Dealing with the Physical Discomforts of Pregnancy

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

Read time: 4 minutes

What to know about changes that happen during pregnancy and how to deal with the aches and pains

  • Changing hormones during pregnancy can cause gastrointestinal, joint, and body discomforts.

  • Many pregnancy discomforts resolve once your baby is born.

  • Certain types of treatment are available to help relieve pregnancy discomforts.

During pregnancy, your body goes through some significant changes to accommodate your growing fetus. And while it’s exciting to see your baby growing, it can be accompanied by some uncomfortable symptoms. Everyone experiences pregnancy differently, and your symptoms may even vary between pregnancies.

Read on for tips to help ease some of these unpleasant discomforts of pregnancy.

What is pregnancy discomfort caused by?

Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, along with the added weight of your growing baby, are to blame for common discomforts.1 These hormones can cause everything from relaxed joints which increase your risk of injury; to a heightened sense of smell and taste, leading to nausea or food aversions.2, 3, 4

While some symptoms typically resolve once your baby is born, such as morning sickness, others – like joint or back pain - may take some time to get better as your body heals from growing and delivering a baby.

Gastrointestinal symptoms during pregnancy

Nausea and vomiting, or morning sickness

Morning sickness is quite common and can actually happen at any point during the day. Typically, this symptom is most prevalent in the first trimester and subsides by about 14 weeks.5, While the nausea and vomiting doesn’t necessarily harm your fetus, it can negatively affect your life and wellbeing.

About 3% of pregnant women experience severe nausea and vomiting known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Treatment for this is necessary to restore body fluids, ensure mom is gaining appropriate weight, and to protect the fetus.5, 6

Read more: Strategies for Managing Morning Sickness

Constipation and hemorrhoids

Hormonal changes can cause digestion to slow down, causing uncomfortable constipation, which may lead to hemorrhoids.7,8

Treatment may include increasing fluid intake, increasing fiber intake, and regular physical activity.7,8 For constipation and hemorrhoids that don’t resolve with these treatments, it is important to discuss additional options with your healthcare provider.

Wondering how to increase the fiber in your diet? Come chat with our team of registered dietitians, fellow moms, and lactation specialists, available from Monday – Friday 8 am – 6 pm (ET) and Saturday – Sunday 8 am – 2 pm (ET). Chat now!

Learn about: How to Stay Hydrated even while you are Peeing Plenty 
Read more: What Can You do to Manage Constipation?

Heartburn

During pregnancy, fluctuations in progesterone and other hormones can cause the valve between the stomach and esophagus to relax. This allows digested food and stomach acid to regurgitate back up into the esophagus.9,10 Acid reflux causes a burning sensation in the chest, thus the name “heartburn.”

To manage heartburn:

  • Avoid trigger foods

  • Have smaller, more frequent meals

  • Elevate the head of your bed when lying down

Typically, heartburn resolves as soon as your baby is born.

Read more: How to Manage Heartburn During Pregnancy

Joint and back pain during pregnancy

Back and pelvic pain during pregnancy

Your growing uterus changes your center of gravity, weakening your abdominal muscles and altering your posture. These changes then put strain on your pelvis and back.11

Finding comfortable sleeping and seating positions can be tricky, but
pregnancy-specific pillows and wedges can help you find comfort. Discuss other
treatments for pain and discomfort with your doctor, such as physical therapy,
pregnancy-safe massage, and acupuncture.12

Learn about: Exercise: Strengthening and Protecting you Core

Aching joints

As your pregnancy progresses, your body will release hormones to help soften the ligaments so your pelvis is able to expand during labor.1 This can lead to aching joints, overall body pain, and increased risk of injury.

Speak to your healthcare provider about safe movement and exercise to help alleviate the pain and discomfort.13

Read more: Go To Exercises During Pregnancy

Breast changes during pregnancy

Your breasts will likely grow and become more sensitive as your pregnancy progresses due to changing hormones and your body preparing to make breastmilk for your baby.14 They may even begin to leak fluid in preparation for breastfeeding.15 Finding comfortable, supportive bras can help with comfort.

Read more: What can I do to Prepare to Breastfeed?

Swelling during pregnancy

Some swelling of the hands, feet, and legs is normal towards the end of pregnancy. This is due to the increases in plasma, blood volume, and total body water needed to support a healthy pregnancy.16 You may notice that swelling (also called edema) is worse at the end of the day, especially a hot day, and after you’ve eaten a salty meal.

While there may not be a cure for water retention, here are some things that may help:

  • Drink enough fluids. The goal during pregnancy is at least 10 (8 ounce) glasses per day

  • Minimize caffeine and salty foods

  • Elevate your feet

  • Speak with your doctor about using compression socks18

However, if your swelling is extreme or sudden, or accompanied by vision changes, shortness of breath, headaches or new nausea and vomiting, you should talk to your healthcare provider right away. Symptoms such as these may be a sign of preeclampsia, or a serious blood pressure disorder that can happen during pregnancy.17

Read more: Meal Plan: Managing your Sodium Intake

Bottom Line

You also may start to notice skin changes, fatigue, frequent urination, bleeding
gums, stretch marks, disrupted sleep, and more.18Remember, you’re completing a herculean feat by growing another human! It’s normal to feel frustrated and uncomfortable during the process.

As always, if any symptoms are causing concern, reach out to your healthcare provider right away.

Let's Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET), and Saturday - Sunday 8am-2pm (ET). Chat Now!

Read more about the experts that help write our content!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Healthy Weight Gain during Pregnancy and Why it’s Good

Food Safety During Pregnancy

Healthy Snacks During Pregnancy

How Much Should I Eat While Pregnant? 

Meal Plan: Key Nutrients of Pregnancy

Picky Eating: Taste Imprinting During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding