All women are different — and so are their experiences during pregnancy. But many share common aches, pains and other physical discomforts. Fatigue often tops the list.
“Extreme fatigue is very common in the first trimester,” says Bobby Garg, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Scripps Health in San Diego. “The hormonal fluctuations and changes in metabolism lead to a dramatic decrease in energy. It isn’t unusual for women to come home at the end of the day and feel so fatigued that they just want to go straight to bed.”
Dr. Garg says the fatigue usually gets better after the first trimester, and women can combat it by eating a balanced diet, getting as much rest as possible and making sure they aren’t anemic, which is usually determined by a blood test at the first prenatal visit.
Also in the first and second trimesters, nausea is a common complaint. “In severe cases, medication may be necessary,” says Dr. Garg. “For most women, ginger and vitamin B6 can be very helpful natural remedies.”
In the last few months, pelvic cramping and pressure are typical. As the baby grows, many women experience pain in the lower ribs and/or low back pain. For the latter, Dr. Garg often recommends massage, heat and lower-back support while sitting.
While discomfort — in some form — accompanies most pregnancies, there are signs no pregnant woman should ever ignore.
“There are many symptoms that may seem relatively minor, but can often be the first warning of something serious,” says Dr. Garg. “If you are experiencing severe pain, leakage of fluid or vaginal bleeding, call your doctor right away or seek emergency care. In the third trimester, decreased or absent fetal movement requires immediate attention.”
Leg cramps, which are painful spasms in the calves that are frequently felt at night, are par for the course for many pregnant women. Staying hydrated and taking warm baths before bed might help. Call your practitioner if the pain is constant, the leg is warm to the touch, or you notice swelling, redness or tenderness in the area. Those can be signs of a blood clot, which requires immediate medical attention and treatment.
Emergencies aside, pregnancy can produce physical challenges that some women don’t want discuss with anyone — including their doctors.
“There are certain symptoms that can be uncomfortable or embarrassing,” says Dr. Garg. “But it’s important for women to be made aware that they are definitely not alone. We treat many patients who are enduring the exact same thing as they are, so they don’t need to feel badly about bringing them up.”
Dr. Garg says women are sometimes hesitant to discuss issues such as constipation, a lower sex drive and problems with urination.
“We can provide suggestions to help alleviate or navigate these issues, so bring them up during a visit,” he says. "The ultimate goal is to have a physician-patient relationship where the doctor’s office is the one place you can feel most comfortable discussing these kinds of things. For the mother’s health and the health of her baby, open dialogue is absolutely essential.”