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Aches and Pains During Pregnancy

Aches and pains are common during pregnancy but sometimes they can be sever enough to limit your activity. Keep reading to learn what you should watch for and how to help relieve the pain.

High and Low Backache

Upper back pain can develop during the first trimester because of the increase in size and resulting heaviness of the breasts. A well-fitting, supportive bra will decrease discomfort.

Low back pain occurs most commonly after the fifth month. Pain usually increases in intensity as the uterus enlarges. Low back pain generally increases in severity with each successive child. Backache may also result from excessive bending, walking without rest periods, and lifting, especially if any or all of these are done when the woman is tired.

Suggestions include:

  • Use proper body mechanics including: stooping, rather than bending; Lifting items so the legs rather than the back, bear the weight and strain; and spreading the feet apart and placing one foot slightly in front of the other when stooping so there is a broad base for balance
  • Use good posture
  • Avoid excessive bending, lifting, or walking without rest periods
  • Do the pelvic rock/pelvic tilt exercises
  • Wear supportive low-heeled shoes
  • Rest frequently throughout the day
  • Use a heating pad, warm bath, or sit in a warm shower
  • Use ice packs
  • Get a massage/back rub
  • Use hard mattresses or positioning with pillows to straighten the back and alleviate pulling and strain for resting or sleeping
  • Don’t stand in one position too long; shift positions frequently
  • Use a footstool under your feet while sitting; keep your knees higher than your hips
  • Use external abdominal support if needed such as a maternity girdle or abdominal support garment

Discuss your specific symptoms with your nurse-midwife to rule out trauma, infections or preterm labor which feels like low back pain. Physical therapists and massage therapists specializing in pregnancy care are available as needed for severe problems.

Leg Cramps

The cause of leg cramps in pregnancy is not clear but they are more common in the third trimester because of increased weight of the uterus on the nerves supplying the lower extremities.

Relief measures for leg cramps include:

  • Straighten the affected leg, point the heel, and press on the knee cap
  • Push with strong, steady pressure against the bottom of your foot
  • Start a general exercise program and a habit of good body mechanics to improve circulation
  • Elevate your legs periodically throughout the day
  • Consume a diet that includes adequate amounts of both calcium and phosphorous
  • Use heat application and massage
  • Take calcium supplements
  • Change positions immediately when they occur; sit, if standing or stand, if sitting

Round Ligament Pain

Pain is thought to result from stretching of the round ligament, which is anatomically necessary to accommodate the growing baby. The pain usually occurs only on one side in the front hip area and is more frequently felt on the right side because of the usual rotation of the uterus.

Relief measures are often ineffective but can help: 

  • Flex your knees onto your abdomen
  • Bend toward the pain to ease the stretch on the ligament
  • Do the pelvic tilt exercise
  • Take warm baths
  • Apply a heating pad to the area
  • Support the uterus with a pillow between your knees when lying on your side
  • Wear a maternity abdominal support or girdle

Pain in your side can be from a more severe problem unrelated to your pregnancy. Consult your nurse-midwife to determine your diagnosis.


Headaches are a common occurrence in pregnancy and can be migraine, tension, cluster, or vascular in nature. Preexisting migraines may often improve with pregnancy, but some headache patterns will have their onset during pregnancy. Your healthcare provider can help you determine the probable cause of your headaches and treatment options.

Mild, transient, non-pathological headaches can be treated by:

  • Use relaxation techniques such as music tapes, massage, exercise
  • Consume a healthy diet; attempt to have regular eating habits to avoid frequent changes in blood sugar
  • Alcohol, chocolate, nitrites, and monosodium glutamate can increase headaches and may need to be eliminated from your diet
  • Determine which factors occur before your headaches begin and eliminate them

If you have questions or would like to learn more, please call our Women's Center at 605-322-3444.

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