Common discomforts of pregnancy
You may be uncomfortable at times during pregnancy. Discomforts like back ache and being really tired are common and shouldn’t make you worry.
For most discomforts, you can do several things to help you feel better.
Don’t take any medicine, supplement or herbal product to treat a discomfort without talking to your provider first. Some may harm your baby.
If any of the discomforts become severe or painful or interfere with your daily life, tell your provider right away.
What can I do about acne during pregnancy?
Acne may not cause you physical discomfort, but it may be annoying. If you’ve never had it, you may get it for the first time during pregnancy. If you’ve had it before pregnancy, it may get worse during pregnancy. We don’t know exactly why acne happens during pregnancy, but it’s probably because of extra hormones in your body.
To treat acne during pregnancy:
- Wash your face at morning and night with a mild cleanser and lukewarm water.
- If your hair is oily, wash it with shampoo every day. Try to keep your hair off your face.
- Don’t pick or squeeze acne. This can cause scarring.
- Use makeup that is oil-free. Look for the words water-based, noncomedogenic or nonacnegenic on the product label.
- Talk to your health care provider about medicine you can take to treat acne. Don’t take any medicine—even acne medicine—without talking to your provider first. Some acne medicine can be harmful to your baby. Some can cause birth defects.
Here’s what you need to know about acne medicine:
Most over-the-counter acne medicines are safe to use during pregnancy, but check with your provider first. During pregnancy, you may be able to use products that contain:
- Azelaic acid
- Glycolic acid
- Topical benzoyl peroxide
- Topical salicylic acid
Dapsone, a newer acne medicine, may be safe to use during pregnancy, but talk with your provider before you use it.
Some acne medicines are not safe to use during pregnancy. They can cause serious problems for your baby, including birth defects. Don’t use these medicines during pregnancy:
- Hormonal therapy
- Isotretinoin and other retinoids
- Oral and topical tetracyclines
Talk to your provider before you take any medicine during pregnancy. Make sure any provider you see (like a doctor who has special training to treat skin, hair and nails [dermatologist]) knows you’re pregnant.
Back pain and sciatica
What can I do about back pain and sciatica during pregnancy?
Pregnancy hormones, your growing belly and weight gain during pregnancy can cause lower-back pain, especially in the later months. Pressure from the uterus can affect your sciatic nerve, which goes from the lower back to the hip and down the back of the leg. Pain along the sciatic nerve is called sciatica.
Here’s what you can do to help relieve back pain during pregnancy:
- Stand up straight with your chest up and your shoulders back and relaxed. Don’t lock your knees. Avoid standing for long periods of time. If you have to stand for a long time, try to rest one foot at a time on a stool or box.
- Sit in chairs that have good back support. Put a small pillow behind your lower back for extra support.
- Wear shoes with low heels and good arch support. Don’t wear flats or high heels.
Don’t lift heavy things. To pick up something off the floor, bend at the knees and keep your back straight. Don’t bend over at the waist.
- Sleep on your left side and put a pillow between your legs or sleep with a full body pillow. Sleep on a firm mattress. If your mattress is soft, put a board between it and the box spring to make it feel firmer.
- Wear maternity pants that have a wide elastic band that goes under your belly. You may want to try wearing a belly-support girdle made just for use during pregnancy.
- Aim to be active every day. Talk to your health care provider about exercises and stretches you can do to help strengthen your back muscles.
- Try putting a heating pad or ice pack on your back.
- Talk to your provider before you take any pain medicine. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicine, supplements and herbal products.
Call your provider right away if:
- Your back pain is severe or if you also have a fever.
- Your feet are numb or your legs are weak.
- You have severe pain in your calves.
- It burns when you pee (urinate).
- You’re bleeding from your vagina.
What can I do about pain in my lower belly?
As your baby grows, the muscles around the uterus (womb) pull and stretch. This can cause pain low in your belly. You may feel it most when you cough or sneeze. It usually goes away if you stay still for a bit or if you change to a different position.
Call your health care provider if your belly pain is severe, gets worse or doesn’t go away.
What can I do about sore breasts during pregnancy?
Your breasts begin to change early in pregnancy as they get read to make breast milk to feed your baby. Breast changes include:
- Getting bigger, fuller and heavier. They may even seem swollen. Tender, swollen breasts may be one of the first signs that you’re pregnant. Your breasts grow because of pregnancy hormones and the increase in fat and milk glands in them. As the skin on your breasts grows, it may be itchy and you may see stretch marks.
- Nipples and areolas getting darker. Your nipples may stick out more, and the areolas may get larger. The areola is the dark area around the nipple.
- Leaking colostrum. Colostrum is clear, sticky liquid that comes out of your breasts right after birth before your breast milk comes in. Your body starts making it during the last few months of pregnancy. As you get closer to your due date, colostrum may leak from your breasts.
Here’s what you can do to help relieve soreness in your breasts:
- Get a good maternity bra that has wide straps and bigger cups.
- If you exercise, make sure your bra gives you good support.
- If your breasts itch, use lotion. Talk to your health care provider about what kind to use.
- If you are leaking colostrum, you can get pads to put in your bra cups to absorb the liquid.
If the soreness in your breasts doesn’t go away, is severe or you feel a lump in your breast, call your provider. If you’ve had breast surgery or implants, tell your provider.
Congestion and nosebleeds
What can I do about congestion and nosebleeds during pregnancy?
You may have a runny or stuffy nose (nasal congestion) or nosebleeds during pregnancy. They’re caused by increased pregnancy hormones and blood in your body that make the lining of your nose swell, dry out and bleed.
Here’s what you can do if you have or want to prevent a stuffy or runny nose or nosebleed:
- Use a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air in your home.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Put a few dabs of petroleum jelly on the insides of your nose.
- Use saline nose drops or nose rinse. Don’t use any other kind of medicine without talking to your provider first.
If you have a nosebleed:
- Sit up straight and lean forward.
- Breathe through your mouth and pinch your nose shut for 5 to 10 minutes with your thumb and finger.
- If you get blood in your mouth, spit it out. Swallowing it may upset your stomach.
Call your health care provider right away if:
- You have signs of a cold or the flu, like sneezing, coughing, a sore throat, fever or minor aches.
- A nosebleed lasts longer than 20 minutes.
- You get a nosebleed after an injury to your head.
What can I do about constipation during pregnancy?
Constipation is common later in pregnancy. It’s when you don’t have bowel movements or they don’t happen often, or your stools (poop) are hard to pass. Constipation during pregnancy may be caused by pregnancy hormones and the weight of your growing uterus, which can affect the process of how your body breaks down food after you eat (digestion).
Here’s what you can do to help relieve constipation during pregnancy:
- Drink lots of water. Fruit juice (especially prune juice) can help, too.
- Eat foods that are high in fiber, like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole-grain bread and pasta and bran cereal.
- Eat smaller meals several times a day. Smaller amounts of food may be easier to digest.
- Do something active every day. Walking is good. Ask your provider about other activities that are safe during pregnancy.
- Tell your provider about any supplements you take, especially an iron supplement. Too much iron can lead to constipation. Don’t take any medicine, supplement or herbal product during pregnancy without talking to your provider first. A supplement is a product you take to make up for certain nutrients that you don't get enough of in foods you eat.
- Ask your provider about over-the counter medicine that is safe to take. Don’t take any kind of medicine during pregnancy without talking to your provider first.
If you haven’t had a bowel movement in 3 days, call your provider right away.
Fatigue and sleep problems
What can I do about fatigue and sleep problems during pregnancy?
Fatigue means being really tired and having little energy. You may feel fatigue early and late in pregnancy. Your body may be tired because:
- It’s working hard to take care of your growing baby. Your body’s making pregnancy hormones and you’re using a lot of energy, even when you sleep.
- You may have trouble sleeping at night because you’re uncomfortable or you need to get up to go to the bathroom. Later in pregnancy, leg cramps may wake you up at night.
- You may feel more stress than before you got pregnant. Stress is worry that you feel in response to things that happen in your life. Stress can make you feel tired.
- You may have other children to take care of and other activities that take up a lot of your time.
Here’s what you can do to help you feel less tired:
- Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Take short naps during the day, if you can.
- Eat healthy foods. Drink plenty of water during the day but cut back a few hours before you go to bed at night.
- Do something active every day. Talk to your health care provider about activities that are safe during pregnancy.
- Cut back on activities that aren’t necessary or that make you tired. Ask your partner, family and friends to help you out around the house or running errands. If you have sick days or vacation days at work, use them.
Here’s what you can do to help you get a good night’s sleep:
- Sleep on your left side with a pillow under your belly and another one under your legs.
- Take a warm shower or bath before you go to bed to help you relax.
- Do exercises, like yoga, to help you relax before going to bed.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet and comfortable.
- Cut out caffeine, especially before bedtime. Caffeine is a drug found in things like coffee, tea, soda, chocolate and some energy drinks and medicines. It stimulates the brain, so it makes you feel awake. It stays in the body for several hours, so limit it in the afternoon or evening.
Call your provider right away if you’re severely tired or if it begins to interfere with your everyday life.
What can I do to help reduce gas during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, certain hormones and your growing baby crowding your belly can slow down the process of how your body breaks down food after you eat (digestion) and cause you to bloat, burp and pass gas.
Here’s what you can do to help reduce gas during pregnancy:
- Don’t eat foods that cause gas, like fried or fatty foods, beans, cabbage, cauliflower and dairy products, like milk and cheese. Limit food and drinks that are carbonated (bubbly), like soda.
- Eat several small meals during the day.
- Do something active every day. Exercise can help improve digestion. Talk to your provider about safe activities to do during pregnancy.
- Talk to your health care provider before you take any medicine to help relieve gas and bloating.
Call your provider right away if you have:
- Gas that feels like labor contractions, that comes and goes regularly, every 5-10 minutes. Contractions are when the muscles of your uterus get tight and then relax. Contractions help push your baby out of your uterus.
- Blood in your stool (poop)
- Severe diarrhea
- Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) and vomiting
What can I do to help relieve headaches during pregnancy?
Headaches are common during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. They’re often caused by pregnancy hormones, stress or body tension caused by carrying extra weight throughout pregnancy. If you’re cutting back on caffeine during pregnancy, you may get a headache until your body is used to the new amount.
Here’s what you can do to help relieve headaches during pregnancy:
- Talk to your health care provider before you take any medicine, supplement or herbal product to relieve your headache. Some may be harmful to your baby. A supplement is a product you take to make up for certain nutrients that you don’t get enough of in the foods you eat. An herbal product, like a pill or tea, is made from herbs (plants) that are used in cooking.
- Try to figure out what causes your headache (called a headache trigger). Common headache triggers are cigarette smoke, certain foods and eye strain. Once you know your triggers, try to limit or get rid of them.
- Eat healthy foods, drink lots of water and do something active every day.
- Get a good night’s sleep every night. Rest during the day when you can.
- Try to reduce your stress. Stress is worry, strain or pressure that you feel in response to things that happen in your life. Tell your health care provider if you need help to reduce your stress.
- Try relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, yoga and massage. Take a warm shower or bath before you go to bed.
- Put a damp cloth on your head or on the back of your neck.
Call your provider right away if your headache:
- Is severe or doesn’t go away. Severe headaches during pregnancy may be a sign of preeclampsia. This condition can happen after the 20th week of pregnancy. It’s when a woman has high blood pressure and signs like a severe headache that mean that some of her organs aren’t working properly.
- Comes with fever, vision changes, slurred speech, sleepiness, numbness or not being able to stay alert.
- Comes after falling or hitting your head.
- Comes with a stuffy nose, pain and pressure under your eyes or a toothache. These may be signs of a sinus infection.
What can I do to help relieve heartburn during pregnancy?
Heartburn is a painful, burning feeling in the throat or chest. It happens when food or stomach acid backs up into the tube that carries food, liquid and saliva from your mouth to your stomach (esophagus). Heartburn is common during pregnancy because pregnancy hormones relax the valve between the stomach and the esophagus, and your growing uterus (womb) puts pressure on your stomach.
Here’s what you can do to help relieve heartburn during pregnancy:
- Eat five or six small meals a day instead of three large meals. Eat meals slowly—don’t rush.
- Drink more fluids between meals and less with meals.
- Don’t eat late at night. Eat your last meal two to three hours before you lie down or go to bed.
- Don’t eat foods that cause heartburn, like greasy or fatty foods, spicy foods, citrus products (like oranges or orange juice) and chocolate.
- Don’t drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause serious problems for your baby.
- Raise your head up on pillows when you sleep.
- Talk to your health care provider before you take any medicine, like an antacid, to help relieve heartburn.
Call your provider right away if you:
- Have heartburn that returns as soon as your antacid wears off
- Have heartburn that wakes you up at night
- Have trouble swallowing
- Are spitting up blood
- Have black stools (poop)
- Are losing weight
What can I do to relieve hemorrhoids during pregnancy?
Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in and around the area where poop leaves the body (rectum). They’re itchy and painful. During pregnancy, they’re caused by increased blood flow in the pelvic area and the pressure on veins there from your growing uterus. Constipation can make them worse. Constipation is when you don’t have bowel movements or they don’t happen often, or your stools (poop) are hard to pass.
Here’s what you can do to help prevent hemorrhoids during pregnancy:
- Eat foods that are high in fiber, like fruit, vegetables, beans, whole-grain bread and pasta and bran cereal.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Do something active every day. Talk to your health care provider about activities that are safe during pregnancy.
- Gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy. Talk to your provider about how much you should gain.
- Try not to push too hard when you poop.
Here’s what you can to do help relieve hemorrhoids during pregnancy:
- Don’t sit for long periods of time. Get up and move around to help move the weight of your uterus off of the pelvic veins.
- Soak in warm tub a few times each day. Make sure the water isn’t hot.
- Ask your provider about over-the-counter medicine (creams or wipes) that are safe to use during pregnancy. Also ask about fiber supplements and stool (poop) softeners. Don’t take any medicine, supplement or herbal product without talking to your provider first. Over-the-counter medicine is medicine you can buy without a prescription from your provider. A supplement is a product you take to make up for certain nutrients that you don’t get enough of in the foods you eat. An herbal product, like a pill or tea, is made from herbs (plants) that are used in cooking.
- Talk to your provider about using an ice patch or witch hazel pads to help relieve pain and swelling.
If you have bleeding or severe pain, call your provider right away.
What can I do to relieve leg cramps during pregnancy?
Leg cramps in your lower legs (calves) and even in your feet are common in the second and third trimesters. They often happen at night and can wake you up. We’re not exactly sure what causes leg cramps in pregnancy.
Here’s what you can do to help prevent leg cramps:
- Stretch your legs before you go to bed.
- Do something active every day. Talk to your health care provider about activities that are safe to do during pregnancy.
- Eat foods that are high in magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral that you get from food. Too little magnesium in your body may cause leg cramps. Foods that have a lot of magnesium in them are whole-grain bread and pasta, beans, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Ask your provider about taking a magnesium supplement. A supplement is product you take to make up for certain nutrients that you don't get enough of in foods you eat.
- Drink lots of water.
- Wear comfortable and supportive shoes.
- Talk to your doctor about taking a calcium supplement.
Here’s what you can do to help relieve leg cramps:
- Stretch your calf muscles. Flex your feet and down.
- Massage the calves using long, downward strokes.
- Take a hot shower or a warm bath.
- Put ice on your legs.
Call your provider if your leg cramps:
- Happen a lot
- Cause severe pain
- Come with swelling, redness, skin changes or weak muscles
- Don’t get better when you try to relieve them
Shortness of breath
What can I do to help with shortness of breath during pregnancy?
Shortness of breath is when you feel like you can’t get enough air into your lungs when you breathe. You may feel like this later in pregnancy, when your baby’s big and pressing on the muscle that helps you breathe (diaphragm). Even if you feel shortness of breath, your baby’s getting oxygen in the womb.
To help make breathing easier:
- Don’t smoke. If you need help to quit smoking, tell your health care provider.
- Sit or stand up straight to give your lungs room to expand. Move slowly.
- Try to breathe clean air. Stay away from secondhand smoke (smoke from someone else’s tobacco) and other air pollutants.
Call your provider if:
- There’s a big change in your breathing.
- You have a cough.
- You have pain in your chest.
Teeth and gums
How do teeth and gums change during pregnancy?
You may not expect it, but your teeth and gums may change during pregnancy. It’s important to keep your teeth and gums healthy so they don’t get infected. Infections during pregnancy can cause problems for you and your baby, like increasing your risk for preterm labor and premature birth. Preterm labor is labor that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Premature birth is birth that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Common teeth and gum changes include:
- Your gums may be sensitive and swollen. They may bleed when you brush or floss.
- Your teeth may feel loose. This can happen because pregnancy hormones that help relax muscles for labor and birth may relax the tissue that holds your teeth in place.
- If you have morning sickness, the acid in your mouth may cause the enamel on your teeth to wear off (erode). The acid also can cause cavities.
Here’s what you can do to help relieve any pain that may come with teeth and gum changes:
- Use a softer toothbrush.
- Rinse your mouth with warm salt water.
- Get regular dental checkups even during pregnancy. Make sure your dentist knows that you’re pregnant.
What can I do about having to urinate often during pregnancy?
You may need to pee (urinate) more often during pregnancy, especially early in pregnancy and in the final weeks before your baby is due. As your baby grows, the weight pushes down on your bladder. Urine may leak when you cough, laugh, sneeze or exercise.
Here’s what you can do if you need to urinate often:
- Don’t drink coffee, tea, soda and other drinks that have caffeine in them. Caffeine is a drug that can cause you to need to urinate more often.
- Do Kegel exercises to help strengthen the muscles that control the flow of urine. To do them, squeeze the muscles you use to stop yourself from urinating. Hold the muscles tight for 3 seconds and then release. Do this 10 to 15 times, three times per day. Kegel exercises also help prepare muscles for labor and birth.
- Go when you need to go. Don’t try to hold it. When you urinate, lean forward a bit to completely empty your bladder.
- Go to the bathroom before you exercise. Talk to your health care provider about safe exercises to do during pregnancy.
- Stop drinking fluids about 2 to 3 hours before you go to bed.
- Use a pad or panty liner to catch leaks.
Call your provider right away if you have signs or symptoms of a urinary tract infection (also called a UTI). If it’s not treated, a UTI can lead to a more serious infection or preterm labor. Preterm labor is labor that happens too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Signs and symptoms of UTIs include:
- Blood in the urine
- Needing to go again immediately after you urinate
- Pain or burning when you urinate
What do I need to know about vaginal discharge during pregnancy?
Vaginal discharge (also called lochia) that’s clear, white or sticky is normal during pregnancy. It’s caused by pregnancy-related changes in the birth canal (vagina) and the opening to the uterus at the top of the vagina (cervix).
Discharge that’s not normal may be a sign of infection, and infections can cause serious problems during pregnancy. Call your health care provider right away if your discharge:
- Is not clear or white
- Smells bad
- Comes with itchiness
- Comes with pain or soreness
Varicose veins and swelling in your legs, ankles and feet
What can I do about varicose veins and swelling in my legs, ankles and feet?
If you look down and can’t see your ankles, you’re not alone! Many women have swelling in their legs, ankles and feet during pregnancy. Swelling may be caused by pregnancy hormones, having more fluid in your body during pregnancy, and pressure from your growing baby on the veins that carry blood to your heart.
Pressure on a vein called the inferior vena cava may cause sore, itchy, blue bulges on your legs. These are called varicose veins. They usually don’t cause problems, but they’re not pretty. You’re more likely to have them if it’s your first pregnancy or if other people in your family have them.
Here's what you can do to help relieve varicose veins and swelling in your legs, ankles and feet:
- Don’t stand for long periods of time.
- When you’re sitting down, put your feet up. Don’t cross your legs when you sit.
- When you’re lying down, put your legs up on a pillow.
- Sleep on your left side. This takes pressure off the vein that returns blood from the lower parts of your body to your heart.
- Wear support hose or compression stockings or leggings. These fit tightly all over and can help control swelling. Don’t wear socks or stockings that have a tight band of elastic around the leg.
- Do something active every day. Talk to your provider about activities that are safe during pregnancy.
- Put an ice pack on swollen areas.
If you have extreme or sudden swelling, call your provider right away. These may be signs of a serious condition called preeclampsia. This condition can happen after the twentieth week of pregnancy. It’s when a woman has high blood pressure and signs like a severe headache that mean that some of her organs aren’t working properly.
Last reviewed: March 2022