Ten common problems in pregnancy

Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP
13 November 2019
Next review due November 2022

Pregnancy is an exciting time in your life, with lots of information to take in. You might find yourself on google searching a range of questions ranging from ‘What should I eat?' to ‘Can I exercise during pregnancy?’

But, it’s also important to be aware of the common problems that can happen in pregnancy. Here I’ve put together a list of ten common problems, with tips for managing them. While it’s not an exhaustive list, it can help you to be aware of what’s ‘normal’ during pregnancy, and how to relieve your symptoms.

1. Feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting

Early on in pregnancy, most women feel sick or vomit. This is often referred to as ‘morning sickness’ and can happen at any time during the day. The good news is that it usually gets better as your pregnancy advances. Things that you can do to help include:

  • making sure you get enough rest. In the early stages of your pregnancy you may be more tired and this can make your symptoms worse
  • eating and drinking little and often – this may be easier to tolerate
  • avoiding cold drinks and drinks that are overly sweet or sour
  • eating foods high in carbohydrates and low in fat, for example toast, plain biscuits or crackers

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. But, be sure to speak to a health professional first.

2. Leg cramps

Leg cramps are a common pregnancy-related problem that can typically happen during the second and third trimesters. The muscles in your leg can suddenly become tight and painful, getting in the way of a good night’s sleep. While it’s not clear what causes leg cramps, these steps may help to prevent them.

  • Stay physically active and hydrated.
  • Take a magnesium supplement, although there is limited research on the benefits of this.
  • Some research also suggests that taking calcium can help.

Stretching your calf muscles before going to bed may also help to prevent calf muscle cramp at night.

3. Backache

Around half of all women get backache 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 and don’t lift heavy objects.
  • Wear low-heeled shoes that offer good support.
  • Make sure your mattress is supporting your body properly.
  • Massage therapy, exercising in water and back care classes might help.

You can take paracetamol for backache, 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.

4. Constipation

Feeling constipated while you’re pregnant is a common complaint during pregnancy. It can be uncomfortable, but isn’t something to worry about. 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. Stay hydrated by drinking eight to 10 cups of water each day and increase your fibre intake.

5. Piles (haemorrhoids)

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 bleed.

Being constipated and straining to go to the toilet can also cause piles. Read the section on 'Constipation' 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.

6. Pelvic girdle pain

During your pregnancy you may get pain in your pelvic joints. This is called pelvic girdle pain and affects around one in every five women during pregnancy. It’s caused by the softening of your ligaments in your pelvis during pregnancy, and can get worse as your baby gains weight. The pain usually goes within six months of giving birth. If you have pelvic girdle pain, these tips may help.

  • Rest more often and tuck a pillow between your legs when you sleep.
  • 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.
  • 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 that you might need, such as physiotherapy.

7. Urine leakage during pregnancy (urinary incontinence)

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, especially when coughing or sneezing. 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.

8. Heartburn

When you’re pregnant, hormones cause the muscle at the end of your oesophagus (the food pipe 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, which is sometimes described as heartburn. It’s often worse after eating, but isn’t something to worry about and usually goes 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 and 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 happens more 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.

9. Varicose veins

Varicose veins are veins that have become swollen along the surface of your leg. They’re common during pregnancy and may either begin or get worse when you’re pregnant. If you have varicose veins you should:

  • try wearing compression stockings – they may help improve your 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
  • try resting with your feet raised

10. Bleeding gums

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 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.

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.

Finding out more

This list does not cover all possible common pregnancy related problems, and unfortunately 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.

For more extensive information about pregnancy and childbirth take a look at our Pregnancy page.

Bupa health insurance aims to provide you with the specialist care and support you need, as quickly as possible. Find out how you can benefit.

Samantha Wild
Dr Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP

    • The pregnancy book. Public Health Agency., published March 2019
    • Antenatal care for uncomplicated pregnancies. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), last updated February 2019
    • Nausea/vomiting in pregnancy. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., last revised October 2018
    • Diet before and during pregnancy. Oxford Handbook of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2nd ed. online. Oxford Medicine Online., updated May 2016
    • Common pregnancy complaints and questions., updated May 2016
    • NSAIDs – prescribing issues. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., last revised August 2019
    • Pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain: guidance for health professionals. Pelvic Obstetric and Gynaecological Physiotherapy., published March 2015
    • Pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain. National Childbirth Trust., last updated April 2015
    • Urinary tract infections in pregnancy. Medscape., updated Oct 2019
    • Sangsawang B, Sangsawang N. Stress urinary incontinence in pregnant women: a review of prevalence, pathophysiology and treatment, published 2013
    • Interventions for leg cramps in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews., published 11 August 2015
    • Pelvic floor muscle training for prevention and treatment of urinary and faecal incontinence in antenatal and postnatal women. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, published 2017
    • Constipation. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., last revised June 2019
    • Haemorrhoids. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., last revised December 2016
    • Food fact sheet: fibre. British Dietetic Association., published September 2016
    • Lohsiriwat V. Treatment of hemorrhoids: A coloproctologist's view. World J Gastroenterol 2015 21; 21(31):9245–52. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v21.i31.9245
    • Dyspepsia – pregnancy associated. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., last revised April 2017
    • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease and dyspepsia in adults: investigation and management (information for the public heartburn and reflux). National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), last updated October 2019
    • Varicose veins. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., last revised August 2019
    • Varicose veins. Patient., last edited August 2016
    • Some dental and periodontal disease. Patient., last checked July 2014
    • Gingivitis and periodontitis. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., last revised October 2018
    • Are pregnant women entitled to free NHS dental treatment? NHS., last reviewed July 2016

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. This is because we believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and wellbeing.

Our information has been awarded the PIF TICK for trustworthy health information. It also follows the principles of the The Information Standard.

The Patient Information Forum tick

Learn more about our editorial team and principles >

Did you find our advice helpful?

We’d love to hear what you think. Our short survey takes just a few minutes to complete and helps us to keep improving our healthy lifestyle articles.