Disclaimer: The following is not meant to be taken for medical advice, and is for informational purposes only. Always speak to your doctor about any concerns you have during your pregnancy.
Pregnancy isn’t easy. How do you know when you’re dealing with normal pregnancy body aches and when is it time to call your doctor for advice on pain management or treatment? Here’s how we can help you break it down.
Normal Aches and Pains in Pregnancy and When You Should See Your Doctor
Just when I began to feel relief from first-trimester nausea, another familiar friend came for a visit: pelvic pain.
This is my fourth pregnancy. I’m no stranger to the aches and pains of growing another human. What did surprise me this time around, however, was just how quickly I started to feel discomfort in my body. 14 weeks? Can’t a mom catch a break?
If I’ve learned anything from the collective 138 weeks I’ve spent pregnant, it’s that every pregnancy is different. Each new milestone along the way can bring brand new symptoms, including pregnancy body aches. Unfortunately, these symptoms can be quite uncomfortable while still falling within the normal and expected pregnancy experience.
Does this mean pregnant women should brush off any and all suffering as typical? No way. There is definitely a point when pain is a sign it is time to call your doctor to make sure everything is OK. And we’ll take this time to remind and urge you that anytime you have any concerns during your pregnancy, you should always, always speak to your doctor.
So, whether you’re a newly expecting mom or you’re heading into your fourth pregnancy, here is a little insight into those new and unfamiliar aches and pains you’re experiencing. This guide can help you decide for yourself if you need to get on the phone with your doc, put your feet up for a few minutes of rest, or try an at-home remedy for your pain.
Pelvic Pain During Pregnancy
An estimated 1 in 5 women experience what doctors call Pelvic Girdle Pain, or pressure, aches, and pain in your pelvic area. Most women who deal with pelvic pain during pregnancy have a manageable set of symptoms that may be triggered by increased activity or certain types of movement — even from something as simple as rolling over in bed.
What causes pelvic girdle pain?
While the joints in your pelvis are prepared to move some, the added weight of a growing baby can place extra pressure on these joints. This also can result in the uneven movement of your pelvic joints, causing additional discomfort, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists. Pregnancy can also cause stiff joints and inflammation, which can also be blamed for pelvic discomfort.
If you have recently injured your back or pelvis, or have been pregnant before, this can also make you more vulnerable to pelvic girdle pain.
Treating Pelvic Pain During Pregnancy
The pelvic pain you’re experiencing during your pregnancy doesn’t put your baby in danger. This is good news, but it doesn’t mean you should just brush it off. There are ways to treat pelvic pain that can make your pregnancy more comfortable.
Talk with your ob-gyn about seeing a physiotherapist if your pelvic pain is negatively affecting your quality of life. They will help improve your symptoms with exercises you can perform at home and hands-on therapy in the office.
For mild discomfort, you can also take steps to improve your symptoms, including:
- Place even weight on both legs when you stand, instead of shifting your weight to one side.
- Stay active, but listen to your body and get the rest you need.
- Avoid heavy lifting, including the toddler begging for you to tote them around the house.
- Place a pillow between your legs at night and slip one under your belly to support your bump.
Cramping During Pregnancy
Cramping is common in pregnancy, especially in the early months as your body is changing to accommodate your growing baby. The ligaments and muscles that support your uterus stretch to accommodate your enlarging uterus and this can cause cramping.
You might also experience cramping because of gas, bloating, and constipation. Some women notice cramping after having sex. If you have a pelvic exam or pap smear during your pregnancy, this can cause cramping as well.
Managing Mild Cramping During Pregnancy
Even if your cramping is mild, there are ways to lessen your pain. Some of the best ways to manage mild cramping during pregnancy include:
- Taking a warm bath
- Staying hydrated
- Engaging in prenatal yoga or stretches to relieve cramps and muscle aches
- Changing positions until you find one that feels more comfortable
- Wrapping a hot water bottle in a towel and placing it on the spot where you’re cramping
When to See a Doctor for Cramping
Cramping can also be an indication there is something wrong and it is time to call or visit a medical professional. If your cramping is also accompanied by any time with spotting, bleeding, dizziness, fever, fluid leaking, contractions, or rhythmic back pain, you should call your doctor ASAP.
Additionally, if your cramping is severe or persistent, reach out to your provider immediately.
Sciatic Nerve Pain
If you have sharp pain that starts in your lower back and travels down your leg until it reaches your toes, you’re probably dealing with sciatica. This happens when your sciatic nerve (located near your lower back and hips) gets pinched or becomes inflamed.
While some might only experience mild discomfort, others may feel more severe pain. You may also experience sciatic nerve pain as more tingling or numbness down your butt and leg.
Sciatica During Pregnancy
Sciatica and the pain that comes with it is a common symptom faced during pregnancy. The pain may also get worse over time, as your baby grows and body changes during pregnancy. There is nothing dangerous about sciatica for your baby, according to The Cleveland Clinic. However, it can keep you from enjoying your pregnancy.
Treating Sciatic Pain
If your pain is mild, you can probably find relief without seeing a doctor. Taking time to stretch, taking a shower, using a hot water bottle or heating pad, or taking acetaminophen can help make you more comfortable.
If your pain is more severe, don’t just grin and bear it! Talk with your doctor about your options for managing your pain, which could include a visit to the chiropractor, a massage, and physical therapy.
Headaches During Pregnancy
My fourth pregnancy has been my first experience with headaches, so I was surprised to learn it is a common pregnancy symptom. This is especially true during the first and third trimesters. According to one 2015 research review in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 39% of women report headaches during their pregnancy or postpartum.
What causes headaches during pregnancy?
Increased blood volume and changing hormones can cause headaches during the first trimester. If you’re sleeping poorly or feeling stressed by all the big changes ahead, these factors could be causing your pain as well.
Diet changes are common during pregnancy too– that’s not always by choice. Morning sickness and food aversions might make it difficult to stay hydrated or keep your blood sugar stable and both could trigger headaches.
When are headaches more serious?
Headaches can also be a symptom of elevated blood pressure. Hypertension is a serious complication that can put both mom and baby at risk. If your headache is persistent or gets worse over time, you should see a doctor. This is especially true if you have tried unsuccessfully to alleviate your pain by eating frequent small meals, drinking plenty of water, and getting adequate rest.
Your doctor will monitor you for preeclampsia, a condition experienced during the third trimester caused by very high blood pressure. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor might recommend delivering your baby as the best way to lower your blood pressure.
When in doubt, always remember to give your provider a call with any concern you have. Most offices have a nurses line in place and are happy to help their patients navigate any concerns they have about their pregnancy symptoms, including pregnancy body aches. There’s no such thing as a silly question when it comes to the health of you and your baby.