Ngā āhuatanga e kaha kitea ana i te hapūtanga Common issues in pregnancy

Your body will change a lot during pregnancy. You may have a range of issues during pregnancy that can cause pain and discomfort. Find tips on how to manage these, and when to seek immediate medical advice.

Common issues

Your body will change to fit your growing pēpi. This can cause you a range of issues from mild pain to stronger discomfort, including:

  • varicose veins — swollen purple or blue veins just under the surface of your skin, often in the legs
  • haemorrhoids (piles) which can cause pain, bleeding and swelling in your bottom
  • constipation
  • indigestion and heartburn, which can cause pain or discomfort in your tummy or throat
  • back pain
  • leg cramps
  • wrist pains
  • swollen hands, feet or ankles
  • stomach pain
  • difficulty sleeping
  • morning sickness
  • feeling tired or faint
  • mood changes.

If you are worried at any time during your pregnancy, talk to your midwife or specialist, such as your obstetrician.

Tips to treat pain or discomfort

Some abdominal pain during pregnancy is normal. It is caused by the ligaments that support your uterus stretching as your pēpi grows. You may have a pain in their hip area or abdomen. 

  • Change positions slowly.
  • If you know you are going to sneeze or cough you can bend at your hips which reduces the pull on the ligaments.
  • Put a warm wheat bag on your back.
  • Have a warm bath.
See your midwife or healthcare provider if the pain is severe.

During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin softens your ligaments (the tough tissues that hold your body parts together). This can lead to back pain. Here are some tips to prevent this.

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Use a firm mattress.
  • Sit up straight.
  • Avoid heavy lifting. 

Pregnancy can be a very vulnerable time as you come to terms with the responsibility of growing a new person inside of you.

The necessary lifestyle changes can be challenging. These could involve:

  • an improved diet
  • giving up smoking
  • a new exercise routine
  • the challenge of waking in the night, including once pēpi is born.

With all these added responsibilities, anxiety during pregnancy is common. This is particularly true if:

  • there is a lack of support
  • there are relationship as you and your partner are faced with the reality of becoming parents.

It is important that you take time to care for yourself. Sometimes it is hard to know how to achieve this. Talk with your midwife or doctor about any concerns you may have. It usually pays to talk about difficulties you may be experiencing before they become bigger problems.

You may find it hard to get to sleep. Warm baths, milky drinks and ankle exercises can all have a calming effect to help you sleep.

Remember, it is important to sleep on your side after 28 weeks pregnant.

Constipation can happen when you are pregnant because of hormonal changes that affect the muscles of your bowel. It is also caused because your growing pēpi can press against your bowel.

Eating plenty of fibre-rich foods and drinking at least 9 cups of fluid a day can help relieve constipation.

Constipation (internal link)

Feeling full soon after eating (called early satiety) is common in pregnancy, especially if you are carrying twins or triplets. It can happen as your pēpi grow and push on your stomach, making it smaller.

Early satiety can make it difficult for you to gain weight and get all the nutrients you and your pēpi need to stay healthy.

Here are several tips to try.

  • Eat smaller meals and have a snack every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Choose nutritious meals and snacks rather than filling up on unhealthy food. Try nuts, natural or greek yoghurt, cheese, fruit and wholegrain toast with peanut butter.
  • Choose soft, light and easy to eat foods, such as lean meat, cooked vegetables and scrambled eggs.
  • Have milky drinks (hot chocolate, milky coffee, milkshakes or smoothies) or soups instead of tea or coffee. Your midwife or specialist doctor may suggest you use a powdered drink product such as Complan or Vitaplan between meals.
  • Drink fluids between meals instead of with food.

Eat whenever you feel hungry during the day.

Pregnancy hormones relax the muscles that control the opening into your stomach. Acidic stomach contents moving back up your throat cause heartburn. As your pēpi grows, more pressure is put on your stomach, which increases the risk of heartburn.

To manage heartburn, you could try:

  • eating smaller meals, more often
  • eating slowly and chewing your food well
  • drinking between meals instead of with food
  • waiting at least two hours after eating before lying down
  • wearing loose comfortable clothing
  • sleeping with the head of your bed raised or with extra pillows under the upper part of your mattress.

Avoid foods and drinks that trigger heartburn. Some foods and drinks can make heartburn worse in some people. These include:

  • fatty or spicy foods, such as chilli or curry
  • fizzy drinks
  • caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, tea and energy drinks
  • citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit and lemons
  • chocolate
  • tomatoes
  • onions and garlic
  • mint or peppermint, including peppermint tea.

Nausea and vomiting (morning sickness) is common, especially in the first 3 months of pregnancy. Morning sickness does not harm your pēpi.

Morning sickness (internal link)

Swollen hands, feet and ankles are a normal part of pregnancy. They are caused by extra fluid in your system. There are some things you can do to relieve the discomfort and swelling. 

  • Avoid standing for long periods.
  • Rest with your feet elevated to the level of your heart. 
  • Wear comfortable shoes. 
  • Wear support tights. 
  • Drink water to help flush your body, and reduce water retention. 
If your swelling suddenly gets worse contact your midwife or doctor straight away.

You will feel tired, particularly in the first 3 months of pregnancy. It is not uncommon for this tiredness to feel like it might never stop. As your body adjusts to the enormous changes necessary to grow your pēpi, the tiredness usually lessens at around 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy, and you feel more energetic.

To cope with feeling tired, you can:

  • take naps
  • go to bed earlier
  • listen to your body and slow down
  • do some gentle exercise.

You may feel faint if you stand up quickly after lying down, or if you have been lying on your back later in pregnancy. Try getting up slowly or avoid sleeping on your back.

Talk to your midwife or doctor if you are continuously tired or dizzy, feel breathless, or have heart palpitations. They will check to make sure that something more serious is not going on.

Varicose veins are common and usually painless and harmless. They are caused by the extra fluid in your body and the pressure on your blood vessels of your uterus and the effect of progesterone (a hormone). After your pēpi is born they usually shrink.

  • Avoid standing for long periods.
  • Wear support tights.
  • Elevate your legs whenever you can.
  • Get moving — walking, swimming are helpful.
  • Wear comfortable clothes.

Fluid retention around the wrists puts pressure on the nerves that run from your wrist to your hands. This can cause tingling, weakness or numbness in your hands.

To reduce the symptoms:

  • raise your arm when sitting
  • wiggle your hands and raise them when you wake up
  • avoid repetitive wrist and hand movements
  • adjust your seat or keyboard height to change the position of your wrists

Talk to your midwife or doctor if it persists. They may refer you to a physiotherapist.

Physiotherapists (internal link)

When to get immediate medical advice

It is normal to feel some aches and pains during your pregnancy. But sometimes there are problems that arise during pregnancy that need urgent medical attention.

Contact your midwife or doctor straight away if you have any of the danger signs listed below.

  • You have bleeding from your vagina, or you have vaginal discharge that is unusual for you.
  • Your 'waters' leak or break before labour starts or, once they have broken, the fluid is dirty looking, greenish or brown.
  • Your pēpi moves less than usual or you cannot feel any movement at all.
  • After the first few weeks of your pregnancy, you have pains or cramps in your tummy.
  • Your hands, feet or face suddenly swell.
  • You have pain or burning when you wee, especially if you also have a fever and a sore back.
  • You have a very bad headache and this lasts for more than a few hours.
  • You cannot see well, you have blurry vision or you start to see white lights, flashes or dots in front of your eyes or you have double vision.
  • You have a fever of over 38°C — you may have a virus, so check with your midwife, doctor, or pharmacist before you take any medicines, and contact them again if it lasts more than a day.
  • You fall on, or hurt, your tummy — get this checked, even if you do not feel hurt or sore.
  • You are very thirsty but you cannot wee.
  • You start feeling sick and throwing up in late pregnancy – especially if you have pain and a fever.
  • You itch all over – especially if you have dark-coloured wee and pale poo.