Common Discomforts of Pregnancy and Tips For Coping

Pregnancy produces many physical changes. Aside from weight and body shape, other alterations in your body chemistry and function take place. The heart works harder, your temperature registers slightly higher, body secretions increase, joints and ligaments are more flexible, and hormones are altered.

In addition to physical changes – mood changes are common. Hormonal changes and fatigue, as well as normal anxiety over body images, sexuality, finances, relationship roles, and impending parenthood can wreak havoc on your mood.

pregnancy issues

Common discomforts of pregnancy include breast tenderness, constipation, dizziness, fatigue, frequent urination, headache, heartburn, hemorrhoids , leg cramps, mood changes, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, pelvic discomfort, shortness of breath, swelling of hands and feet, skin changes, stretch marks, insomnia, and vaginal discharge. Whew! In this article we will share some tips on coping with these common pregnancy complaints.

Breast Tenderness

Breast tenderness is most pronounced during the first three months. The breasts enlarge in size and can be quite tender. Wearing a good supportive bra may help you feel more comfortable.


During pregnancy your digestive system slows down due to hormonal influences and your digestive organs are displaced due to the growing uterus. You may also become constipated from irregular eating habits, changes in environment, stress, and added calcium and iron in your diet. Some medicines, too little exercise, and not enough fiber and liquids may also contribute to the problem.

Constipation refers only to bowel movements that are hard in consistency or painful. Infrequent bowel movements are not unusual. Tips for handling pregnancy constipation:

  • Increase the amount of fiber in your diet, eating foods high in fiber such as fruits, raw vegetables, whole grain products, nuts and dried fruits (especially prunes). Choose a breakfast cereal that has at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. These foods help soften the stool and promote natural bowel movements.
  • Drink a lot of fluids, especially water.
  • Eat small, frequent meals and thoroughly chew your food.
  • Exercise, even walking, can help relieve constipation.
  • Eat prunes or figs, or drink prune juice. These fruits contain a natural laxative.
  • If the problem is not resolved with the above suggestions, let your health care practitioner know. Stool softeners and possibly laxatives that are safe during pregnancy can be suggested. Also, iron tablets can aggravate constipation, the prescription for iron can be adjusted if it becomes a problem.


Dizziness or lightheadedness can be caused by low blood sugar or a sudden change of position. It may be caused by low blood pressure or too little iron in your blood (anemia). To help avoid this feeling:

  • Move slowly when standing from a sitting or lying position.
  • Eat well and frequently. Women who are prone to low blood sugar should carry snacks at all times. Juices and fruit are particularly good choices. Eat foods high in iron.
  • Avoid standing for long periods of time.
  • Take frequent rest periods.


Fatigue is very common during the first trimester. Get as much sleep or rest as you can – even short naps help. Your energy level will pick up after the first three months. However, fatigue and insomnia tend to recur in the last months of pregnancy. A warm bath, massage or hot drink before bed often helps you relax and get ready to sleep. Use the tips below under Trouble Sleeping to help you get the rest you need.

Frequent urination

Frequent urination is another symptom of pregnancy that is most pronounced during the first trimester as well as the end of pregnancy. Do not restrict fluid intake in an effort to decrease the frequency of urination. As long as you do not experience burning or pain with urination, increased frequency is normal and will go away postpartum.


The increased blood volume and hormonal changes of pregnancy may cause headaches. Nasal congestion, fatigue, eyestrain, anxiety or tension may also increase the frequency of headaches. Try to determine what triggers your headaches and avoid them when possible.

Prevention and safe remedies for headaches during pregnancy:

  • Apply a cool, wet washcloth or ice pack to your forehead and back of your neck. A warm cloth works better for some people.
  • Try to get plenty of sleep every night, and rest during the day when possible.
  • Try to eat something healthy every 2-3 hours.
  • Drink plenty of liquids.
  • Take a warm shower or relaxing bath.
  • Massage your neck, shoulders, face, and scalp or ask your partner or a friend to give you a massage.
  • Try to find a quiet, dimly lit place and relax.
  • Get some fresh air, take a walk.
  • Use meditation, self hypnosis, and relaxation techniques.

If you are having headaches that are severe, frequent, long-lasting or accompanied by blurred vision, spots, lights flashing or swelling please contact your doctor. 


Pregnant women get heartburn because the stomach muscles relax and food tends to back up. Sometimes the stomach makes more acid during pregnancy. The growing uterus pressing against the stomach can force acid causing heartburn.

Prevention and safe remedies for heartburn during pregnancy:

  • Try eating smaller but more frequent meals.
  • Avoid highly seasoned, rich and fatty foods. Avoid citrus fruit, tomatoes, red peppers, chocolate, and spicy foods. Caffeine and cigarettes can also make heartburn worse.
  • Do not lie down flat after eating. If you must lie down, elevate your head and shoulders with pillows.
  • Carbonated beverages, papaya juice, and milk (or milk products) often can help alleviate heartburn.
  • Avoid eating and drinking at the same time. Try to drink liquids an hour before and after meals. Small sips of water while eating is okay.
  • Certain antacids are not recommended during pregnancy. Check with your health care provider before using over-the-counter antacid preparations.

If the suggestions above do not work for you, please talk with your doctor.


Hemorrhoids are varicose veins in the rectal area caused by the increased blood volume and additional weight of pregnancy. They may itch or burn during bowel movements, and sometimes bleed slightly.

Prevention and safe remedies for hemorrhoids:

  • To help avoid hemorrhoids, prevent constipation by maintaining a diet high in fluids and fiber.
  • Avoid sitting on the toilet for long periods of time or straining while having a bowel movement. Put your feet up on a stool to reduce straining.
  • Witch hazel, Tucks, Anusol, or Preparation H may be applied to the hemorrhoid area for symptomatic relief.
  • An ice pack applied to the hemorrhoids may bring some relief.
  • A 15-20 minute warm bath three or four times a day (sitz baths) can relieve hemorrhoid discomfort.

If the suggestions above do not work for you, please talk with your doctor.

Leg cramps

Muscle cramps are common during pregnancy but the cause is difficult to determine. Possible causes include a calcium imbalance, pointing your toes when you stretch, or decreased circulation in your legs.

Prevention and safe remedies for leg cramps during pregnancy:

  • Be sure and get enough calcium and magnesium in your diet.
  • Exercise to increase leg circulation.
  • Elevate your legs as often as possible.
  • Keep your legs warm.
  • Take a bath before you go to bed.
  • While in bed, stretch with your heels pointed, not your toes. This will also help relieve a cramp.
  • Loosen the bedding at the foot of your bed.
  • Stretch your calf muscles before going to bed.

Mood changes

Being pregnant can lead to many conflicting emotions and mood changes. Many women are subject to sudden bursts of emotion that can be due to several factors including fatigue, stress, and hormonal changes.

Tips to reduce mood swings during pregnancy:

  • Talk over your concerns with a trusted person. Consider joining a pregnancy support group.
  • Continue with activities you enjoy. This is a great time for you and your partner to spend time together before the baby arrives.
  • Take time to pamper yourself. Treat yourself to a body massage or a makeover. Go shopping for cute and sophisticated maternity clothes.
  • Exercise regularly. You may find prenatal exercise classes valuable in providing support from other pregnant women.
  • Avoid becoming overly fatigued. Take naps on a regular basis whenever possible. Even a 15 minute rest/break can be helpful.
  • Be sure your diet is healthy and you have an adequate daily intake of protein and iron.
  • Attend classes, read books, and watch videos on various aspects of pregnancy, childbirth preparation, and newborn care. Knowing what to expect can ease tension.
  • Surround yourself with positive people with positive attitudes. Focus on positive birth stories rather than ones that evoke fear or have bad outcomes.

Nosebleeds and Bleeding Gums

Nasal membranes become swollen due to the increased blood volume of pregnancy and may cause nosebleeds in some women. Using a humidifier and a thin coating of petroleum jelly in each nostril around bedtime can help. During pregnancy an increased supply of hormones as well as the increase in your blood volume may cause tenderness, swelling, and bleeding of your gyms. A lack of vitamin C in your diet may also contribute to this condition. Be sure to see your dentist regularly, even during pregnancy and continue good oral hygiene.

Pelvic Discomfort

During pregnancy, the pelvic joints relax in order to increase the size and flexibility of the pelvis in preparation for birth. This may cause pressure on the sciatic nerve and may be felt as pain in the pelvic area, down the thigh and into the leg.

At times a discomfort known as “round ligament pain” can take your breath away. You may be walking and suddenly feel a “knife-stabbing” pain on one or both sides of your lower abdomen or groin, or feel a spasm in your vagina or rectum. As quickly as it came on, it may go away. There are ligaments that hold the uterus in place. One is on each side of the uterus and the third goes across the pelvic floor. As the uterus grows, these ligaments stretch like a rubber band. Any sudden movement or position change can cause them to spasm.

Tips to reduce pelvic discomfort during pregnancy:

  • A heating pad or hot water bottle may bring some relief. Do not place these directly on your uterus/abdomen.
  • Massage may be helpful.
  • Experiment with different positions to find the one most comfortable for you. Try sleeping on your side, with one leg forward supported on a pillow and the other back, as if you were running.
  • Use proper body mechanics when lifting, bending, and stretching during your pregnancy and following your delivery.
  • Consider wearing a maternity support belt to help alleviate some of the pressure.

Shortness of Breath

Your growing uterus puts pressure on your internal organs and diaphragm, which leaves less room for your lungs to expand and leads to shortness of breath. Going up a flight of stairs is tough towards the end of pregnancy, and you will find it harder to breathe. At night, it becomes harder to find a comfortable position without difficulty breathing.

Tips for shortness of breath during pregnancy:

  • Hold your arms over your head. This raises your rib cage and temporarily gives you more breathing space.
  • Try sleeping with your head elevated by pillows.
  • Practice very slow breathing while relaxing. It will help you use your lung space to its greatest capacity.
  • Slow down when climbing stairs.

During the last few weeks of pregnancy, lightening occurs, which is when the baby drops into the pelvis. Once this happens, the pressure is off the diaphragm, your lungs will have more room, and breathing becomes easier.

If the suggestions above do not work for you, please talk with your doctor.

If your shortness of breath is persistent or worsening or you notice increased swelling in one leg/calf over another, or experience chest pain. Seek medical attention immediately.

Swelling of the Hands and Feet

During pregnancy it is normal to experience swelling of the feet, legs, and hands that makes the skin feel tight. The amount of blood in your body increases approximately 40 percent. In addition, your body naturally holds water. Slight swelling of the hands and feet are common in the later stages of pregnancy. It is often greater during hot weather. Some swelling or puffiness is not unusual, but it can be uncomfortable.

Prevention and remedies for swelling of hands and feet during pregnancy:

  • Adequate fluid intake is always important.
  • Improve the circulation in your legs and feet by elevating them as often as possible. Lie on a bed or floor and raise your legs up on the wall keeping your knees bent.
  • Try to avoid standing for long periods of time.
  • Exercise regularly by walking or swimming.
  • Avoid sitting with your legs crossed. Use a footstool when sitting and perform ankle circles whenever possible.
  • Soak your feet in cold or ice water for increased comfort at the end of the day.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing. Wear comfortable, flat shoes.
  • Wear support hose/compression stockings when you plan on standing or walking for a long time. Put them on before you get out of bed in the morning. Some health insurance policies may pay for your stockings if you have a prescription; check with your insurance provider.
  • Drink the fresh juice of a lemon in a cup of warm water to help decrease fluid retention.
  • Limit your salt intake.

If the suggestions above do not work for you, please talk with your doctor.

If your shortness of breath is persistent or worsening or you notice increased swelling in one leg/calf over another, or experience chest pain. Seek medical attention immediately. 

Skin Changes and Stretch Marks

Due to hormonal changes, which occur during pregnancy, it is normal to have a brown coloring on your cheeks, nose, and forehead, known as chloasma or “the mask of pregnancy”. It is also normal for your nipples to become darker and to have a dark line on your abdomen from your navel down to your pubic bone called the linea nigra. Be reassured that the hormone that causes this increase in pigmentation and discoloration will decrease after the baby is born, and the discoloration will fade or disappear after delivery.

Avoid sun, which may exacerbate hyperpigmentation. Wear sunscreen and a hat. 

About 90 percent of women experience stretch marks. There is nothing you can put on your skin to prevent stretch marks. Stretch marks are a type of scar that forms when the skin’s normal elasticity is not sufficient to accommodate the stretching required during pregnancy. Stretch marks occur most frequently on the abdomen, but some women also develop them on their thighs, upper arms, and breasts. Although stretch marks may not entirely disappear after delivery, those that remain usually fade to a lighter, silvery color.

  • Ensure that your diet contains sufficient protein. This will help your skin stay healthy.
  • Keeping your skin soft and moisturized will not prevent stretch marks, but it may help minimize itching.

Try a gentle massage with a moisturizing lotion or cocoa butter.

Some women will have a problem with acne or skin breakouts during pregnancy. Do not take any oral medications for this problem without your doctor’s advice. Wash your face as you normally would. Avoid products with Retin­-A or Retinol in them.

Trouble Sleeping

During pregnancy some women have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. In the early months, difficulty sleeping may be part of your body’s adjustment to pregnancy. During the last few months, your increased size may make your normal sleeping position difficult, and the baby’s kicking may awaken you during the night. Also, increased bladder pressure may cause you to wake up frequently during the night.

Prevention and remedies for trouble sleeping during pregnancy:

  • Exercise daily.
  • Take a warm, relaxing shower before bed.
  • Reduce any noise or lighting that might keep you awake.
  • Avoid eating a big meal within two hours of going to bed.
  • Do childbirth preparation exercises such as deep breathing or other relaxation techniques.
  • Experiment to find the most comfortable sleeping positions. Lie on your side and place several pillows between your knees.
  • Avoid products that contain caffeine.
  • Try to develop a regular sleeping schedule and routine. Naps or short rest periods during the day are okay.
  • Do not worry if you are unable to sleep and relax. If you believe that you are not sleeping well due to increased anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor.

Vaginal Discharge

One of the first changes you may experience when you become pregnant is in your vaginal discharge. It is important that you are aware of the normal changes during pregnancy and that you inform your doctor about any changes that may appear abnormal.

What is normal vaginal discharge during pregnancy?

Normal vaginal discharge during pregnancy (called leukorrhea) is thin, white, milky, and mild smelling. Leukorrhea is normal and nothing for you to worry about.

During pregnancy, do not: 

  • Use tampons (they can introduce new germs into the vagina)
  • Douche (this can interrupt the normal balance and lead to a vaginal infection)
  • Assume that it is a vaginal infection and treat it yourself

During pregnancy, do: 

  • Use panty liners if it makes you more comfortable
  • Wear 100% cotton underwear
  • Notify us at your appointment of any changes

What is abnormal vaginal discharge during pregnancy?

If the vaginal discharge is green or yellowish, strong smelling, and/or accompanied by redness or itching, you may have a vaginal infection. Two of the most common vaginal infections during pregnancy are yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Your health care provider can easily treat vaginal infections. Another cause of abnormal discharge could also be a sexually transmitted infection. You should notify your health care provider any time there is a change in normal pregnancy discharge. NEVER try to diagnose and treat yourself.

When To Call The Doctor

Nothing is more important than the health of you and your baby. If you ever feel like something isn’t right, call your doctor or visit your nearest emergency room.

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