Common problems in pregnancy
Most women have a healthy and straightforward pregnancy with no major issues.
However, even if you’re having a healthy pregnancy you may still experience some discomfort or health issues. For some women, these are an inconvenience while for others they can be more severe.
You’ll probably be able to manage many of these yourself. They should get better on their own or with help from your midwife, GP or pharmacist. Every woman's experience is different.
When to get medical help
Urgent advice: Phone your local maternity unit or the NHS24 111 service immediately if you:
- have bleeding from your vagina
- have watery, clear or coloured discharge from your vagina
- have vision issues (such as blurred vision and flashing lights) or a severe headache
- have severely swollen hands, ankles and face, feeling sick or being sick
- have constant pain in the upper part of your abdomen
- have chest pain or breathing issues
- feel very unwell
- think you’ve noticed changes in your baby’s movements
These could be a sign of serious health issues for you or your baby.
As your baby grows there’s more strain on your pelvis and spine. This can give you backache, which can get worse as your pregnancy progresses.
If you have backache:
- do some gentle exercises
- take care when you’re lifting
- wear flat shoes or shoes with a low heel
- try sitting and standing with your back straight and shoulders relaxed
- bend your knees when lifting lighter things and ask someone else to lift heavy things for you
Around 4 in 5 women feel sick or are sick (vomit) at some point in their pregnancy.
Morning sickness usually:
- starts between the 4th and 17th week
- is at its worst around week 9
- stops by the 20th week
Managing morning sickness
Sickness can normally be managed by taking care about what and when you eat, and making sure you have plenty of fluids.
You can get antacids from your pharmacist or your GP can prescribe anti-sickness tablets if you need them. Severe symptoms may need to be managed by an obstetrician.
Severe morning sickness
About 3 in 100 women get severe morning sickness.
It can happen for different reasons, including:
- sensitivity to changes in hormones
- having a multiple pregnancy
Sometimes morning sickness can be so bad that you may not be able to keep any food or fluids down.
If this happens you may need to have fluids given via a drip in your arm, which may mean a stay in hospital.
Constipation is when your bowels don’t move as often as usual.
Your stools might be hard, lumpy and unusually large or small. It can sometimes be uncomfortable or painful too.
Changes to your hormones can cause constipation.
You can prevent it or ease the symptoms by:
- eating high-fibre food, such as vegetables, fruit, beans and wholegrain bread.
- drinking at least 2 litres of water a day
- being active, taking a walk every day or swimming
- speaking to your midwife, pharmacist or GP if these things aren’t working
Constipation medicine is available and safe to use during pregnancy which may help.
Cystitis is an inflammation in your bladder. It's usually caused by an infection.
- cause a burning feeling when you urinate
- make you feel you need to pass urine all the time
As your womb gets bigger it causes pressure on your bladder and kidney, making it harder to empty your bladder completely. This can lead to urine infections, which can be more common when you’re pregnant.
If you're feeling uncomfortable, don't wait to see if it becomes an infection, go to your GP. You may be given antibiotics to take.
Heartburn or indigestion is a burning feeling around the middle part of the top of your chest (behind your breastbone).
It’s caused by stomach acid rising into the tube joining your mouth.
You’re more likely to get heartburn later in your pregnancy as your baby presses on your stomach.
To ease the symptoms of heartburn, try to:
- eat little, often and slowly
- take antacids for heartburn, but speak to your midwife or pharmacist for advice before taking anything
Heartburn can be made worse by:
- drinking strong tea or coffee, or pure fruit juice
- eating spicy and fatty foods
Piles or haemorrhoids are swelling inside or around your anus (back passage).
If the blood vessels inside the swellings are large they can cause:
- a burning sensation
- bleeding when you go to the toilet
They’re common in later pregnancy and can get worse if you’re constipated.
Laxatives, ointments and medicines can ease discomfort, pain and bleeding.
Your midwife, pharmacist or GP can advise how to prevent and treat piles.
Pelvic girdle pain
Pelvic girdle pain develops when the muscles, ligaments and the small joint at the front of your pelvis stretch. This can cause a lot of pain in your pelvis and back.
Around 1 in 5 pregnant women have pelvic girdle pain.
Contact your local obstetric physiotherapist for advice.
Swelling happens when your body holds on to more fluid than usual. This is called oedema.
- be uncomfortable and interfere with daily life
- affect different parts of your body in different ways
Swelling can also be a sign that something more serious is wrong:
- Swollen and uncomfortable legs are common when you’re pregnant, but can be a sign of deep vein thrombosis
- Very swollen ankles, fingers, hands or face can be a sign of pre-eclampsia - if this happens, contact your midwife or GP immediately
It's normal to have some swelling, especially later in your pregnancy. This is usually temporary and settles after your baby's born. It's common for women to feel puffiness in their ankles and fingers, but if your face is swelling too, tell your midwife, GP or the hospital.
Managing swelling in your feet
You may need a larger shoe size if your feet swell up. Choose supportive footwear with:
- a low or flat heel
- shock absorption
- a fastening to keep them firmly on your feet
Managing swelling in your ankles
Swelling in your ankles tends to get worse as the day goes on.
Your midwife will probably advise you to rest with your feet up on a chair, sofa or bed.
Managing swelling in your wrists
Swelling in your wrists can cause a painful or tingling sensation in your fingers called carpal tunnel syndrome.
Your midwife may recommend hand exercises or a splint, or you may need a steroid injection.
Varicose veins are unusually large blood vessels under the skin that stick out more than usual.
- usually develop in your legs, but you can get them in the opening to your vagina too
- can be painful and sometimes itchy
Always tell your midwife or GP if you notice any hot, red or painful areas in your legs or vulva.
Managing varicose veins
To ease discomfort:
- wear support tights
- try to rest with your legs up when you can
- don’t stand for long periods
Special exercises can help too. Ask your midwife, antenatal teacher or an obstetric physiotherapist to show you what to do.
Anaemia is when there's not enough red blood cells in your body, and less haemoglobin than normal in each red blood cell. This means you’ll have a reduced amount of oxygen in your blood.
You can become anaemic if:
- you’ve been ill
- you’re not eating healthily
- you’ve had severe sickness
- you've extra strain on your body, such as if you’re having twins
A blood test can show if you have anaemia.
The most common treatment for anaemia is to increase the amount of iron in your body.
- will advise you about foods to eat, as well as iron and vitamin supplements
- may also arrange for you to see an obstetrician for further investigation and treatment
Some women may be at higher risk of bleeding problems. In this case you may be asked to take iron tablets even if your blood test's normal.
More about iron-deficiency anaemia
If you're overweight or obese when you become pregnant, you and your baby are more at risk of complications during pregnancy and birth.
Risks to you may include:
Risks to your baby of maternal obesity include:
Obese women are more likely to have an induced labour and assisted birth.
Managing your weight
Your calorie requirement in pregnancy only increases in the third trimester, when you need an extra 200 calories per day.
There are risks to you and your baby from too much weight gain or loss during pregnancy. You are advised to maintain your body weight and follow a normal balanced diet.
You shouldn't go on a weight-loss diet during pregnancy. Speak to your midwife for advice.
Medicines in pregnancy
Some medicines are safe to take when you’re pregnant, others can be harmful for your developing baby.
Before you take anything - or stop taking anything - it’s important to get the right advice.
More about medicines in pregnancy
Translations and alternative formats of this information are available from Public Health Scotland.
08 April 2022
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