she asked me if I wanted private sessions which I didn't have in the end, but that was, that was helpful.
What were the symptoms that you were having?
I had this tingling sensation in my legs that I'd [laugh], it's funny because I didn't feel very confident in the classes and I plucked up the courage to say, “Oooh, and this symptom” and then no-one else had it [laughs] so my confidence just went right back down again. But she'd asked me to stay behind and I talked about it, and she showed me some exercises where if I stood with my legs in a different position - I can hardly remember now - then it stopped the pain. But it also, it meant that I couldn't walk very far and I couldn't stand to do a whole basin of, a whole load of washing up because it got too painful. But, it's funny, it's just all gone now. I've forgotten about all the pains and the, everything now.
Some women experienced quite strong pain resulting from a condition called symphysis pubis disorder or dysfunction (SPD). This is caused by the separation of the small joint at the front of the pelvis. This needs to stretch or open a little to allow for birth, but in a few women it opens too much, making walking painful and difficult. Physiotherapy or a support bandage or brace can help. Most people who had this condition felt staff provided helpful information and treatment, but one woman thought her midwife did not really recognise how much pain she was in.
- Age at interview:
- Children' first pregnancy. Occupation' publishing editor. Marital status' married. Ethnic background' White British.
My midwife has been really good, really friendly, I've had a pelvic condition, which means that one of the joints in my pelvis has been very achy and painful, and that started at about four months of pregnancy, but I was able to be referred to a physiotherapist up at the hospital, to get some advice. Though actually that was - I did have to sort of be slightly assertive in order to do that. They refer you initially to a group session, so there's about ten or twelve women with a similar condition, and they sort of sit you down and talk to you for an hour, which was useful to know why you're getting the pain, but it doesn't actually help to solve it [laughs].
And what did they do to help solve it in the end? Has it been solved?
Well, it's not the sort of thing that can be solved. It's more a question of managing it so it doesn't get, it doesn't get worse. Actually at the group session they were handing out crutches to the most severely affected. They were handing out Tubi-grip to pretty much everybody, the idea being that you sort of wear this piece of Tubi-grip to keep all your sort of bits in place. And then they were handing out special support belts to people in the intermediate category, and to be honest I don't think I fitted into the intermediate category, but I - for me - was very assertive in saying that I would like a belt because I was still quite early in my pregnancy. And I have worn this belt a lot, when sort of walking, and that does really help a lot. But I do, I do think, looking back on it, if I hadn't actually pushed I wouldn't have been given the belt. So then after the group session, if you're very bad, you can go and have an individual appointment with the physiotherapist. And again, I didn't feel I was as bad as some of the women there, and I wasn't going to bother. But I spoke to the local support group for the condition I've got, and they said, 'No, you know, it's every woman for themselves, really' [laughs].
How did you find out about the support group?
There was a leaflet about the condition, actually, in my maternity pack that I got on my first visit from the midwife. I think in [name of city] they are quite aware of, of the condition. And the leaflet was very good for me recognising that I had a problem, that it wasn't a question of just normal aches and pains in pregnancy. So it was an excellent leaflet, and it had the local support group number on the back.
- Age at interview:
- Children' 1, aged 8 months at time of interview. Occupations' Mother- shop assistant, Father- delivery driver. Marital status' single. Ethnic background' White British. Played by an actor.
Why did you need a back brace?
My SPD, which is symphysis pubic disorder. It's your pubic bone, it's where they crack, mine cracked. The baby's bum was actually leaning on my pubic bone and cracked it. And I went into hospital with it, and I ended up on crutches and having to go to see a physio.
And the physio give me a back brace and it went, well, I suppose it'd have to go round my back and then go under my bump and push my bump up to push the baby up, so that the baby was away from my pubic bone so that it could stop the pain on the pubic bone and so the pubic bone could like mend easier. But I had that on for a while, and I was taking loads of painkillers for it because it was dead painful. I was on crutches, but then I stopped using the crutches because the crutches were causing me damage. I, it was raining one day and I nearly slipped with the crutches, so I said to my mum, 'I'm not using them no more, I'd rather just walk'. And, and I took off one day at a time and walked and walked, and now I, I feel fine. I feel as fit as a fiddle, as if nothing had happened.
How long did that go on for?
I went to hospital with that when I was 32 weeks pregnant. They said to me as well if the baby didn't turn within a week I'd have to have a Caesarean and have the baby out, because my bone would be too delicate to give birth. But I had that. I was using the crutches, and I used the crutches for all four weeks, five weeks at the most. And then I just give up. But they said it can take up to twelve months after your having the baby that your, your bone actually goes back to, back to normal, the way it should be. But they've already advised me that if I do get pregnant again it's likely it will crack again. Because it's already cracked once it'll crack again with the pressure of the baby pushing down and everything. So I'm never getting pregnant again with that one anyway.
- Age at interview:
- Children' 2, aged 3 and 18 months at time of interview. Occupation' teacher. Marital status' divorced. Ethnic background' White British.
And I remember walking around for my thirty-eight week check, walking around to the surgery, which was literally normally a less than a five-minute walk up the hill, and down the hill - slight hill, slight slope, not a huge hill - and it taking me a huge length of time, taking me fifteen minutes. I had to keep stopping and resting, and it was causing me huge pain. I'd just given up the car because I'd felt, it was financial, partly financial - I just put it off the road rather than actually deserting it entirely - partly financial and partly - and my husband couldn't drive - and partly to do with the fact that I really didn't feel safe because my bump was now actually literally touching the steering wheel.
So I just didn't feel it was safe for me to drive, so there was no point keeping the car on the road. But if I had still had the car and felt safe to drive, I definitely would've driven round. I was almost on the point of, you know, going home and calling a taxi or something, or getting them to come round to me. It was, it was excruciating pain. I had to keep stopping. And I went to this appointment, and now it was the different midwife, and I told her about this pain. And she just, she just sat there and she went, 'Mm, yeah, mm. Oh well, yeah, mm. Oh, everything seems fine.' And I said 'Well, what about this pain?' and she's like, 'Well, it's late pregnancy.' You know, and so consequently - 'mm' - and I thought, "Oh well, obviously" - it's the first time I'd been pregnant - "obviously this is just another one of those aches and grinds of pregnancy about which I knew nothing, and I've just got to put up with it till I have the baby', you know. And that's what she'd indicated to me.
And I had a good look through my sort of text book, couldn't find any reference to it. I wasn't quite sure what I was looking for, mind. And just decided to put up with it and, and carried on, and was in quite a lot of pain at times. You know, I had to keep sitting down. They kept saying, 'Well, exercise is good for you,' and I'm, you know, walking was excruciating, and I just wanted to sleep all the time and not put any weight on my feet. It caused quite a few problems as home as well, which is not really of relevance to the pregnancy, but I did find that, you know, I didn't want to do, stand up and do washing up because it hurt. I was leaning over at an angle and it was hurting my bones as well, and a distinct lack of support about all of this.
Heartburn can be very uncomfortable, especially at night, and several people had been advised by their doctor or midwife to take an antacid. (See also 'Sickness and hyperemesis'). One woman described a combination of backache, heartburn, changes in sleeping patterns and needing frequent trips to the loo. Some people develop varicose veins or haemorrhoids during pregnancy, and some get cramp in their legs or feet, especially at night. Several people said at times they could not sleep, either because they were uncomfortable or because they felt anxious thinking about the approaching birth and motherhood. One mother just did something else till she felt sleepy again.
- Age at interview:
- Children' 1, aged 2 at time of interview. Occupations' Mother- photo library co-ordinator. Marital status' married. Ethnic background' White British.
Well, it's like the nausea is the, is the worst thing for the first trimester, and then that goes and you think, 'Oh wow'. And then everything seems okay for a while, but then backache. I had a - and I don't know if it was to do with the flight [to America] as well - but once we'd got back from that trip I had really bad lower backache and in my buttocks, you know, in your maximus gluteus. In there was really painful. But I had a massage, which helped to ease it off. And then quite early on in this pregnancy, probably from sort of six months, I've had gastric reflux. But the Gaviscon does work [laughs].
Does it stop you sleeping?
I've had insomnia on and off, but I can't kind of pinpoint what the problem is. I can't work out whether it's my back's just a bit, got a dull ache, or whether it's the baby that's waking me up or - I can't put my finger on it - or whether it's just sort of psychologically I'm worrying about something, I don't know.
Are you conscious of worrying about anything or..?
feeling more anxious, or less anxious?
No, no I'm not. But I had about a whole week where I just didn't sleep. Then I had about a week where I slept like a log and didn't want to get up, and now I just have the odd night where I don't. Oh, and the weeing. It's a complete nightmare. That's the worst thing about it. [laughs] From day one it's just like your whole waterworks goes to pot. Well, mine did, has. It's just kind of four times during the night easily, but you just kind of get up, plod to the loo and plod back to bed, and it just - but that's probably the worst bit, actually.
- Age at interview:
- Children' 1, aged 15 months at time of interview. Occupations' Mother- full-time mother, Father- solicitor. Marital status' married. Ethnic background' White British.
What about aches and pains? Did you have, suffer with back or'?
I had a bit of backache, but nothing, just uncomfortable, and uncomfortable in bed. That was the biggest thing, and I became a bit of an insomniac, loving my sleep as I do. I would be surfing the internet between two and three in the morning and ringing my sister in New York. And she thought it was great. She never got to talk to anyone after her kids had gone to bed, normally. But now she was having endless phone calls [laughs].
Did you find anything that helped with the sleep?
I would get into the - our nursery, which was starting to evolve, had a bed in it. So I would get into bed with a cup of hot, you know, a glass of hot milk, and read. And I would nod - I'd wake up in the morning with the book propped up on my face or whatever. So I got through quite a lot of books. So I found that I, it was good to be active for sort of fifteen, twenty minutes, making the milk, surfing the internet, what have you, and then start reading, and I'd nod off again. But I guess it's all just getting you ready, really.
Regular maternity appointments and antenatal classes offered opportunities to discuss these symptoms and things that might help, and the maternity information pack also contains useful advice.
For more information see our resources section.
Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated August 2014.