15 Common Side Effects During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, there are some common ailments or side effects which you may experience throughout each trimester. We’ve compiled a list of the common side effects during pregnancy, explaining why you get them and what you can do to get some relief.

Pregnancy Side Effect #1 – Backache

Backache is a very common complaint when pregnant. The pain is usually experienced in the lower back, across the buttocks and down the legs. Backache can be aggravated by standing for a long period of time or lifting or sleeping awkwardly, particularly in the last trimester. Mild backache can develop into more severe pain when twisting your spine and pelvis in opposite directions, for example, when you are turning over in bed. The high levels of progesterone in your body when pregnant result in the stretching and softening of ligaments in the pelvic area, in preparation for birth. The ligaments around the spine also relax – as a result this puts extra strain on the back and hips.

Your body also produces a hormone called relaxin, which usually happens around the end of the second trimester. Relaxin loosens all your joints and ligaments in preparation for birth. For some women, it can get quite painful in the pubic area when turning over in bed. Your pubic bone is actually 2 bones joined in the middle, so when you move, these 2 bones rub together and may cause pain. Relaxin can also increase backache and is responsible for the feeling that your hip joints are very loose.

Massage can help backache, as well as strengthening exercises for your back. Ask your midwife or consult a therapeutic professional (e.g. an osteopath) to make sure your back is in good shape and to suggest some exercises for your individual situation. Avoid wearing high heels, sleeping on overly soft mattresses, lifting heavy weights and try to maintain a good posture.

When turning over in bed, try to do it slowly and in stages. This will help to reduce the pain by prevent your joints from getting too far out of alignment.

Pregnancy Side Effect #2 – Constipation

Constipation is common during pregnancy as well as post-birth, when your body is using much more water for breastfeeding.

Progesterone has a relaxing effect in the body, which is great for giving birth, but it can also cause side effects for mum to be – your digestion can become sluggish. When your intestines are more relaxed, it means fewer contractions to push food along. As a result, much more water than usual is absorbed, making faeces hard and dry.

The best way to combat constipation is to drink plenty of water and eat plenty of fibre, fruit and vegetables. Coconut flour is very fibre rich and can be substituted for a third or half of normal flour in recipes – it doesn’t rise like normal flour, but is MUCH better for you. You can also substitute your cooking oils for coconut oil – it is the BEST oil to use for cooking which can withstand higher temperatures without oxidative damage or going rancid too soon, which many other cooking oils do.

BellyBelly’s Naturopath, Nicole Tracy, recommends prunes and dried figs, which can be fantastic for encouraging healthy bowel movements ” add a few to your cereal or yoghurt each morning. Consult a Naturopath for individual dietary and herbal support that is safe during pregnancy.

If increasing your fibre and fluid does not help you can use 1-2 tablets of coloxyl & senna daily. Coloxyl helps to soften faeces and senna stimulates the contractions of your intestine. Coloxyl & senna is a category A drug and is safe to take at any time during pregnancy, but always check with the pharmacist before taking anything during pregnancy, in case it interacts with any other medications you’re taking or if there are any other health conditions involved.

If you are thinking about taking a pharmaceutical or over the counter laxative, consult a pharmacist or your doctor or midwife first to make sure you choose a safe laxative for pregnancy.

Pregnancy Side Effect #3 – Leg Cramps

Cramps during pregnancy are usually experienced in the thighs, calves or feet and they usually consists of a sharp pain followed by an aching pain. Cramps are most common in the third trimester and are mostly experienced at night, causing you to wake. It is believed that cramps may be due to low levels of calcium or magnesium, as your baby needs high levels of these nutrients ” especially from around week 20 of pregnancy. Consult your midwife or doctor if you are concerned about your cramps, they may prescribe a balanced Calcium and Magnesium supplement. If you experience cramp, massage the area firmly (a good job for your partner!) and flex and point your foot. Some women say they find relief by sleeping with their feet slightly elevated e.g. by placing a pillow under the feet.

During the day exercise regularly, especially walking. Wear low heeled shoes. Elevate legs and flex toes when resting. Increase consumption of Calcium and mineral rich foods ” dairy products, sardines, green leafy vegetables, tofu, tahini (sesame paste), almonds, brazil nuts, seeds and figs. Tonic water and bitter lemon can help relieve leg cramps.

Taking a Calcium and Magnesium supplement daily is safe and often relieves cramps instantly.

Pregnancy Side Effect #4 – Dizziness / Faintness

This can occur when standing up too quickly, particularly during warmer weather, after a warm bath or if you have been standing for too long. The reason this happens is due to a lack of blood supply to the brain, usually caused from blood pooling in the legs and / or feet when standing. The uterus has a great demand for blood supply when pregnant too. The ways to avoid dizziness is fairly simple – don’t stand for too long, try to keep cool during hot weather and avoid getting up suddenly. If you experience dizziness, sit with your head between your knees or lie down with your feet elevated.

When standing for longish periods keep shifting weight from leg to leg to keep blood circulating. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids as dehydration will worsen the ‘fainting’ tendency. Also make sure you get plenty of rest and nap when possible ” being relaxed and horizontal is highly beneficial for proper distribution of blood.

Pregnancy Side Effect #5 – Fluid Retention

Some degree of swelling in your lower limbs is normal in most pregnancies, especially during hot weather.

An increase in the amount of fluid present in the tissues can result in fluid retention. This causes swelling or ‘oedema’ usually in the feet, face and hands. Fluid can pool in the ankles from standing for long periods of time. If you have high blood pressure, this can force fluid from the bloodstream into the tissues, resulting in oedema. Pregnancy hormones can also cause retention of sodium by your kidneys, which then causes the body to retain fluid. Your Midwife, Obstetrician or Doctor will check for swelling during your ante-natal visits.

Naturopath Nicole Tracy recommends these tips for fluid retention:

  • Avoid standing for long periods of time
  • Avoid salty foods
  • Aim to eat at least one meal of FRESH diuretic vegetables daily, i.e. plenty of celery, cucumber, lettuce and other green leafy things. Try carrot, celery and beetroot juice for a lovely gentle diuretic effect.
  • Avoid coffee and caffeinated beverages – if you must, no more than 1 cup of coffee a week
  • Drink at least eight glasses of water a day to ensure your kidneys are getting a good flush out
  • Recline for half hour each afternoon in a lateral position (left side best unless it’s uncomfortable on that side) and try and put your feet up where possible
  • Drink dandelion leaf tea ” this is safe during pregnancy, and provides a gentle diuretic action and a high amount of beneficial Potassium. It is very supportive to your kidneys, and contains fantastic nutrients for pregnancy health. It is available from good health food shops, or speak to your naturopath or herbalist
  • Swimming for exercise
  • Reflexology
  • Lymphatic drainage massage
  • Make sure there is enough vitamin B6, magnesium and vitamin E in your diet
  • Eat small amounts of parsley in your food
  • Mandarin and grapefruit essential oils may help when massaged into the legs and ankles ” dilute at a 1-2 % dilution in a carrier oil ” eg. 20 drops per 100ml carrier oil

Pregnancy Side Effect #6 – Haemorrhoids / Piles

Haemorrhoids are essentially varicose veins of the anus. They become evident in pregnancy due to a combination of progesterone relaxing the blood vessels and pressure from the growing uterus.

Haemorrhoids can also occur as a result of straining to pass bowel movements. This can weaken the blood vessels in the back passage which then leads to haemorrhoids, so it’s important that you try to prevent constipation. If you are prescribed iron for anaemia it may make you constipated, so you might like to try a natural iron tonic instead (see your naturopath). Increase fluids and fibre in your diet and avoid straining to pass bowel movements.

While haemorrhoids may be uncomfortable, they are usually short lived and easy to treat. Symptoms include:

  • Sharp, intermittent pain in the anal region
  • Itchiness around the anus
  • Mucus discharge
  • Small amounts of blood during bowel movements (you may see this on the toilet tissue)
  • Discomfort or pain during and after bowel movements

If you notice any of the following, consult your Obstetrician or doctor:

  • Blood during bowel movements is dark in colour
  • Symptoms continue for more than two weeks
  • A change in normal bowel habits for more than two weeks
  • A persistent pain in the abdomen or anal region

Most haemorrhoid treatments are available over the counter from pharmacies and are suitable to use during pregnancy, but you should always check with your Obstetrician, doctor or pharmacist first.

Some effective natural remedies include:

  • Tissue salts, which you can get over the counter from your pharmacy or a health food store
  • Witchhazel tincture which you can also purchase from your pharmacy, is used topically. You can apply it on a cotton ball to the affected area when going to bed. Leave the wet cotton ball on overnight and you will usually see great results in 2-3 days. There is also a witchhazel cream which you can place in the fridge for extra soothe-factor!
  • Phytopro by Metagenics – you will need to see a naturopath for this one, but taking them around 2-3 times a day will usually result in haemorrhoids disappearing within 1-2 days.
  • Homeopathy is very effective for haemorrhoids and safe during pregnancy. You would need to consult a qualified homeopath for individualised treatment.

Pregnancy Side Effect #7 – Heartburn / Reflux

Progesterone the culprit yet again! It relaxes the valve at the entrance to the stomach, which makes it easier for stomach acid to flow into the oesophagus, resulting in a burning sensation. Your baby can also press on the stomach which again causes stomach acid to flow upwards. You will usually notice heartburn when lying down, straining or coughing. You can try to avoid heartburn by keeping your meals small and frequent instead of large and few, drinking a glass of milk (to help neutralise the acid) can sometimes help, particularly before bed. Do not eat spicy foods or foods that are high in fat.

Check with your midwife, doctor or pharmacist if you would like to take pharmaceutical or over-the-counter antacids, or speak to your naturopath or herbalist for soothing and gentle herbal support.

Pregnancy Side Effect #8 – High Blood Pressure / Hypertension

Blood pressure is usually checked at ante-natal check-ups, so your Obstetrician or doctor can keep watch for rising blood pressure. For some pregnant women, blood pressure can rise above normal levels. This can range from a mild case of high blood pressure (HBP) to a more severe level. You may have no symptoms or you may have many, some being vomiting, headaches, disturbed vision and a sharp pain just below your breastbone. High blood pressure can also be accompanied by water retention – swelling of the hands, feet and ankles and while HBP can occur at any time, it is more likely to occur later in pregnancy.

HBP is more common for women having their first baby, having more than one baby and those who are over 35 years of age. The reason why HBP must be closely monitored is that it may be a signal of Pre-Eclampsia. We will discuss Pre-Eclampsia in more detail in another section, however if you are worried that you have these symptoms, consult your Obstetrician or doctor. It is important that you notify your Obstetrician if you have had problems with HBP before your pregnancy or if you are suffering from persistent headaches or nausea.

The cause of HBP is not fully known, however it is important that you communicate any concerns you may have as HBP can require immediate attention and hospitalisation. Milder cases may result in the patient being ordered on bed rest.

Magnesium supplements and herbal tonics can be used to successfully treat obstetric hypertension.

Pregnancy Side Effect #9 – Insomnia

Insomnia may rear it’s ugly head at any time from conception onwards. While there is not too much you can do (after all, baby’s body clock is on 24 hour time!), relaxation is the main key. Massages, a warm bath, a cup of strong Chamomile tea, reading, watching television or something else you find relaxing may help. You could always come and have a natter with someone on BellyBelly!

Sleeping pills can cross the placenta and affect baby, so it is unlikely you will be prescribed these. Your naturopath or herbalist can give you some pointers on reducing insomnia, and there are many herbs that are safe during pregnancy for both you and your bub. If you are particularly concerned about your lack of sleep, consult your midwife or doctor.

Pregnancy Side Effect #10 – Low Iron

Low iron is quite common in pregnancy, which can leave you feeling even more tired than you already are! It is important to keep your iron levels up during pregnancy and throughout breastfeeding too.

Many iron supplements can leave you constipated or not absorb well. Floridix is a great option and is recommended by many midwives. Being a herbal and natural iron source, it is absorbed more effectively than traditional iron supplements and more easy to digest, resulting in less side effects. Because it absorbs so well, the dose is smaller too, which is great if you have ever tasted liquid iron before! However Floradix does have a better taste than others – it’s pH balanced with natural fruit juices and added digestive and iron-rich herbs.

You can also increase iron through your diet, bearing in mind that Vitamin C increases iron absorption, so you can either get a supplement from your natural health store / naturopath or eat more brightly coloured fruits and vegetables that contain Vitamin C. Also, if you are an avid coffee or tea drinker, cut down or cut out your consumption, especially around mealtimes or when consuming iron. Tannins bind to the iron and interfere with it’s absorption.

Carbonyl iron is another option for women who experience digestive issues during pregnancy. Because it is naturally regulated by the body (providing for slower absorption), carbonyl iron is one of the safest and gentlest forms of iron available. Ask your doctor about carbonyl iron as an alternative to other iron supplements during pregnancy.

Liver is an especially rich source of iron, but if it’s suggested to you, be aware it also has a high vitamin A and cadmium content and is best avoided.

Nicole Tracy recommends the following sources of iron: wholegrain cereals, meat, poultry, fish, dark green leafy vegetables and herbs (i.e. spinach, parsley, basil, rocquette, nettles), dried peaches and apricots, raisins, kelp, seaweed, nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, beans, peas and beetroot.

Pregnancy Side Effect #11 – Morning Sickness

Morning sickness can range from mild nausea to constant vomiting requiring hospitalisation. Despite it’s ironic name, morning sickness can occur at any time of the day, however some pregnant women find it more commonly occurs when they haven’t eaten for some time (e.g. in the morning after a night’s sleep – hence the name ‘morning sickness’). Morning sickness most often occurs until the end of the first trimester, but can continue on for any amount of time. For those unlucky enough, morning sickness can hang around for the whole pregnancy, or may even disappear after the first trimester only to return in the third trimester.

While the actual cause of morning sickness is still somewhat of a mystery, the main reasons doctors believe morning sickness may occur are from low blood sugar levels or even pregnancy hormones causing irritation to the stomach – maybe both!

There are many different remedies for morning sickness, some of them wives tales and some of them do actually work for some women – everyone is different! Other things you can do include:

  • Drink lots of fluids
  • Avoid smells like cigarette smoke or other smells which trigger nausea
  • Eat smaller meals, more frequently.
  • Place some nuts and dried fruit in your bag or at your desk in case you can feel a wave of nausea coming.

Nausea will always be worse if you are tired. Try to rest whenever you can if you have other children to care for by lying down whenever they do.

There are a number of natural remedies which may help alleviate symptoms, including vitamin B6 (check with your doctor or pharmacist first for the appropriate dose) and ginger. You could try ginger biscuits for snacks, or even the herb in a capsule form may help.

Peppermint tea may also be helpful ” drink a cup of peppermint tea and eat a piece of toast or some dry biscuits before getting out of bed. You can drink spearmint and raspberry leaf tea for morning sickness that continues into second trimester. If these tips don’t provide relief, you may need some liver support to help your body to cope with the onslaught of pregnancy hormones.

Your naturopath or herbalist can make you a gentle liver tonic, or you can try two cups of roasted dandelion root tea each day. This can be taken with a splash of milk and a teaspoon of honey. If you are unable to keep any food and/or fluids down, please consult your midwife or doctor, who can assess you and see if you require further attention or hospitalisation to prevent dehydration.

Pregnancy Side Effect #12 – Rib Pain / Soreness

Rib pain can range from mild to extremely sore and tender ribs and is usually felt on the right side, just below the breasts. Mainly occurring in the third trimester, it can be more painful when sitting. Rib pain is caused from the uterus pressing into the abdomen, squashing your ribs, as well as baby kicking or punching the area. The only real ways to help here are to make yourself as comfortable as possible by wearing lose fitting clothes and supporting yourself with cushions when lying down. The pain will likely subside when baby drops (into your pelvic cavity) in preparation for birth.

Here is a really effective exercise for temporary relief from Midwife, Alan Rooney:

“Stand facing a wall. With your feet 40cms from the wall, cross your arms in front of your face. Then lean your crossed arms on the wall sliding them up the wall above your head and stretching yourself up as far as possible. Hold the position for as long as comfortable. This lifts the diaphragm and rib cage up off the uterus and really provides huge temporary relief, especially if the pain is caused by a breech baby’s hard little head wedged under your ribs.”

Pregnancy Side Effect #13 – Tender / Sore Breasts

One of the very first signs of pregnancy can be breast heaviness or discomfort and / or a tingling sensation in the nipples. Tenderness of the breasts is often continual throughout your pregnancy and generally increases towards birth. This is the result of hormones preparing your breasts for lactation – your milk ducts grow and stretch, filling with milk. Make sure you get fitted with a supportive bra and if you have larger breasts, you might consider wearing one at night too.

Vitamin B6 can be of help in reducing breast tenderness, especially when taken in conjunction with a specific pregnancy multivitamin.

Pregnancy Side Effect #14 – Thrush / Yeast Infection

Candida albicans is the microscopic fungus which is responsible for thrush. While this organism ordinarily lives in the intestinal tract of men and women, nearly one out of three women have candida albicans present in their vagina. This can become a problem when its numbers outgrow the good bacteria – it’s a battle of the good bacteria with the bad bacteria and the side with the most ‘soldiers’ wins.

During pregnancy, the vagina becomes rich in a form of glucose named ‘glycogen’, which feeds the growth of candida albicans. It’s believed the higher levels of glycogen occurs due to increased oestrogen levels and reduced acidity in the vagina. This is why a pregnant woman is ten times more likely to get thrush than normal – instead of being a nice cosy home for thrush, the vagina is now a five star hotel!

Symptoms of vaginal thrush can include one or more of the following:

  • A thick, white discharge from the vagina – some describe this as looking like cottage cheese
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Intense itching around your vagina, vulva, perineum and / or anus
  • A stinging or burning sensation when passing urine
  • A stinging or burning sensation during intercourse

Aside from taking probiotics as a preventative (which I highly recommend taking daily for general wellbeing, pregnant or not) and also to help fight thrush, garlic is a very effective natural treatment – trust me – it works and it works quickly! Check out THIS thread in the BellyBelly forums for more information on how you can help treat thrush and possibly even GBS (group B strep).

You can read our full article on Thrush in Pregnancy HERE which contains preventative suggestions and treatment tips.

Pregnancy Side Effect #15 – Varicose Veins

When pregnant, varicose veins in the legs, anus (see haemorrhoids) or vulva may occur. This is usually the result of rising blood pressure in the lower extremities. This is caused by the enlarged uterus interfering with blood flow between the legs and the heart. The best way to avoid this is:

  • Good pre-conception care to strengthen the blood vessels and capillaries
  • Supplementation with vitamin C and bioflavonoids
  • Preventing constipation which puts extra pressure on your blood vessels and veins
  • Avoid standing for too long and put your feet up (if you ever wanted any excuse for doing so!).
  • When you sit down, rest your legs on a footstool with your feet elevated. Wriggle and scrunch up your toes. Make circles with your feet and move them around (like waving).
  • Avoid pressure on lower thighs.
  • Try not to cross your legs.

Support stockings may help as may wearing flat heeled shoes. Massage may help in the prevention of varicose veins but if you do develop them, do not apply massage.

You might like to consult a naturopath or homeopath, who have great results with alleviating the symptoms of varicose veins.

Varicose veins will usually disappear once the baby is born, but always inform your caregiver if you do get varicose veins as they are significant.

© Copyright 2011 by Kelly Winder. All Rights Reserved. All images and articles featured on BellyBelly.com.au may not be copied in part or full without written permission.

Last Updated: February 20, 2015


Kelly Winder is the creator of BellyBelly.com.au, a doula, writer and mother to three awesome children. Currently, she's travelling the world for 12 months with her partner and children, and hopes to inspire more families to do the same. Visit aroundtheworldpluskids.com.au for more information.

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