Every pregnant woman understands that at some point around the time of her due date, she will likely begin to experience the first signs of labor. Many are also prepared to feel uncomfortable as their bodies change with a growing baby. Few first time moms know exactly how those discomforts may appear during their pregnancy. That unknown, combined with natural concern for your baby’s well-being, can be a little daunting. Knowing what some of the most common aches and pains are normal can both give you a little peace of mind, as well as make them easier to tolerate.
Back pain is one of the most common discomforts associated with pregnancy. It can be one of the first pains women feel, and it can last throughout pregnancy. As the belly grows, the lower spine curls to accommodate extra weight. The expanding uterus also shifts your center of gravity forward, which puts more pressure on your spine. In addition, the hormones that your body is experiencing can cause you to injure yourself more easily. These changes can all contribute to back pain during pregnancy. If you have an older child that still needs to be lifted or carried frequently, or if you have a job that requires you to be extremely active, your back pain may be worse.
Sometimes back pain can be indicative of preterm labor. If you are having intermittent or crampy back pain, and rest and hydration doesn’t make it better, call your obstetric health care provider.
Even if you rarely experience headaches in life, you may encounter them during pregnancy. They’re a natural result of the hormonal changes your body experiences. They can vary in intensity, but fatigue, tension, increased hunger or stress can exacerbate or increase the frequency of headaches you experience during pregnancy. Your body has an increased need for water, and can’t deal as well with long stretches of time without food. Be sure to have your water bottle with you, and some snacks at your desk or in your purse.
If you have a headache that is different from your usual headache, or is accompanied by visual changes or high blood pressure, you need to call your provider.
Abdominal Aches and Itchiness
Sometimes referred to as growing pains, many women feel aches and sharp pains on one or both sides of their abdomen. The ligaments supporting the uterus cause these pains. As the uterus grows, the ligaments stretch and become thin. The pain this causes can be sudden and sharp or a longer dull ache. Unless fever, bleeding, light-headedness, vaginal discharge or chills accompany this pain, it’s a normal part of pregnancy. The pain tends to be noticeable if you get up or turn too quickly, but should resolve within a few minutes. Move more slowly and give yourself time to change positions.
Many women also experience itchiness along their abdomen. This results from your skin drying out as it expands. It’s often isolated to the belly, but if you experience sudden weight gain in other parts of your body, those areas are likely to itch, as well. Talk to your doctor or midwife about itching that’s new.
Pelvic pain during pregnancy can also be common. Near the end of the first trimester, you may feel cramp-like pain, as though your period is about to begin. Assuming there’s no bleeding, this is likely the uterus expanding. If it does not resolve, or is accompanied by bleeding, call your provider. Toward the end of pregnancy, women often feel an increase in pelvic pressure and sometimes vaginal pain. Often this is a sign that labor may start soon, or within the next few days. If pain persists and is not resolved with rest and hydration, or if it worsens rather than improves, let your provider know.
Braxton Hicks Contractions
Many women feel what are often called “practice” contractions: pressure and tightening of the pelvis. These can be disconcerting, since they’re often first experienced around 20 weeks, but they aren’t true contractions. Usually sporadic and rarely painful, Braxton Hicks contractions are sometimes associated with dehydration. They also may involve only portions of the uterus, rather than the entire belly. Unless you feel more than four contractions per hour for two hours, they should be considered normal. If you continue to have contractions and they do not resolve, you may need to be evaluated to see if you are in labor.
Sharp, piercing and sudden vaginal pain can often be a sign that your cervix dilating—and that your baby is on the way! This pain can occur several weeks or just hours before labor, and it should be considered normal unless accompanied by pain in the lower abdomen. These jolts can be among the most painful you experience before labor, but they mean the end of your pregnancy is near!
If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, we offer a range of prenatal care options to meet your needs, including one-on-one obstetrical care with an OB/GYN physician or nurse midwife, or CenteringPregnancy group prenatal care. Contact an office to learn more!