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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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