A woman’s body changes rapidly during pregnancy. Hormone levels soar, the uterus grows at a rapid pace, organs begin to work harder and joints and ligaments in the pelvis begin to loosen to prepare for delivery. With all of these changes happening in a short period of time, few women escape pregnancy without aches and pains. Pain during pregnancy is often nothing to worry about, but all pregnant women should understand the difference between normal and abnormal pain.
Normal Aches and Pains
Increased hormone levels and a growing uterus can cause a variety of painful symptoms during pregnancy, including backache, heartburn, breast tenderness, gas and constipation. Changes in circulation and increased pressure on the nerves and blood vessels of the lower body may cause leg and foot pain or cramping. It is also normal to feel slight discomfort in the abdomen as the uterus grows.
The round ligament, which supports the uterus, is a common source of abdominal pain during pregnancy. A woman with round ligament pain may feel sharp pain when she stands, laughs, coughs or makes any quick movements that cause the ligaments to contract, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
Braxton-Hicks contractions, or false labor, may cause pain for some women in the second or third trimesters of pregnancy. These tightening feelings in the abdomen can usually be distinguished from true labor because they tend to be irregular and stop when you walk.
Another common cause of discomfort in pregnancy is sciatic nerve pain. The sciatic nerve runs under your uterus and down the back of each leg. As the uterus grows, it places pressure on the nerve, which can lead to sharp pain in the lower back, buttocks, legs and feet.
The duration and severity of pain can help a woman determine if there is cause for concern. According to the March of Dimes Foundation, “short-term achiness” is a normal part of pregnancy, but severe pain or cramping always warrants a call to the doctor. During the first trimester, pain and spotting may be caused by ectopic pregnancy, a condition where the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. This requires immediate medical attention. Cramping or regular contractions in late pregnancy may indicate preterm labor or another abnormality. It is also important to remember that pregnant women can have conditions not related to pregnancy, such as appendicitis, infection or gallbladder disease, which may cause pain.
Prevention and Treatment
You may not be able to prevent all pain in pregnancy, but you can take steps to reduce your symptoms. Avoid quick changes in position and get plenty of rest. Try a warm bath to relieve aches and pains and stay hydrated and active to reduce pain from gas and constipation. Talk to your doctor about the safest options for pain relief if your discomfort becomes hard to deal with.
Every woman and every pregnancy is different. The changes that occur during pregnancy can cause a variety of symptoms throughout the body, and the type of discomfort felt varies from woman to woman. While many of these symptoms are harmless, you should not hesitate to mention any pain or discomfort to your doctor.
Seek immediate medical attention if you have severe pain, heavy vaginal bleeding or discharge (some spotting can be normal, but still contact your doctor), regular contractions or cramps, fever, chills or any other severe symptoms during pregnancy. Any time you are in doubt about your health or your baby’s safety, play it safe and seek medical attention right away.