Mention pregnancy pain and most people think about labour contractions and the challenges of childbirth. But women will experience many more aches and pains throughout the nine months of pregnancy.
Creating and carrying a baby is hard work. Your body releases a hormone called relaxin, to help it get ready for the birth. It softens the ligaments in the body so that the pelvis can stretch and make more space in the birth canal for your baby. That’s fantastic for labour but it can put a strain on your joints. From the first trimester to the final few days of pregnancy, you may notice some new niggles that can affect you from top to toe.
Headaches are a common complaint. Most are caused by tension in the muscles. Many women say that they feel like a pressure or tightness around your head. Rest, relaxation, plenty of fluids and a neck massage from your partner can help ease the discomfort.
Watch out for: Sudden severe pain, especially if you also have swelling, abdominal pain or visual disturbance. It could be caused by pre-eclampsia, which needs urgent medical attention.
As the womb gets bigger, the ligaments and muscles supporting it have to stretch to accommodate the expansion. The weight pulling on the round ligament can result in a dull, nagging ache or a sudden sharp pain in the pelvis, which some mums tell me feels like a dagger piercing the vagina. A warm bath can ease the ache, or a hot water bottle can also be soothing- but make sure it’s not too hot, wrap a towel around it, to protect the delicate skin and prevent any burns.
Watch out for: Sudden onset of severe pain in the womb, especially if there’s any vaginal bleeding. It could indicate a bleed behind the placenta, known as an abruption, which is potentially dangerous for you and your baby.
Your legs are working hard to support and transport the combined weight of you and your growing baby. They often respond to the extra demands by cramping up. Cramps can be incredibly painful and, because they usually strike at night, they can leave you exhausted and frustrated. Get plenty of rest, have a milky drink at bedtime and try an Epsom salt bath to relax your muscles and prevent cramps. Ease a cramping muscle by pulling your toe up, towards your shin, and massaging the calf to relieve the spasm.
Watch out for: Constant calf pain with swelling and redness. This could indicate the dangerous condition DVT. It’s a blood clot in the veins in the leg. There’s a risk that a could break off and cause problems in the lungs, so see your doctor if you’re worried.
Many pregnant women get numbness and tingling in the fingers in late pregnancy, especially in the middle of the night. It’s caused by swelling in the wrists, which compresses the nerves in the area. It’s called carpal tunnel syndrome, and it can be very uncomfortable-but there are ways to help yourself.
Sleep with your hand resting on a pillow to decrease swelling and regularly rotate your wrists and wiggle your fingers to encourage fluid to drain away. If that doesn’t work, see your GP for a wrist support.
As your womb grows, you may notice pain from the pressure of the uterus under the ribs. This can get worse when your baby’s strong little legs give you a sharp kick! Try and change position, stretch your arms up to allow a little more space or have a soothing bath. When the head engages in the pelvis, the bump will drop and you may feel a little more comfortable, for a while.
Watch out for: Intense pain below the ribs on the right, together with headache and swelling, could indicate a severe form of pre-eclampsia called HELLP syndrome. So, it’s important to get medical assessment and advice.
In pregnancy, your belly has an awful lot of stretching to do. It’s no wonder it can feel a little uncomfortable every now and then. Pain and a pulling feeling around the tummy button is common, particularly towards the end. Take the pressure off your abdomen by sleeping on your side and using pillows to support your bump. In the day, a maternity support belt can offer comfort and relief.
Watch out for: Acute abdominal pain in pregnancy should never be ignored. Constant pain could indicate a placental abruption and intermittent or crampy pain could be a sign that you’re going into labour too soon.
Relaxin’s effect on the ligaments in your pelvis can cause aching, cramps and dragging pains in the groin. Rest, take it easy and try to avoid opening your legs wide. You may find that a wide stretchy belt will support your bump and help stabilise the pelvis
Don’t ignore: Severe, relentless pain. Sometimes the pubic bone can separate, which is known as symphysis pubis diastasis (SPD). Your doctor should assess you and consider referring you to a physiotherapist.
Your growing bump and weak, stretched-out tummy muscles can alter your centre of gravity and increase the arch of your spine. This piles the pressure on your lower back. That, together with relaxin living up to its name and relaxing the ligaments in the area can make the area very sore.
Protect your back by resting whenever you can, tucking your bottom in when you stand, and trying pregnancy yoga or Pilates classes. They’ll really help with posture and core strength, and your teacher can give you safe stretches to decrease discomfort.
Don’t ignore: Back or loin pain that’s linked with fever, pain passing water and needing to go to the loo more often. You may have a urine infection that has spread to the kidneys.
Remember, your doctor and midwife are there to support and advise you. If you’re worried about anything, or you want treatment to control your symptoms, ask your healthcare team. Never be worried about getting help, it’s always better to be safe than to risk being sorry.