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How to Minimize Common Discomforts of Pregnancy

Tips to help you adjust to your changing body during pregnancy

A pregnant woman grabs her head, experiencing morning sickness and other discomforts of pregnancy.

Tips to help you adjust to your changing body during pregnancy

During your pregnancy, your body will go through a variety of changes to accommodate your new baby.


While it’s exciting to see your baby growing, you may find some of these changes uncomfortable or unpleasant.


“Every woman is unique, so you may experience some changes, while another woman’s pregnancy will be completely different,” says Catherine Buerchner, MD, an OB-GYN at Scripps Clinic Carmel Valley. “Let your doctor know about your discomforts and any concerns you might have.”


Some women may experience gastrointestinal symptoms, joint and back pain and other pregnancy discomforts.

Gastrointestinal symptoms of pregnancy

Your pregnancy may affect your gastrointestinal system in a number of ways, including:

Nausea and vomiting

Morning sickness is a very common discomfort of pregnancy that usually passes in the second trimester. It's usually caused by hormonal changes.


To help lessen symptoms, eat small meals several times a day.


If you’re having prolonged or extreme symptoms of nausea and vomiting, talk to your doctor. You’ll want to make sure to prevent dehydration and other complications.

Hemorrhoids and constipation

As your hormones change and your digestive tract shifts to accommodate your baby, you may experience constipation and hemorrhoids.


Constipation happens when you go too long without having a bowel movement or your stools become difficult to pass. Hemorrhoids are painful, swollen veins around the rectum.


To prevent these problems, eat foods high in fiber, such fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This can help keep stools soft and bowel movements regular. Drinking lots of water and exercising also help.


Don’t strain during bowel movements. Stool softeners that are safe during pregnancy may be helpful. Talk to your doctor if you have severe abdominal pain.

Heartburn

While you may feel hungrier during your pregnancy, your stomach is actually being compressed by your growing baby. This can push stomach acid back up into your esophagus, causing heartburn.


  • Try eating smaller, but more frequent meals.
  • Avoid spicy, rich and fatty foods.
  • Avoid lying down shortly after eating.
  • Check with your doctor before using over-the-counter medications.

Joint pain during pregnancy

Your growing baby isn’t just putting pressure on your stomach. Your baby is also adding weight and pressure to your back and joints. This can cause:

Back pain and sciatica

Weight gain, a growing uterus and other changes during pregnancy can cause back pain. Pressure from the uterus can affect your sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back down your leg. Pain affecting this nerve is known as sciatica.


Back pain is common during pregnancy but can be lessened.


  • Try a massage or heating pad to help relieve back pain.
  • Sleep on your side, not on your back.
  • Practice good posture.
  • Avoid high heels and flat shoes.
  • Wear comfortable shoes with good arch support.
  • Avoid lifting heavy objects to help reduce the strain on your back.

Loose and aching joints

Near the end of your pregnancy, your body will release hormones to help soften the ligaments so the pelvis area can expand during labor. This hormonal change and your shifting weight can lead to aching joints.


While this is normal, talk to your doctor about any excessive pain and avoid doing any activities that cause further aching.

Additional symptoms of pregnancy

You may experience other discomforts, including:

Fatigue

Fatigue or feeling really tired may increase in the last trimester when it becomes more difficult to sleep.


  • Listen to your body and get plenty of rest.
  • Take naps if you can and don't stay up late.
  • A warm bath before bed may help you relax and get ready to sleep.
  • If you have insomnia, talk to your doctor about ways to improve your sleep, such as adjusting your sleeping posture.

Breast changes

Your breasts will grow during pregnancy and may become very sensitive. They may even begin to leak fluid in preparation for breastfeeding. To minimize discomfort, wear a supportive and comfortable bra that protects your nipples from irritation. Use nursing pads in your bra if your breasts leak.

Skin changes

The fluctuation in hormone levels during pregnancy can cause changes in your skin. This includes acne and darkened skin patches on the face called melasma.


You may also notice a dark line along your belly. The majority of the time this fades after delivery. Do not take any oral medications for these skin problems because they could be harmful to your baby.


Your skin also stretches to accommodate your changing body shape. This may cause stretch marks along your abdomen, hips and breasts. The color of these will fade but may still be visible after delivery.


  • Avoid excessive weight gain.
  • Keep your skin moisturized to help minimize the appearance of stretch marks.
  • Use sunscreen when outside to reduce darkening that can happen.

Frequent urination

During your pregnancy, you may notice you have to go to the bathroom to urinate more often. This is due to hormone changes and pressure on your bladder.


It’s also common to experience mild to moderate urine leakage when you cough or sneeze.


  • Do not restrict your fluid intake.
  • Do pelvic exercises to help strengthen your pelvic muscles to prevent leakage.
  • Talk to your doctor if your urine burns or stings. These may signs or symptoms of a urinary tract infection.

Swelling

Toward the end of your pregnancy, you may notice swelling of your face, hands, legs and feet. A small amount of swelling is normal. Pressure on a vein may also cause varicose veins, which usually don't cause problems.


A little swelling can be reduced. Try to:


  • Elevate your feet whenever possible.
  • Avoid tight stockings.
  • Get light exercise during the day.


“If swelling is excessive, let your doctor know,” says Dr. Buerchner. “This could be a sign of an underlying condition such as pregnancy-induced hypertension or preeclampsia, which requires medical care.”


Other symptoms of preeclampia, include headache, visual changes and pain in the right upper side of the abdomen.

Talk with your doctor

Talk to your health care provider about anything that concerns you. Your OB-GYN can help you relieve pain and minimize other pregnancy discomforts.