Common Pregnancy Problems

There are a handful of common pregnancy problems that are usually minor but can be really annoying. These include the common cold, heartburn, constipation, haemorrhoids, nose bleeds and leg cramps. We have covered a few general points about each one below – but remember, always seek advice from your own doctor!

Common colds

  • Symptoms can include a runny nose, sore throat, headaches, feeling hot and cold, coughing, muscle aches and fatigue.
  • Do a RAT test to rule out COVID if you have any symptoms.
  • The common cold is a mild illness that can be managed at home, with symptoms lasting 5-7 days on average.

COVID and influenza (the flu) are different to the common cold. They are more likely to cause severe symptoms or to need hospital care.

  • Common colds are caused by viruses, so antibiotics are not helpful
  • In pregnancy, the main aim is to avoid dehydration and keep fevers under control.
    • Paracetamol is the best option for fevers, aches and pains. Always follow the dosage instructions on the packet.
    • Drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest.
    • Saline nasal spray or steam inhalations can help a blocked or runny nose.
  • Avoid the following medications:
    • Cold & flu tablets such as Codral or Day/Night tablets.
    • NSAID drugs e.g. ibuprofen (Nurofen), diclofenac (Voltaren) or any medication labelled anti-inflammatory.
    • Decongestant tablets like Sudafed.
    • Iodine throat gargle.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you have difficulty breathing, chest pain, high fevers, drowsiness, severe headache or are otherwise concerned that this is more than a normal cold.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Heartburn

  • Around 80% or pregnant women will develop heartburn. The stomach is affected by a combination of pregnancy hormones and pressure from the growing baby.
  • Try eating frequent, small meals. Instead of breakfast, lunch and dinner, split your food up into 5 or 6 meals.
  • Don’t have a drink with your meal, instead save fluids for between meals.
  • Avoid foods that are spicy, fatty or acidic (e.g. tomatoes, citrus).
  • Avoid eating for 2 hours before bedtime.
  • If lifestyle changes aren’t helping, you can usually take an over-the-counter antacid such as Gaviscon or Quick-Eze.
  • If you find you are taking antacids every day, talk to your doctor about a prescription heartburn medication.

Constipation

  • Pregnancy hormones slow down your bowels. Also, several medications that are commonly prescribed in pregnancy can make constipation worse, including anti-nausea tablets, antacids, strong pain killers, multivitamins and iron.
  • Nearly half of all pregnant women will be constipated at some point during pregnancy or immediately after birth.
  • Straining to pass hard stool, painful motions, bloating and bowel cramps can all be part of the problem. However, if this is the first time you have had these symptoms, please seek advice from your GP before starting any treatment.
  • Constipation won’t harm your baby but it will make you very uncomfortable. Straining can also lead to haemorrhoids and put extra stress on your pelvic floor.
  • Make sure to eat a healthy diet that’s full of fibre (fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrains).
  • Drink at least 2.0-2.5L of water a day.
  • Exercise every day! Walking is especially good to get your bowels moving.
  • Simple fibre-based treatments like Metamucil are generally our preferred first-line treatment for mild constipation.
  • If symptoms persist despite these simple measures, discuss with your doctor.

Haemorrhoids

  • Haemorrhoids are sort of like varicose veins that affect your anus (back passage).
  • Haemorrhoids often start or get worse during pregnancy.
  • Symptoms include a lump, itching, burning, bright blood or pain when opening your bowels. If you have developed these symptoms for the first time, see your GP to make sure it’s a haemorrhoid and not something more serious.
  • It’s essential to avoid constipation (see above).
  • Use a moist towel or baby wipe instead of toilet paper.
  • Ice packs can be helpful for swollen, painful external haemorrhoids.
  • Try a soothing ointment such as Anusol.
  • A steroid ointment like Proctosedyl can be very helpful for painful haemorrhoids, but avoid using it for more than a week at a time (long-term steroid use can damage the surrounding skin). Check with your doctor or pharmacist first.

Nosebleeds

  • Surprisingly, nosebleeds are also more common in pregnancy. Changes in your circulation can affect the tiny blood vessels inside your nose.
  • Nosebleeds are usually harmless.
  • First aid for a nosebleed:
    • Lean forward, pinch the soft part of your nose firmly and breathe through your mouth.
    • Stay upright (lying down can make it worse).
    • An icepack to the bridge of your nose might help.

  • If the bleeding doesn’t stop after 20 minutes see your GP or Emergency Department.
  • You should also see a doctor if you are getting very frequent nosebleeds.
  • Never pick your nose and always blow it gently.
  • Dry air will make things worse, so try using a vaporizer to moisten the air (especially at night and during winter).

Leg cramps

  • Leg cramps are painful spasms in the muscles of your lower legs.
    • Very common in pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimesters
    • Mostly happen at night.
    • We don’t know what causes them.
    • Not considered dangerous.
    • Each cramp should only last a few minutes before easing off.

  • Calf pain that is constant, doesn’t ease off after a few minutes, or is associated with swelling/redness of the lower leg may indicate a more serious problem like a blood clot. Please seek medical attention ASAP.
  • Managing leg cramps:
    • Avoid dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids every day.
    • Keep your legs warm to help the muscles relax. Try a warm bath before bed, a hot water bottle and long woolen socks.
    • Stretch your toes towards your nose, massage the affected muscles and walk around to help the cramp go away.
    • If you are on your feet a lot for work, make sure you have good supportive footwear. Try compression socks or stockings during the day, sit down whenever you get a break and prop your feet up on a pillow during rest times.
    • Magnesium and iron supplements are often suggested online. There’s no good evidence that any supplements prevent leg cramps. However, many patients say they found them helpful. Always check with your doctor before starting a supplement.

As always, this information is intended for general educational purposes only. It is not medical advice. Please discuss any medical issues with your own doctor. Read our full medical disclaimer here.