Aches and pains during pregnancy

by Kaiser Permanente |
Woman sitting on bed and stretching stiff neck.

Throughout your entire pregnancy, your body is slowly changing as it prepares for birth. This can sometimes be unpleasant, especially in the last trimester. Here’s what you can do about discomfort, back pain and sciatica, and varicose veins.

Breast discomfort

You may experience some discomfort as your body prepares for breastfeeding. Your breasts are likely to feel larger and heavier, your nipples might darken, and the veins in your breasts might become more noticeable. This is a normal part of pregnancy. It may help to wear a supportive bra without an underwire.

Your breasts might also leak a yellowish discharge, which can cause your bra or your shirt to be a little damp. Try using breast pads to absorb this early breast milk, called colostrum.

Back pain and sciatica

Your baby is getting heavier, which can put a strain on your back. You may also notice a change in your posture and your center of balance. Between 50% and 80% of women experience back pain during pregnancy.

To help prevent back pain, avoid lifting heavy objects. Don’t stand for extended periods of time or stay in one position too long. Choose comfortable sleeping and sitting positions.

Sometimes you might feel more than just normal back pain. The sciatic nerve runs along your spine, under your pelvis, and down the back of your leg. Your baby’s weight can put pressure on the nerve. It can cause sciatica, a sharp pain that shoots downward through your buttock, thigh, and calf.

Here are some tips for managing back pain and sciatica:

  • Lie on your side with your knees and hips bent and a pillow between your legs. This reduces the stress on your back.
  • Place an ice or cold pack on your back several times a day for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Relax in a warm, soothing bath.
  • Change your position every 30 minutes. If you must sit for long periods, take lots of breaks and walk around frequently.
  • Take short, easy walks.
  • Stretch in a swimming pool.

To relieve pain, you can take Tylenol (acetaminophen), but don’t take aspirin, Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen), or Aleve (naproxen). Only take the dosage recommended by your clinician, as too much acetaminophen can be harmful.

If you have any questions about pain management, including which medicines are safe to use, don’t hesitate to contact your clinician.

Ask your clinician about other exercises you can try to stretch and strengthen your back.

Don’t hesitate to call your clinician if:

  • You are worried the back pain means you are going into labor.
  • You notice a new numbness in your buttocks, genital or rectal areas, or legs.
  • You experience a loss of bowel or bladder control.
  • Your back pain isn’t getting better.

Varicose Veins

Enlarged, swollen veins are common during pregnancy. Varicose veins typically occur in the legs, but you may also notice them around the outside of your birth canal. You may also experience aching legs and throbbing calves.

Here are some ways to manage varicose veins:

  • Don’t stand for long periods of time.
  • Avoid crossing your legs at the knees.
  • Elevate your legs and feet as much as possible.
  • Avoid tight clothing or stockings that hamper circulation.
  • Wear compression stockings that you can get at a medical supply store.
  • Exercise regularly to improve your circulation.
  • Try walking 30 minutes a day.

Call your clinician if:

  • Your veins feel painful, warm, or hard.
  • One of your legs seems more swollen than the other.
  • You have a sudden shortness of breath.
  • Your veins feel hot or you experience fever, chills, or body aches.

This article has been created by a national group of Kaiser Permanente ob-gyns, certified nurse-midwives, pediatricians, lactation consultants and other specialists who came together to provide you with the best pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and newborn information.

Some of the content is used and adapted with permission of The Permanente Medical Group.