Expect some discomfort even in the smoothest pregnancy. Get a grip on the five most common aches.

Pregnancy pain: 5 common causes

Ouch! If the pain isn’t on your tush, your wrist aches. Growing a baby sure takes a toll on your body. And if you’re expecting for the first time, even the slightest twinge of pain may well send you on a Googling frenzy. For most pregnant women, some physical discomfort is par for the course. If you experience a persistent and intense pain, seek immediate medical attention to rule out a problem.

1. Tension headaches

It’s not unusual to experience headaches, especially during the first trimester. These are triggered by hormonal and circulatory changes, as well as the increased blood volume. Sometimes, it may be linked to dietary changes, a lack of sleep or general fatigue.

Dr Kelly Loi, a fertility specialist and gynaecologist who runs Health & Fertility Centre for Women, explains, “Tension headaches are often described as a tight band of pain around the head, and sometimes, the back of the neck.”

They tend to disappear during the second trimester, possibly because the hormone levels start to stabilise. But if it returns towards the end of your pregnancy, it could be a symptom of pre-eclampsia where high blood pressure occurs, along with protein loss in the urine. As this can affect your baby, inform your doctor at once as you may need to deliver earlier.


Ensure that you are adequately hydrated, eat a healthy balanced diet and get enough rest, although little else can be done to ease this condition. You can safely take paracetamol but skip other medications like aspirin and ibuprofen, as well as most prescription migraine drugs.

Leg cramps could also signal dehydration or a lack of nutrients in your body.

2. Leg cramps

Leg spasms (also known as Charley horses) is that “jumpy” crampy sensation in your legs that can happen anytime and anywhere ― and they hurt! “No one really knows why pregnant women get more leg cramps,” Dr Loi notes. “Possible factors include leg muscles being tired from carrying around all the extra weight.” Leg cramps could also signal dehydration or a lack of nutrients in your body. Your muscles contract ― that crampy feeling ― when your body lacks water or sodium.


If you do get a cramp, stretch your calf muscles immediately. Dr Loi advises, “Straighten your leg, heel first, and gently flex your toes backwards toward your shins.” It might hurt at first, but this will ease the spasm and the pain will go away gradually. Try to relax the cramp by massaging the muscle or taking a warm shower before bed. Also make sure your diet has sufficient calcium and minerals, such as potassium and magnesium, both of which are found in dark, leafy greens.

Illustration: INGimage and Rachel Lim


3. Pelvic girdle pain

The pelvic girdle is the arched bony structure in your hip area that supports your legs. During a vaginal delivery, it’s also the passage through which your baby enters the world. Pregnancy pain around that area may be due to swelling or if your pelvic joints are misaligned or stiff.

“The symptoms of pain can vary from woman to woman,” notes Dr Loi. “It may be one-sided or affect both sides. At times it could be a general ache or it may shoot into your buttocks or down the back of your legs.” You will most likely notice it when you walk, climb stairs and turn over in bed. The pain can sometimes be debilitating.


Although a common pregnancy complaint, it’s best to get help early. “About one in five pregnant woman develops serious problems and about one in 12 has severe pain or disability resulting from it,” Dr Loi points out.

A physiotherapist applies gentle pressure on the affected joint, so that it works normally again. She will also teach you simple exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor, stomach, back and hip muscles. Relax as much as you can. By the way, you can still have a normal vaginal birth. The bones will usually revert to their original state after delivery.

Try massages, heat rubs, hot packs, acupuncture and physiotherapy to strengthen the tummy muscles and back.

4. Sciatic nerve pain
This pain usually comes about when your growing womb presses on the sciatic nerve. You’ll feel a sharp shooting or burning pain, or a tingling sensation that radiates all the way down your back to your lower limbs.

“In about 15 to 20 per cent of cases, it happens when the womb is naturally tilted backwards, resulting in inflammation of the nerve,” notes SP expert Dr Christopher Chong, an obstetrician, gynaecologist and urogynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital. While it can happen any time during pregnancy, sciatica is more common in the third trimester. Women with prior back problems, especially slipped discs, are most at risk.


Do stretching exercises and swim to prevent the womb from pressing on the affected nerve. Also try massages, heat rubs, hot packs, acupuncture and physiotherapy to strengthen the tummy muscles and back. “Maintaining good posture also helps,” Dr Chong adds. “Try sitting with your back straight and use a stool to raise your leg when sitting.”

5. Carpal tunnel syndrome

The compression of a nerve in your wrist gives rise to this painful hand and arm condition. The fluid retention and swelling that comes with pregnancy may predispose you to it as these put pressure on the nerve. Carpal tunnel syndrome is very common in pregnant women, says Dr Loi, who adds that it usually emerges during the final trimester when fluid retention worsens.

Symptoms may include numbness, tingling, pain, or a dull ache in the fingers, hand, or wrist. They tend to come and go and are often worse at night. Occasionally, the discomfort may even extend to the forearm and upper arm. In severe or chronic cases, the hand may feel clumsy or weak.


“Try to identify any activities that may trigger or worsen the symptoms,” Dr Loi suggests. “And be sure to take short breaks to move your arms and stretch your hands.” If the symptoms bother you at night, use a splint or brace to try and stabilise the wrist in a neutral (not bent) position, which widens the carpal tunnel. If you wake up with pain, try shaking your hands until the pain or numbness goes away.


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