Common problems during pregnancy
There are a number of health problems that are common during pregnancy. In most cases, they aren’t serious and can be easily managed. Remember to always ask your midwife, GP or doctor who specialises in pregnancy and childbirth (obstetrician) about any problems or concerns you have. They can offer advice and support and help you to get any treatment you might need.
It’s important to know that medicines should be used as little as possible during pregnancy. Under some circumstances, your doctor may suggest taking certain medicines. If you have a prescription for a medicine or are buying over-the-counter medicines, remember to always speak to your pharmacist or doctor first. There are very few medicines that are safe to use while you’re pregnant. If you take medicine for an existing health problem, speak to your doctor about this and always follow their advice.
Some of the most common problems during pregnancy include:
- feeling, or being, sick
- pain in your pelvis
- having more vaginal discharge than usual
- being more susceptible to urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- needing to wee more often and leaking urine (known as urinary incontinence)
- having swollen blood vessels in and around your bottom (piles)
- varicose veins
- bleeding gums
- an increase in pressure in your wrist that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome
- having trouble sleeping
Scroll down to find out more.
Feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting
Early on in pregnancy, most women feel sick or vomit. This is often referred to as ‘morning sickness’, but can happen at any time during the day. It usually gets better as your pregnancy advances, with most women finding that it has stopped by week 16.
The good news is that there are things you can do to help. Here we outline a few.
- Make sure you get enough rest. In the early stages of your pregnancy you may be more tired and this can make your symptoms worse.
- Eat and drink little and often – this may be easier to tolerate.
- Avoid cold drinks and drinks that are overly sweet or sour.
- Eat foods that are high in carbohydrates and low in fat, for example toast, plain biscuits or crackers. It might help to eat a plain biscuit around 20 minutes before you get up in the morning.
- If the smell of food makes you feel sick, cool it down before you eat it.
Some women find that eating or drinking ginger, for example a ginger biscuit or ginger tea, or taking ginger supplements helps. Ginger supplements aren’t licensed in the UK, so if you’re going to take them, make sure you buy them from somewhere reputable such as a pharmacy or supermarket. Some women also try a complementary therapy called acupressure on their wrists. There’s not a lot of proof that either of these work, but it’s thought that there isn’t any harm in giving them a go to see if they work for you.
If you’re worried, or want more advice, speak to your midwife, or GP. If your symptoms persist, your GP may prescribe you anti-sickness medicines to help ease your symptoms.
When you’re pregnant your body releases hormones that cause your ligaments to soften. This can put strain on your joints and cause backache. As your pregnancy progresses, you’ll also naturally arch your lower back to maintain your centre of gravity. Backache isn’t something to worry about. It’s quite common; around half of all women get it at some point during their pregnancy.
If you’re struggling with backache there are things you can do to help.
- Take care with your posture – sit up straight, move your feet when turning, and bend your knees when picking things up.
- Rest often.
- Don’t lift heavy objects.
- Wear low-heeled shoes that offer good support.
- Make sure your mattress is supporting your body properly – if it’s too soft, try putting a sheet of hardboard underneath the mattress to make it firmer.
You may also find that massage therapy, exercising in water and back care classes might help.
You can take paracetamol for backache if you need to, but remember that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, aren’t recommended during pregnancy. Always speak to your pharmacist or GP before taking medicines while you’re pregnant.
If your backache is severe, contact your midwife or GP. They can help arrange a referral for physiotherapy if you need it. Your GP may also offer you other types of pain relief to help you manage your symptoms.
Pelvic girdle pain
During your pregnancy you may get pain in your pelvic joints. This is called pelvic girdle pain. It’s caused by the softening of your ligaments in your pelvis during pregnancy and can get worse as your baby gains weight. Walking, climbing stairs and turning over in bed can often make the pain worse. Around one in every five women get pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy. For most women, the pain completely resolves within six months of giving birth.
If you have pelvic girdle pain, these tips may help.
- Avoid activities that make the pain worse and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
- Rest more often.
- Try sitting down when you get dressed to avoid putting all your weight on one leg.
- When climbing steps, put both feet on each step and lead with the most pain-free leg.
- Try to keep your hips and torso aligned and facing forwards. So, avoid pulling, stretching or twisting on one side.
- Tuck a pillow between your legs when you sleep.
- When you roll over in bed, keep your knees together and tense your bottom.
If you have pain in your pelvis, tell your midwife or GP. They can offer you advice and help you to get any treatment, such as physiotherapy, that you might need to help manage your symptoms and prevent any long-term problems.
It’s normal to have more vaginal discharge when you’re pregnant – in fact, most women do. This is normally nothing to worry about, especially if it’s clear, white and not smelly. However, if the discharge smells, is causing you to feel itchy and sore, or you find it painful to wee, contact your GP or midwife. All these are signs that you may have an infection. You should also tell them if you have any brownish discharge, as this could be a sign of bleeding.
Urinary tract infections
Changes that happen in your body during pregnancy increase your chances of getting a urinary tract infection (UTI). If you have a UTI, you may not have any symptoms. The UTI may only be picked up following tests at your routine antenatal appointments, which is why it’s really important to attend these. If you do have symptoms, they may include:
- pain when you wee
- needing to wee more often and urgently
- blood in your urine
- pain in your back
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to tell your GP or midwife. If you have a UTI, you may be prescribed antibiotics that you can take while you’re pregnant to help clear the infection.
Seeking help and getting treatment early on is important because UTIs can sometimes cause complications with your pregnancy, such as premature labour. See our section: Premature labour below for more information.
If you’re pregnant, you may find it hard to control your bladder. This is because:
- your kidneys produce more wee than usual
- your growing baby puts more pressure on your bladder
- your pelvic floor muscles may be more relaxed
It’s no surprise then that sudden uncontrolled leakage of wee (urinary incontinence) is quite common during pregnancy. This is especially true if your bladder is put under more pressure when coughing, or sneezing. This is known as stress induced urinary incontinence. Although it can be frustrating and sometimes embarrassing, it’s nothing to worry about.
Strengthening the muscles that sit under and support your bladder (your pelvic floor muscles), before, during and after your pregnancy, is an effective way to combat urinary incontinence. Here’s how.
Pelvic floor exercise
- Sit, stand or lie comfortably, keeping a slight gap between your knees.
- Identify the muscles you need to engage. You can do this by thinking back to a time when you cut a wee short – the muscles that you used to stop the stream of wee are the ones you need to engage.
- Keep still, continue to breathe steadily and contract your pelvic floor muscles – you should feel the muscles tighten and lift. Don’t bear down (exert a downward pressure) while doing the exercise.
- Try to do at least a set of eight contractions three times a day – morning, afternoon and evening to help you remember.
- Practise both quick contractions and slow, controlled ones. When doing the slow, controlled contractions, hold the contraction for 10 seconds and rest for four seconds between each one.
For more information and advice, speak to your midwife.
Feeling ‘bunged up’ while you’re pregnant is a common complaint. It can be uncomfortable, but isn’t something to worry about. During pregnancy, hormones cause the muscles of your digestive system to relax, which can slow movement through your bowels. Together with the increased pressure on your bowel (colon) from your growing baby this can cause constipation
Eating a diet that’s high in fibre, drinking enough fluids and doing some regular, light exercise can help to prevent and ease constipation. It may help prevent piles too. Drink eight to 10 cups of water each day and increase your fibre intake by:
- adding fruit to a high-fibre breakfast cereal
- swapping white bread, pasta or rice for wholemeal or whole grain varieties
- adding extra vegetables to your meals in sauces or as a side
For more self-help tips, see our information on constipation.
If changes in your diet don’t help, your GP may suggest taking certain laxative medicines, such as lactulose. Remember to let your GP know that you’re pregnant and always speak to them or a pharmacist before taking medicines while pregnant.
Piles are swollen veins in and around your anus that are caused by an increase in pressure. They often appear during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester. They can be itchy and irritating, and can bleed. You may notice a streak of blood down the toilet pan or on the toilet tissue when you wipe your bottom after doing a poo.
Being constipated and straining to go to the toilet can cause piles. There are ways to avoid this. See our Constipation section above for ways to help prevent and ease constipation.
If your symptoms continue after making changes to your diet and lifestyle, speak to your midwife or GP. They may suggest you use a cream to help ease your symptoms.
When you’re pregnant, hormones cause the muscle at the end of your oesophagus (the foodpipe that goes from your mouth to your stomach) to relax. This means acidic juices from your stomach may flow back up into your oesophagus. This causes an uncomfortable pain in the centre of your chest. People sometimes describe this as heartburn. It’s often worse after eating, but isn’t something to worry about. It usually resolves after you give birth.
If you have heartburn, the following may help.
- Avoid foods and drinks that trigger your heartburn, these may include fatty or spicy foods, chocolate, fruit juices and coffee.
- Eat smaller meals.
- Avoid eating meals late in the evening.
- Try sleeping in a slightly propped up position and avoid lying down immediately after eating, if your heartburn tends to occur at night.
If changes to your diet and lifestyle aren’t helpful, speak to your midwife or GP. Your GP may offer you certain indigestion medicines, such as antacids. For more information about taking these medicines while pregnant, speak to your GP or pharmacist.
Varicose veins are swollen veins that usually twist and turn along the surface of your leg. They’re common during pregnancy and may either begin or get worse when you’re pregnant. You may find these swollen veins itch, or make your legs ache or swell. You’ll probably find that the veins reduce in size after your baby is born.
- Wearing compression stockings may help improve the symptoms and allow your legs to feel more comfortable. However, they won’t prevent varicose veins from happening.
- Try to avoid doing anything that makes your symptoms worse, such as sitting or standing for long periods of time.
- Resting with your feet raised may also help.
For more information, see our page: Varicose veins.
Plaque – a sticky substance containing bacteria – can build up on the surface of your teeth. If this happens, it can irritate your gums causing them to become inflamed (swollen) and more likely to bleed. This inflammation is known as gingivitis – a type of gum disease. When you’re pregnant gingivitis can get worse and your gums are more likely to bleed.
The most important thing you can do is take good care of your teeth. You should brush them carefully, at least twice a day, and clean in between your teeth daily to help remove plaque. You can learn more about looking after you teeth on our page: Caring for your teeth or ask your dentist for advice.
It’s helpful to know that dental treatment is free on the NHS when you’re pregnant and for one year after your baby has been born.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition caused by a buildup of fluid, and therefore pressure, in your wrist. It’s quite common in pregnancy. If you have it, you may notice a tingling sensation, numbness or even pain in your hand. Your symptoms may be worse at night, but will usually go away quite quickly after you give birth.
If you have any of these symptoms, let your midwife or doctor know. You may need a wrist splint to help support your wrist and keep it in a neutral position. You can learn more about wrist splints on our page: Carpal tunnel syndrome.
It’s common to have some difficulty sleeping, especially in late pregnancy. You may feel generally uncomfortable and changes to your body can make finding a suitable sleeping position tricky. Some women may find themselves worrying or feeling anxious about their pregnancy, which also doesn’t help.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, the following may help.
- Get into a good sleep routine and make sure your sleeping environment is just right (this is known as sleep hygiene). You can learn more on our page: How to get a good Night’s sleep.
- Try putting a pillow underneath your bump and in between your legs to help support your body, if you can’t get comfortable.
- Try sleeping on your left side – this allows the best flow of blood to your abdomen, womb (uterus) and kidneys and can be more comfortable when you’re pregnant.
- If you’re already on maternity leave, you may find that a daytime nap helps to make up for lack of sleep at night. When napping, try not to sleep for more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time. This will ensure that your daytime naps don’t interfere with night-time sleep.
Remember that no type of sleep aid, whether available on prescription, over-the-counter, herbal or complementary is recommended when you’re pregnant.
For more information or advice, speak to your midwife or GP.
Anaemia is common during pregnancy – in fact, around one in every four pregnant women develop it. The most common type during pregnancy is iron deficiency anaemia.
Iron deficiency anaemia can make you feel tired, dizzy or short of breath. You may also look paler than normal. It’s possible that you won’t have any symptoms, which is why it’s important to attend your antenatal appointments. You’ll be offered a blood test to check for anaemia at your first antenatal appointment and again at 28 weeks.
You can learn more about anaemia on our page: Anaemia
Your body uses more iron during pregnancy, so it’s important to get enough iron from the foods you eat. Iron rich foods include:
- dark green leafy vegetables
- red meats
- pulses, including peas, beans and lentils
- dried fruit, such as raisins and prunes
If you have iron deficiency anaemia, your GP or midwife may give you iron tablets. These can make you constipated. See our section above on constipation for more information and tips to help ease your symptoms.
Some foods and drink such as tea, coffee, milk, cheese and other dairy products can prevent iron from being absorbed. So, avoid having these when you take your iron supplement. Vitamin C can help your body to absorb iron from the supplement. Foods rich in vitamin C include fresh citrus fruits, berries and tomatoes to name a few.
Lots of women experience minor problems during pregnancy and these are mostly nothing to worry about. Unfortunately though, a few women may experience more serious problems. Attending your antenatal appointments can help your doctors and nurses to pick up on any problems early and ensure the best possible outcome for you and your baby.
Here we outline some of these possible complications, including:
- gestational diabetes
- low levels of amniotic fluid (oligohydramnios)
- placenta praevia
- losing your baby (miscarriage or stillbirth)
- having your baby early (premature labour)
Scroll down for more information.
In pre-eclampsia, your placenta doesn’t supply enough blood to your baby. This means your baby doesn’t receive enough oxygen and nutrients, which can affect how well they develop and grow. If you have pre-eclampsia, you and your baby will be monitored closely. You may need to have extra blood tests and ultrasound scans to check how your baby is growing.
If you have pre-eclampsia your blood pressure will be high, you’ll have protein in your wee (urine) and may have swelling. Your midwife will record your blood pressure and take a sample of your wee at your antenatal appointments to check for signs of pre-eclampsia. You won’t be able to pick up on these signs, but your midwife will, which is why it’s really important that you attend your appointments.
Some women with pre-eclampsia notice symptoms, but not everyone does. If you do, they may include the following.
- Severe headaches – the pain is usually at the front of your head.
- Blurring or flashes in your vision.
- Severe pain in your abdomen (tummy) – usually on the right, just below your ribs.
- Being sick.
- Swelling of your face, hands and feet that comes on all of a sudden.
You might also notice that you don’t need to make as many trips to the bathroom to wee.
If you have any of these symptoms, contact your midwife, GP or specialist doctor immediately.
For more information, including diagnosis, treatments and complications of pre-eclampsia, see our page: Pre-eclampsia.
When you’re pregnant, there’s a chance that you may develop diabetes – this is known as gestational diabetes. It starts when you’re pregnant and usually goes away shortly after you give birth. If you have gestational diabetes you may not have any symptoms, but your blood sugar levels will be high (known as hyperglycaemia).
Your midwife will check to see if you could be at risk of gestational diabetes. If you are, they’ll offer you a test to check if you have it.
If you have gestational diabetes, you’ll need to make changes to your diet and how much exercise you do. For some people this is enough to help get their blood sugar levels under control. But if it doesn’t work, you may need to take medicines. For more information, see our page: Gestational diabetes.
A miscarriage is when you lose your baby unexpectedly before week 24 in your pregnancy. Doctors don’t always know why you’ve miscarried – although often, it’s due to a problem with the embryo (egg).
If you’re pregnant, bleeding from your vagina, which is followed by abdominal (tummy) cramps or lower back pain, may be a sign of miscarriage. Usually, bleeding is quite light and may keep happening over a number of days. The blood itself may be bright red (like fresh blood) or a brownish discharge. These symptoms can be caused by other things, so try not to worry too soon. However, if you have any of them it’s important to see your midwife, GP or specialist doctor right away.
You can find out more about miscarriage, including the different types of miscarriages and how they’re managed on our page: Miscarriage.
Stillbirth is the loss of your baby after 24 complete weeks of pregnancy. Fortunately, the number of still births over the years has been decreasing. In 2015 around one in every 260 births in the UK was a stillbirth.
There are many reasons why this may happen; there may, for example, be a problem with the placenta or how your baby grows. Sometimes, doctors don’t know why it happens.
You may not know that your baby has died and it might only be picked up at one of your routine antenatal appointments. Alternatively, you may notice a decrease in your baby’s movements. During your pregnancy, you’ll get familiar with your baby’s movements. If you notice a change, especially a decrease in your baby’s movements, speak to you midwife, GP or specialist doctor immediately.
Dealing with the loss of your baby can be very upsetting. Specially trained doctors and nurses can help give you the information and support you need. For more information on how to cope and the support available, see our page: Stillbirth.
Low levels of amniotic fluid
The fluid that surrounds your baby as it grows in your tummy (known as the amniotic fluid) is really important. It provides a cushioning for your unborn baby, protecting it from bumps. It also protects your baby against infection and helps their lungs to develop. When your baby isn’t surrounded by enough amniotic fluid, this is known as oligohydramnios.
The lack of fluid increases the pressure in your womb and creates a force against your baby’s developing organs and limbs. This may cause them to look and work a bit differently when they’re born. Your baby may also be smaller than usual and their lungs may not develop, causing them to have trouble breathing – this can be fatal.
You can have low levels of amniotic fluid at any time during your pregnancy, but it’s more common in the last trimester. You can learn more about trimesters on our page: Stages of pregnancy.
If you have low levels of amniotic fluid, staying hydrated may help. Remember to stay hydrated throughout your pregnancy by carrying a bottle of water with you at all times.
Placenta praevia is when your placenta sits low in your uterus after 28 weeks of pregnancy. Sometimes it sits so low that it covers your cervix.
In the early stages of pregnancy a low-lying placenta isn’t usually a problem. This is because in lots of mothers the placenta moves higher up as the womb grows. But if the placenta is still low towards the end of your pregnancy, this can cause problems.
Careful planning is needed to make sure your baby is delivered safely. It’s likely that you’ll need to have a caesarean delivery.
Your doctor will check the position of your placenta during a routine antenatal ultrasound scan at around 20 weeks. You can find out more on our page: Ultrasound in pregnancy page.
If you have placenta praevia, you may notice some bleeding during your pregnancy. You’ll usually notice the bleeding after 28 weeks – it’s often painless and doesn’t last long. You may also notice some spotting earlier on in your pregnancy. Either way, if you’re bleeding, contact your midwife.
If you have placenta praevia and have previously had a caesarean delivery, there’s a chance that your placenta will be stuck to the old caesarean scar. This is known as placenta accreta and will make it harder for the placenta to fall away from the uterus after you give birth. Both placenta praevia and placenta accreta can cause you to lose a lot of blood (haemorrhage) during your delivery. You may need a blood transfusion and if you need to stay in hospital, you’ll be given medicines to reduce your risk of DVT and thromboembolism.
Having your baby early (premature)
Sometimes, babies are born too early (premature). If your baby is premature, it means that they are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Lots of babies arrive before they are expected and if this happens there’s a good chance that your baby will be OK – although it will depend on how early they arrive. The earlier your baby arrives, the less developed and more likely they are to need extra care and support.
When your baby is born they might:
- struggle with their breathing
- have trouble controlling their blood sugar and calcium levels
- find it hard to keep their body temperature stable
- be at greater risk of getting an infection
- have trouble feeding
If your baby is born very premature, this can affect how their brain and central nervous system, sight and hearing develop.
It’s important to remember that, although the outcome for premature babies has improved a lot over the years, your baby may still have complications later on in life. If your baby is born premature, a specialist team of doctors and nurses will be there to help you and your baby every step of the way.
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Reviewed by Laura Blanks, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, July 2017
Expert reviewer Dr Sangeeta Agnihotri, Consultant in Maternal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Next review due July 2020
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In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road