During pregnancy, your ligaments naturally become softer and stretch to prepare you for labour. This can put a strain on the joints of your lower back and pelvis, which can cause backache.
There are several things that you can do to help prevent backache from happening and to help you cope with an aching back if it does occur.
The tips listed here can help you to protect your back – try to remember them every day:
- avoid lifting heavy objects
- bend your knees and keep your back straight when lifting or picking up something from the floor
- move your feet when turning round to avoid twisting your spine
- wear flat shoes as these allow your weight to be evenly distributed
- work at a surface high enough to prevent you stooping
- try to balance the weight between two bags when carrying shopping
- sit with your back straight and well supported
- make sure you get enough rest, particularly later in pregnancy
A firm mattress can also help to prevent and relieve backache. If your mattress is too soft, put a piece of hardboard under it to make it firmer. Massage can also help.
Exercise to ease backache in pregnancy
The gentle exercise below helps to strengthen stomach (abdominal) muscles and this can ease backache in pregnancy:
- start in a box position (on all fours) with knees under hips, hands under shoulders, with fingers facing forwards and abdominals lifted to keep your back straight
- pull in your stomach muscles and raise your back up towards the ceiling, curling your trunk and allowing your head to relax gently forward – don't let your elbows lock
- hold for a few seconds then slowly return to the box position
- take care not to hollow your back – it should always return to a straight, neutral position
- do this slowly and rhythmically 10 times, making your muscles work hard and moving your back carefully
- only move your back as far as you can comfortably
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) advises that exercising in water, massage therapy, and group or individual back care classes might help to ease back pain in pregnancy.
Some local swimming pools provide aquanatal classes (gentle exercise classes in water, especially for pregnant women) with qualified instructors. Ask at your local leisure centre. Being in water will support your increasing weight.
When to get help
If your backache is very painful, ask your doctor to refer you to an obstetric physiotherapist at your hospital. They can give you advice and may suggest some helpful exercises.
Some women develop pelvic pain in pregnancy. This is sometimes called pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain (PPGP) or symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD).
Symptoms of PPGP
PPGP is a collection of uncomfortable symptoms caused by a misalignment or stiffness of your pelvic joints at either the back or front of your pelvis. PPGP is not harmful to your baby, but it can cause severe pain around your pelvic area and make it difficult for you to get around. Different women have different symptoms, and PPGP is worse for some women than in others. Symptoms can include:
- pain over the pubic bone at the front in the centre
- pain across one or both sides of your lower back
- pain in the area between your vagina and anus (perineum)
Pain can also radiate to your thighs, and some women feel or hear a clicking or grinding in the pelvic area. The pain can be most noticeable when you are:
- going upstairs
- standing on one leg (for example when you’re getting dressed or going upstairs)
- turning over in bed
It can also be difficult to move your legs apart, for example when you get out of a car.
There is treatment to help, and techniques to manage the pain and discomfort. If you get the right advice and treatment early on, PPGP can usually be managed and the symptoms minimised. Occasionally, the symptoms even clear up completely. Most women with PPGP can have a normal vaginal birth.
Who gets pelvic pain in pregnancy?
It’s estimated that PPGP, or SPD as it's sometimes known, affects up to one in five pregnant women to some degree. It’s not known exactly why pelvic pain affects some women, but it’s thought to be linked to a number of issues, including previous damage to the pelvis, pelvic joints moving unevenly, and the weight or position of the baby.
Factors that may make a woman more likely to develop PPGP include:
- a history of lower back or pelvic girdle pain
- previous injury to the pelvis, for example from a fall or accident
- having PPGP in a previous pregnancy
- a hard physical job
When to get help for pelvic joint pain
Getting diagnosed as early as possible can help to keep the pain to a minimum and avoid long-term discomfort. Treatment by a physiotherapist usually involves gently pressing on or moving the affected joint, which helps it work normally again.
If you notice pain around your pelvic area, tell your midwife, GP or obstetrician. Ask a member of your maternity team for a referral to a manual physiotherapist who is experienced in treating pelvic joint problems. These problems tend not to get better completely until the baby is born, but treatment from an experienced practitioner can significantly improve the symptoms during pregnancy. You can contact the Pelvic Partnership for information and support
Physiotherapy aims to relieve or ease pain, improve muscle function and improve your pelvic joint position and stability, and may include:
- manual therapy to make sure the joints of your pelvis, hip and spine move normally
- exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor, stomach, back and hip muscles
- exercises in water
- advice and suggestions including positions for labour and birth, looking after your baby, and positions for sex
- pain relief, such as TENS
- equipment if necessary, such as crutches or pelvic support belts
Coping with PPGP
Your physiotherapist may recommend a pelvic support belt to help ease your pain, or crutches to help you get around. It can help to plan your day so that you avoid activities that cause you pain. For example, don’t go up or down stairs more often than you have to.
The Association for Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health (ACPWH) also offers this advice:
- Be as active as possible within your pain limits, and avoid activities that make the pain worse.
- Rest when you can.
- Get help with household chores from your partner, family and friends.
- Wear flat, supportive shoes.
- Sit down to get dressed – for example don’t stand on one leg when putting on jeans.
- Keep your knees together when getting in and out of the car – a plastic bag on the seat can help you swivel.
- Sleep in a comfortable position, for example on your side with a pillow between your legs.
- Try different ways of turning over in bed, for example turning over with your knees together and squeezing your buttocks.
- Take the stairs one at a time, or go upstairs backwards or on your bottom.
- If you’re using crutches, have a small backpack to carry things in.
- If you want to have sex, consider different positions such as kneeling on all fours.
ACPWH suggests that you avoid:
- standing on one leg
- bending and twisting to lift, or carrying a baby on one hip
- crossing your legs
- sitting on the floor, or sitting twisted
- sitting or standing for long periods
- lifting heavy weights, such as shopping bags, wet washing or a toddler
- pushing heavy objects, such as a supermarket trolley
- carrying anything in only one hand (try using a small backpack)
You can get more information on managing everyday activities with PPGP from the Pelvic Partnership.
Labour and birth with pelvic pain
Many women with PPGP can have a normal vaginal birth. Plan ahead and talk about your birth plan with your birth partner and midwife. Write in your birth plan that you have PPGP, so the people supporting you during labour and birth will be aware of your condition.
Think about birth positions that are the most comfortable for you, and write them in your birth plan. Being in water can take the weight off your joints and allow you to move more easily, so you might want to think about having a water birth. You can discuss this with your midwife.
Your 'pain-free range of movement'
If you have pain when you open your legs, find out your pain-free range of movement. To do this, lie on your back or sit on the edge of a chair and open your legs as far as you can without pain – your partner or midwife can measure the distance between your knees with a tape measure. This is your pain-free range.
To protect your joints, try not to open your legs wider than this during labour and birth. This is particularly important if you have an epidural for pain relief in labour, as this will take away any pain that warns you that you are separating your legs too far. If you have an epidural, make sure your midwife and birth partner are aware of your pain-free range of movement of your legs.
When pushing in the second stage of labour, you may find it beneficial to lie on one side. This prevents your legs from being separated too much. You can stay in this position for the birth of your baby, if you wish.
Sometimes, it might be necessary to open your legs wider than your pain-free range to deliver your baby safely, particularly if you have an assisted delivery (for example with the vacuum or ventouse). Even in this case, it is possible to limit the separation of your legs. Make sure your midwife and doctor are aware that you have PPGP. If this happens, your physiotherapist should assess you after the birth. Take extra care until they have assessed and advised you.
You may become constipated very early in pregnancy because of the hormonal changes in your body.
There are a few things you can do to help prevent constipation. These include:
- eat foods that are high in fibre, such as wholemeal breads, wholegrain cereals, fruit and vegetables, and pulses such as beans and lentils (find out more about healthy eating in pregnancy)
- exercise regularly to keep your muscles toned (find out more about exercise in pregnancy)
- drink plenty of water
- avoid iron supplements as they can make you constipated: ask your doctor if you can manage without them or change to a different type
Our Online Encyclopaedia has more information about the symptoms of constipation and treatment of constipation, including the safe use of laxatives during pregnancy.
Cramp is a sudden, sharp pain, usually in your calf muscles or feet. It is most common at night. Nobody really knows what causes it, but there are some ideas about causes of cramp and why it can occur in pregnancy.
Regular, gentle exercise in pregnancy, particularly ankle and leg movements, will improve your circulation and may help to prevent cramp occurring. Try these foot exercises:
- bend and stretch your foot vigorously up and down 30 times
- rotate your foot eight times one way and eight times the other way
- repeat with the other foot
How to ease cramp
It usually helps if you pull your toes hard up towards your ankle or rub the muscle hard. Find out more about treatment of cramp, but remember always to consult your midwife, GP or pharmacist before taking painkillers in pregnancy. See alcohol, medicines and other drugs.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition where blood clots develop, often in the deep veins of the legs but occasionally in the pelvis. It can be fatal if the clot dislodges and travels from the legs to the lungs. Having a DVT is not common in pregnancy, but pregnant women are more likely to develop thrombosis than non-pregnant women of the same age. A clot can form at any stage of pregnancy and up to six weeks after the birth.
Other factors that put you at risk of thrombosis include:
- having had thrombosis (a clot) before
- being over 35
- having thrombophilia (a condition that makes clots more likely)
- being obese (with a BMI of 30 or more)
- carrying twins or more
- having a parent, brother or sister who has had thrombosis
- having fertility treatment
- having just had a caesarean section
- not moving (being immobile) for a long period of time, including long distance travel of more than four hours, or after an operation
- being a smoker (get support to stop smoking)
- having severe varicose veins - if they are painful or above the knee with redness or swelling
What are the symptoms of DVT?
The symptoms of DVT usually, but not always, occur in one leg only. Seek advice from your midwife or doctor immediately if you notice one or more of the following symptoms in your leg:
- warm skin
- redness, particularly at the back of the leg below the knee
During pregnancy it's common to experience swelling or discomfort in your legs, so this doesn't mean there's a serious problem. If you're worried, talk to your midwife or GP.
A pulmonary embolism (PE) is when a blood clot travels to the lungs. It can be fatal. Symptoms of PE include:
- sudden difficulty in breathing
- chest pain or tightness
Once a DVT is diagnosed and treatment is started, the risk of developing a PE is very small.
Managing DVT in pregnancy
Injections with low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) are usually used to treat pregnant women with DVT. Low molecular weight heparin is an anticoagulant (meaning that it prevents the blood clot from getting bigger). It does not affect your developing baby. You can read general information about treating DVT in the A-Z section of this site.
Heparin prevents the clot getting bigger so that your body can dissolve it. The injections also reduce the risk of a pulmonary embolism and the risk of developing another clot in your leg.
Treatment usually lasts for the rest of your pregnancy and until at least six weeks after the birth. If necessary, it may continue for longer in order to complete a minimum of three months total treatment time.
Although medical treatment for DVT is essential, there are things you can do to help yourself, including:
- staying as active as you can – your midwife or doctor can advise you on this
- wearing a prescribed compression stocking to help the circulation in your leg
To reduce the risk of DVT while you're travelling:
- drink plenty of water
- don't drink alcohol, as it can lead to dehydration (you are advised to avoid drinking in pregnancy)
- perform simple leg exercises, such as regularly flexing your ankles – if you are on a flight most airlines provide information on suitable exercises to do during your flight
- if possible, get off the bus, car or plane during refuelling stops and walk about
- walk up and down the train or plane (when flight attendants say that it is safe to do so)
Find out more about deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Pregnant women often feel faint. This is because of hormonal changes occurring in your body during pregnancy. Fainting happens if your brain is not getting enough blood and therefore not enough oxygen.
You are most likely to feel faint if you stand too quickly from a chair or out of a bath, but it can also happen when you are lying on your back. Find out more about causes of fainting
Avoiding feeling faint
Here are some tips to help you cope:
- try to get up slowly after sitting or lying down
- if you feel faint when standing still, find a seat quickly and the faintness should pass – if it doesn’t, lie down on your side
- if you feel faint while lying on your back, turn on your side
It’s better not to lie flat on your back in later pregnancy or during labour. Find out more about the symptoms that might mean you're going to faint, such as a sudden clammy sweat, ringing in your ears and fast deep breathing. You can also find out about treating faintness, including what to do to help someone who is about to faint.
During pregnancy you’re likely to feel warmer than normal. This is due to hormonal changes and an increase in blood supply to the skin. You’re also likely to sweat more.
It helps if you:
- wear loose clothing made of natural fibres, as these are more absorbent and breathe more than synthetic fibres
- keep your room cool – you could use an electric fan to cool it down
- wash frequently to help you feel fresh
Headaches in women are often caused by hormones, and many women who are not pregnant notice a link with their periods. Menopause and pregnancy are also potential triggers.
Some pregnant women find they get a lot of headaches. Headaches can get worse in the first few weeks of pregnancy, but they usually improve or stop completely during the last six months. They don’t harm the baby but they can be uncomfortable for you.
Coping with headaches
Changes to your lifestyle may help to prevent headaches. Try to get more regular rest and relaxation. You could try a pregnancy yoga class, for example. If you’re having problems sleeping, you can find out more about tackling this in tiredness and sleep in pregnancy below.
Taking paracetamol in the recommended dose is generally considered safe for pregnant women. However, there are some painkillers you should avoid in pregnancy, such as those containing codeine, unless prescribed by your doctor.
Speak to your pharmacist, midwife, GP, nurse or health visitor about how much paracetamol you can take and for how long. Find a pharmacy near you.
When to seek help
If you often have bad headaches, tell your midwife or doctor so that they can advise you. Severe headaches can be a sign of high blood pressure and you should seek urgent advice, as this could indicate a serious condition called pre-eclampsia.
Pre-eclampsia is a condition that affects some pregnant women during the second half of pregnancy or immediately after the delivery of their baby.
Women with pre-eclampsia have:
- high blood pressure
- fluid retention (oedema)
- protein in the urine (proteinuria)
If it's not treated, it can lead to serious complications. Pre-eclampsia can cause growth problems in the unborn baby.
During pregnancy your blood pressure will be checked at every antenatal appointment. This is because a rise in blood pressure or protein in the urine can be the first signs of pre-eclampsia. Although pre-eclampsia usually presents as high blood pressure (pregnancy-induced hypertension) and protein in the urine (pre-eclamptic toxaemia), it can present in other ways (see symptoms of pre-eclampsia).
Pre-eclampsia affects mum and baby
Pre-eclampsia can run in families and affects around 3-5% of pregnancies. Problems usually start towards the end of pregnancy, after around week 28, but can occur earlier. It can also happen after the birth. It is likely to be more severe if it starts earlier in pregnancy.
Although most cases of pre-eclampsia are mild and cause no trouble, the condition can get worse and be serious for both mother and baby. It can cause fits (seizures) in the mother, which is called eclampsia. It can also affect the baby’s growth. If you develop pre-eclampsia, you will be offered regular ultrasound scans to check your baby's growth and health.
Pre-eclampsia is life-threatening for mother and baby if left untreated. That is why routine antenatal checks are so important to look for pregnancy-induced hypertension and protein in your urine (proteinuria).
Many women with high blood pressure can hope for a vaginal delivery after 37 weeks. But if you have severe pre-eclampsia it may be necessary to deliver your baby early, possibly by caesarean section.
If you are at higher risk of pre-eclampsia, you should be advised to take 75mg of aspirin a day from 12 weeks of pregnancy until your baby is born, to reduce your risk of developing pre-eclampsia.
You are considered higher risk if you have one or more of the following risk factors:
- this is your first pregnancy
- you are aged 40 or over
- your last pregnancy was more than 10 years ago
- you are very overweight
- you have a family history of pre-eclampsia
- you are carrying more than one baby
Your risk of pre-eclampsia is also higher if any of the following apply to you:
- you had high blood pressure before you became pregnant
- you had high blood pressure in a previous pregnancy
- you have chronic kidney disease, diabetes or a disease that affects the immune system, such as lupus
Symptoms of pre-eclampsia
There are usually no symptoms to warn you that you have hypertension or pre-eclampsia, and often the only way it can be detected is during the routine blood pressure and urine checks made by your midwife.
If you do have pre-eclampsia, you will probably feel well. If you get symptoms, these might include:
- bad headaches
- problems with vision, such as blurred vision or lights flashing before the eyes
- pain just below the ribs
- sudden swelling of the face, hands and feet
However, you can have severe pre-eclampsia without any symptoms at all. If you get any of the symptoms listed above, or have any reason to think you have pre-eclampsia, contact your midwife, doctor or the hospital immediately.
Women with pre-eclampsia need admission to hospital and often medicines to lower their high blood pressure. Occasionally, pre-eclampsia is a reason to deliver the baby early – you may be offered induction of labour or a caesarean section.
It is vital to go to all your antenatal appointments, or to reschedule them if you can't make it to them, as severe pre-eclampsia can affect both your health and your baby’s health. If left untreated, it can put you at risk from a stroke, impaired kidney and liver function, blood clotting problems, fluid on the lungs and seizures. Your baby may also be born prematurely or small or even stillborn.
While the root cause of pre-eclampsia is not known, studies suggest that the risk is higher if you are overweight when you become pregnant, so it’s a good idea to reach a healthy weight before trying for a baby.
It is also more common if you have high blood pressure before becoming pregnant, or have had pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy. If this applies to you, attending regular check-ups to have your blood pressure and urine tested is even more important.
Find out more about pre-eclampsia.
You can also find information and support at the Action on Pre-eclampsia website.
Incontinence is a common problem, and it can affect you during and after pregnancy. Sometimes pregnant women are unable to prevent a sudden spurt of urine or a small leak when they cough, laugh or sneeze, or when they move suddenly, or just get up from a sitting position. This may be temporary, because the pelvic floor muscles (the muscles around the bladder) relax slightly to prepare for the baby's delivery. Find out more about the causes of incontinence and preventing incontinence. You can help to prevent incontinence by doing pelvic floor exercises
When to get help
In many cases incontinence is curable. If you have got a problem, talk to your midwife, doctor or health visitor.
You could also call the confidential Bladder and Bowel Foundation helpline on 0845 345 0165, Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 1pm. The Bladder and Bowel Foundation provides a factsheet on how to do pelvic floor exercises (PDF, 663kb).
Indigestion - also known as dyspepsia - in pregnancy is partly caused by hormonal changes and, in later pregnancy, by the growing womb pressing on your stomach.
As many as eight out of 10 women experience indigestion at some point during their pregnancy. The symptoms of indigestion can include feeling full, feeling sick or nauseous, and burping. The symptoms usually come on after eating food.
Heartburn is a strong, burning pain in the chest that is caused by stomach acid passing from your stomach into your oesophagus (the tube that leads from your mouth to your stomach). You can help ease the discomfort of indigestion and heartburn by making changes to your diet and lifestyle, and there are treatments that are safe to take in pregnancy. Talk to your midwife, GP or pharmacist.
Symptoms of indigestion
Symptoms of indigestion and heartburn in pregnancy are the same as for anyone else with the condition. The main symptom is pain or a feeling of discomfort in your chest or stomach. This usually happens soon after eating or drinking, but there can sometimes be a delay between eating a meal and developing indigestion.
You may experience indigestion at any point during your pregnancy, although your symptoms may be more frequent and severe during later pregnancy, from 27 weeks onwards. As well as pain, indigestion may cause:
- heartburn, a burning sensation caused by acid passing from the stomach into the oesophagus
- feeling uncomfortable or heavy
- belching (burping)
- regurgitation (food coming back up from the stomach)
- nausea (feeling sick)
- vomiting (being sick)
Causes of indigestion in pregnancy
The symptoms of indigestion (dyspepsia), including heartburn, are caused by stomach acid coming into contact with the sensitive protective lining (mucosa) of your digestive system.
The stomach acid breaks down the mucosa, which causes irritation and leads to the symptoms of indigestion. When you're pregnant, you are more likely to have indigestion due to:
- hormonal changes that your body is going through
- your growing womb (uterus) pressing on your stomach
- the relaxing of the lower oesophageal sphincter (ring of muscle) that acts like a gate between your stomach and your oesophagus, allowing stomach acid to leak back up
You may be more likely to get indigestion in pregnancy if:
- you had indigestion before you were pregnant
- you have been pregnant before
- you are in the latter stages of pregnancy
Your GP or midwife will usually be able to diagnose indigestion or heartburn from your symptoms and by asking you some questions. For example, they might ask:
- how the symptoms are affecting your day-to-day life
- what your usual eating habits are
- if you have tried any treatments already
- if you experienced indigestion or any other stomach conditions before you were pregnant
Your GP or midwife may also examine your chest and stomach. They may press gently on different areas of your chest and stomach to see whether this is painful.
Treatment for indigestion and heartburn in pregnancy
In some cases, changes to your diet and lifestyle may be enough to control indigestion, particularly if the symptoms are mild.
If you have severe indigestion, or if changes to your diet and lifestyle don't work, your GP or midwife may suggest using medication to help ease your symptoms. Several indigestion medicines are safe to use during pregnancy. However, check with your GP, midwife or pharmacist before taking anything that they have not recommended.
The types of medicines that may be prescribed for indigestion and heartburn during pregnancy are:
Antacids - Antacids are a type of medicine that can provide immediate relief from indigestion. They work by neutralising the acid in your stomach (making it less acidic) so that it no longer irritates the protective lining (mucosa) of your digestive system.
Alginates - Some antacids are combined with another type of medicine known as an alginate. This helps relieve indigestion caused by acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid leaks back up into your oesophagus and irritates its protective lining. Alginates work by forming a foam barrier that floats on the surface of your stomach contents. This keeps stomach acid in your stomach and away from your oesophagus. In most cases, antacids and alginates can effectively control the symptoms of indigestion during pregnancy.
Choice and dosage
A number of antacids are available over-the-counter (OTC) from your pharmacist without a prescription. Ask your pharmacist for advice about which ones are suitable for you. You may only need to take antacids and alginates when you start to experience symptoms. In other cases, your GP may recommend that you take these medicines before your symptoms are expected, such as:
It is safe to use antacids and alginates while you are pregnant as long as you do not take more than the recommended dose. Follow the instructions on the patient information leaflet that comes with the medicine to ensure that you take it correctly. Side effects from antacids are rare, but can include:
If you are prescribed an antacid medicine and you are also taking iron supplements, do not take them at the same time. Antacids can prevent iron from being properly absorbed by your body. Take your antacid at least two hours before or after your iron supplement.
If antacids and alginates do not improve your symptoms of indigestion, your GP may prescribe a different medicine that suppresses the acid in your stomach. There are two acid-suppressing medicines that are safe to use during pregnancy:
As with antacids and alginates, follow the dosage instructions on the patient information leaflet or packet.
Ranitidine - Ranitidine is usually prescribed as tablets to be taken twice a day. Follow the dosage instructions, as your medicine may not work if you only take it when you have symptoms. Ranitidine rarely causes any side effects.
Omeprazole - Omeprazole is usually prescribed as a tablet to take once a day. After five days, your symptoms should have improved. If not, your dose may need to be increased. In some cases, omeprazole may cause side effects such as:
Self-help tips for indigestion and heartburn
You may not need medicine to control your symptoms. Your GP or midwife may suggest some of the following changes to your diet and lifestyle. In many cases, these changes can be enough to ease your symptoms.
Smoking when you're pregnant can cause indigestion and seriously affect your health, as well as the health of your unborn baby. Smoking increases the risk of:
- your baby being born prematurely (before week 37 of your pregnancy)
- your baby being born with a low birth weight
- cot death, or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
When you smoke, the chemicals you inhale can contribute to your indigestion. These chemicals can cause the ring of muscle at the lower end of your oesophagus to relax. This allows stomach acid to leak back up into your oesophagus more easily (known as acid reflux).
If you smoke, quitting is the best thing that you can do for your own and your baby's health. You can speak to your GP or midwife for more information, or you can call Stop Smoking Wales on 0800 085 2219. Stop Smoking Wales hold details of local support services.
Drinking alcohol can contribute to the symptoms of indigestion. During pregnancy, it can also put your unborn baby at risk of developing serious birth defects. Find out more about alcohol and pregnancy.
The Department of Health recommends that all pregnant women avoid drinking alcohol completely during pregnancy. It advises that if you do choose to drink while you're pregnant, in order to minimise risks to your baby you should not drink more than 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week, and should not get drunk.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant should avoid drinking alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy because there may be an increased risk of miscarriage.
One UK unit is 10ml (or eight grams) of pure alcohol. This is equal to:
- half a pint of beer, lager or cider at 3.5% alcohol by volume (ABV: you can find this on the label)
- a single measure (25ml) of spirit, such as whisky, gin, rum or vodka, at 40% ABV
- half a standard (175ml) glass of wine at 11.5% ABV
You can find out how many units there are in different types and brands of drinks with the Drinkaware unit calculator.
If you have difficulty cutting down what you drink, talk to your midwife, doctor or pharmacist. Confidential help and support is available from local counselling services (look in the telephone directory or contact Drinkline on 0300 123 1110).
You are more likely to get indigestion if you are very full, so regularly eating large amounts of food may make your symptoms worse. If you are pregnant, it can be tempting to eat more than you would normally, but this may not be good for you or your baby. You don't need to "eat for two".
During pregnancy you do not need to go on a special diet, but it is important to eat a variety of different foods every day in order to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need. Find out more about eating a healthy diet in pregnancy and foods to avoid.
Change your eating habits
In some cases, you may be able to control your indigestion by making changes to the way you eat. For example:
- it may help to eat smaller meals more frequently, rather than larger meals three times a day
- avoid eating within three hours of going to bed at night
- sit up straight when you eat because this will take the pressure off your stomach
Drinking a glass of milk may relieve heartburn (the burning sensation from stomach acid leaking up into your oesophagus). You may want to keep a glass of milk beside your bed in case you wake up with heartburn in the night.
You may find that your indigestion is made worse by certain triggers, such as:
- drinking fruit juice
- eating chocolate
- bending over
Make a note of any particular food, drink or activity that seems to make your indigestion worse and avoid them if possible. This may mean:
- eating less rich, spicy and fatty foods
- cutting down on drinks that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee and cola
Prop your head up
When you go to bed, use a couple of pillows to prop your head and shoulders up, or raise the head of your bed by a few inches by putting something underneath the mattress.
The slight slope should help prevent stomach acid from moving up into your oesophagus while you sleep.
Speak to your GP if you are taking medication for another condition, such as antidepressants or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and you think it may be contributing to your indigestion. Your GP may be able to prescribe an alternative medicine.
Never stop taking a prescribed medication unless you are advised to do so by your GP or another qualified healthcare professional who is responsible for your care.
Mild itching is common in pregnancy because of the increased blood supply to the skin. Later on, as your bump grows, the skin of your abdomen is stretched and this may also feel itchy. Mild itching is usually nothing to worry about, but if the itching becomes severe it can be a sign of a liver condition called obstetric cholestasis, or intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP). This affects fewer than 1 in 100 pregnant women, but needs medical attention.
Wearing loose clothes may help prevent itching, as your clothes are less likely to rub against your skin and cause irritation. You may also want to avoid synthetic materials and opt for natural ones, such as cotton, instead. These are "breathable" and allow the air to circulate close to your skin. You may find that having a cool bath or applying lotion or moisturiser can help to soothe the itching.
Some women find that products with strong perfumes can irritate their skin, so you could try using plain lotion or soap.
Mild itching is not usually harmful to you or your baby, but it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition. If you're worried, or if you have severe itching, it's important to see your midwife or doctor.
Serious itching: obstetric cholestasis - Click here for further information
Some women notice leaking from their nipples during pregnancy, and this is normal.
In pregnancy, the breasts may start to produce milk weeks or months before you are due to have your baby. It can happen as early as 14 weeks of pregnancy.
If your nipples are leaking, the substance is usually colostrum. This is the first milk your breasts make in preparation for feeding your baby. Leaking is normal and nothing to worry about. If it bothers you, you can try putting a tissue or an absorbent breast pad (sometimes called maternity breast pads, or nursing pads) in your bra to absorb the milk. Breast pads are available in some pharmacies and mother and baby shops.
When to get help
If the milk leaking from your breasts becomes bloodstained, talk to your midwife or GP. After your baby is born and if you're breastfeeding, your breasts will probably leak milk. See the Breastfeeding guide for lots of information about breastfeeding your baby, including how to deal with common breastfeeding problems.
Some women continue to produce milk up to two years after they have stopped breastfeeding.
Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP), also known as morning sickness, is very common in the early weeks of pregnancy. It doesn’t put your baby at any increased risk, and usually clears up between weeks 16 and 20 of pregnancy.
Some women get a very severe form of nausea and vomiting, called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). HG needs specialist treatment, sometimes in hospital.
With morning sickness, some women are sick (vomit) and some have a feeling of sickness (nausea) without being sick. The term ‘morning sickness’ is misleading. It can affect you at any time of the day or night, and some women feel sick all day long. It’s thought that hormonal changes in the first 12 weeks are probably one of the causes of morning sickness.
Symptoms should ease as your pregnancy progresses. In some women, symptoms disappear by the third month of pregnancy. However, some women experience nausea and voimiting for longer than this, and about 1 in 10 women continues to feel sick after week 20.
How common is morning sickness (NVP)?
During early pregnancy, nausea, vomiting and tiredness are common symptoms. Around half of all pregnant women experience vomiting, and more than 80% of women (80 out of 100) experience nausea in the first 12 weeks.
People sometimes consider morning sickness a minor inconvenience of pregnancy, but for some women it can have a significant adverse effect on their day-to-day activities and quality of life.
Treating morning sickness (NVP)
If you have morning sickness, your GP or midwife will initially recommend that you try a number of changes to your diet and daily life to help reduce your symptoms. These include:
- getting plenty of rest because tiredness can make nausea worse
- if you feel sick first thing in the morning, give yourself time to get up slowly – if possible, eat something like dry toast or a plain biscuit before you get up
- drinking plenty of fluids, such as water, and sipping them little and often rather than in large amounts, because this may help prevent vomiting
- eating small, frequent meals that are high in carbohydrate (such as bread, rice and pasta) and low in fat – most women can manage savoury foods, such as toast, crackers and crispbread, better than sweet or spicy foods
- eating small amounts of food often rather than several large meals, but don’t stop eating
- eating cold meals rather than hot ones because they don’t give off the smell that hot meals often do, which may make you feel sick
- avoiding foods or smells that make you feel sick
- avoiding drinks that are cold, tart (sharp) or sweet
- asking the people close to you for extra support and help – it helps if someone else can cook but if this isn’t possible, go for bland, non-greasy foods, such as baked potatoes or pasta, which are simple to prepare
- distracting yourself as much as you can – often the nausea gets worse the more you think about it
- wearing comfortable clothes without tight waistbands
If you have severe NVP, your doctor or midwife might recommend medication.
If your nausea and vomiting is severe and doesn’t improve after you make changes to your diet and lifestyle, your GP may recommend a short-term course of an anti-sickness medicine that is safe to use in pregnancy. This type of medicine is called an antiemetic. The commonly prescribed antiemetics can have side effects. These are rare, but can include muscle twitching.
Some antihistamines (medicines that are often used to treat allergies such as hay fever) also work as antiemetics. Your doctor might prescribe an antihistamine that is safe to take in pregnancy. See your GP if you would like to consider this form of treatment.
Ginger eases morning sickness
There is some evidence that ginger supplements may help reduce nausea and vomiting. To date, there have not been any reports of adverse effects being caused by taking ginger during pregnancy. However, ginger products are unlicensed in the UK, so buy them from a reputable source, such as a pharmacy or supermarket. Check with your pharmacist before you use ginger supplements. You can find out more about vitamins and supplements in pregnancy.
Some women find that ginger biscuits or ginger ale can help reduce nausea. You can try different things to see what works for you.
Acupressure might help morning sickness
Acupressure on the wrist may also be effective in reducing symptoms of nausea in pregnancy. Acupressure involves wearing a special band or bracelet on your forearm. Some researchers have suggested that putting pressure on certain parts of the body may cause the brain to release certain chemicals that help reduce nausea and vomiting.
There have been no reports of any serious adverse effects caused by using acupressure during pregnancy, although some women have experienced numbness, pain and swelling in their hands.
When to seek medical advice
If you are vomiting and can’t keep any food or drink down, there is a chance that you could become dehydrated or malnourished. Contact your GP or midwife immediately if you:
- have very dark-coloured urine or do not pass urine for more than eight hours
- are unable to keep food or fluids down for 24 hours
- feel severely weak, dizzy or faint when standing up
- have abdominal (tummy) pain
- have a high temperature (fever) of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
- vomit blood
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can also cause nausea and vomiting. A UTI is an infection that usually affects the bladder but can spread to the kidneys.
If you have any pain when passing urine or you pass any blood, you may have a urine infection and this will need treatment. Drink plenty of water to dilute your urine and reduce pain. You should contact your GP within 24 hours.
A number of different factors may mean you are more likely to have NVP. These include:
- nausea and vomiting in a previous pregnancy
- a family history of NVP or morning sickness
- a history of motion sickness, for example in a car
- a history of nausea while using contraceptives that contain oestrogen
- obesity – where you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more
- multiple pregnancies, such as twins or triplets
- first pregnancy
Nosebleeds are quite common in pregnancy because of hormonal changes. They are usually short but can be quite heavy. Nosebleeds can be frightening but as long as you don't lose a lot of blood, there is nothing to worry about, and can often be treated at home. The medical name for a nosebleed is epistaxis.
During a nosebleed, blood flows from one nostril, and sometimes from both. It can be heavy or light and last from a few seconds to more than 10 minutes. Nosebleeds can happen when you're asleep. You might feel liquid in the back of your throat before blood comes out of your nose, if you're lying down.
During pregnancy, you may also find that your nose gets more blocked up than usual.
How to stop a nosebleed
- Sit down and firmly pinch the soft part of your nose, just above your nostrils, for 10 minutes.
- Lean forward and breathe through your mouth. This will drain blood down your nose instead of down the back of your throat.
- Stay upright, rather than lying down, as this reduces the blood pressure in the veins of your nose and will discourage further bleeding.
- Maintain the pressure on your nose for up to 20 minutes (time this on the clock) so that the blood clots.
- Place a covered ice pack on the bridge of your nose.
- Avoid blowing your nose, bending down and strenuous activity for at least 12 hours after a nosebleed.
If the bleeding doesn't stop, seek medical advice.
You can also talk to your midwife or GP if you're worried about your nosebleeds.
Find out more about nosebleeds, including treating nosebleeds.
Needing to urinate (pass water, or pee) often may start in early pregnancy. Sometimes it continues throughout pregnancy. In later pregnancy it is the result of the baby’s head pressing on your bladder.
How to reduce the need to pass urine
If you find that you need to get up in the night to pass urine, try cutting out drinks in the late evening. But make sure you drink plenty of non-alcoholic, caffeine-free drinks during the day. Later in pregnancy, some women find it helps to rock backwards and forwards while they are on the toilet. This lessens the pressure of the womb on the bladder so that you can empty it properly.
When to get help
If you have any pain while passing water or you pass any blood in your urine, you may have a urine infection, which will need treatment. Drink plenty of water to dilute your urine and reduce pain. You should contact your GP within 24 hours of first noticing these symptoms.
Find out more about symptoms of urinary infections and treating urine infections. Don't take any medicines without asking your midwife, doctor or pharmacist whether they are safe in pregnancy.
Piles, also known as haemorrhoids, are enlarged swollen veins in or around the lower rectum and anus. Anyone can get piles – they don't just happen in pregnancy. When you're pregnant, piles can occur because hormones make your veins relax.
Piles may itch, ache or feel sore. You can usually feel the lumpiness of the piles around your anus. They may also bleed a little, and can make going to the toilet uncomfortable or painful. You may also notice pain when passing a stool (faeces, poo) and a discharge of mucus afterwards. Sometimes you may feel as though your bowels are still full and need emptying.
Piles usually go within weeks after the birth. Find out more about the symptoms of piles.
How to ease piles
Constipation can cause piles and if this is the case try to keep your stools soft and regular.
You can help ease piles, and prevent them, by making some changes to your diet and lifestyle, such as:
- eating plenty of food that is high in fibre, like wholemeal bread, fruit and vegetables, and drink plenty of water - this will help to prevent constipation, which can make piles worse (find out more about healthy eating in pregnancy)
- avoiding standing for long periods
- taking regular exercise to improve your circulation
- using a cloth wrung out in iced water to ease the pain - hold it gently against the piles
- if the piles stick out, push them gently back inside using a lubricating jelly
- avoiding straining to pass a stool as this may make your piles worse
- after passing a stool, clean your anus with moist toilet paper instead of dry toilet paper
- patting, rather than rub, the area
There are medicines that can help soothe inflammation around your anus. These treat the symptoms but not the cause of piles. Ask your doctor, midwife or pharmacist if they can suggest a suitable ointment to help ease the pain. Don't use a cream or medication without checking with them first.
Find out more about preventing piles.
Hormonal changes taking place in pregnancy will make your nipples and the area around them go darker. Your skin colour may also darken a little, either in patches or all over. Birthmarks, moles and freckles may also darken. Some women develop a dark line down the middle of their stomach. These changes will gradually fade after the baby is born, although your nipples may remain a little darker.
If you sunbathe while you are pregnant, you may find you burn more easily. Protect your skin with a good high-factor sunscreen and don’t stay in the sun for a long time. Find out more about keeping skin safe in the sun.
Hair growth can also increase in pregnancy, and your hair may be greasier. After the baby is born, it may seem as if you are losing a lot of hair but you are simply losing the extra hair.
Is it normal to feel tired?
It’s common to feel tired, or even exhausted, during pregnancy, especially in the first 12 weeks. Hormonal changes at this time can make you feel tired, nauseous and emotional. The only answer is to try to rest as much as possible. Make time to sit with your feet up during the day, and accept any offers of help from colleagues and family. Being tired and run down can make you feel low. Try to look after your physical health - eat a healthy diet and get plenty of rest and sleep.
Later on in pregnancy, you may feel tired because of the extra weight you are carrying. Make sure you get plenty of rest. As your bump gets bigger, it can be difficult to get a good night’s sleep. You might find it uncomfortable lying down or, just when you get comfortable, you have to get up to go to the loo.
Feeling tired won’t harm you or your baby, but it can make life feel more difficult, especially in the early days before you’ve told people about your pregnancy.
Some women have strange dreams or nightmares about the baby and about labour and birth. This is normal. Talking about them, to your partner or midwife, can help you. Remember, just because you dream something, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Relaxation and breathing techniques may be helpful in reducing any anxiety you might be feeling.
Bump-friendly sleep positions
Sleep however you feel comfortable. Lying on your back after around 16 weeks can be uncomfortable, and later on can also mean that your womb presses on one the big blood vessels. This can make you feel faint.
Sleeping on your side might be more comfortable. You can try supporting your bump with pillows, and putting a pillow between your knees. Towards the end of pregnancy, as your bump becomes heavy, you might find it more comfortable to prop yourself up with pillows so that you’re almost in a sitting position. Sleeping propped up like this can sometimes help with pregnancy heartburn too.
Insomnia remedies in pregnancy
Try not to let it bother you if you can't sleep, and don’t worry that it will harm your baby - it won’t. If you can, nap during the day, and get some early nights during the week. Avoid tea, coffee or cola drinks in the evening as the caffeine can make it harder to go to sleep.
Try to relax before bedtime, so that you’re not too wide awake. Relaxation techniques may also help. Your antenatal classes may teach relaxation techniques, or you could borrow a relaxation tape, CD or DVD from your library.
You could join an antenatal yoga class or pilates class. Make sure the instructor knows that you are pregnant. Exercise can help you to feel less tired, so even if you’re feeling tired during the day, try to get some activity, such as a walk at lunchtime or going swimming. If the lack of sleep is bothering you, talk to your partner, a friend, doctor or midwife.
You can find out more about preventing insomnia, including daytime habits such as exercising, and bedtime habits such as avoiding caffeine, alcohol and smoking.
Medical reasons for insomnia in pregnancy
Occasionally sleeplessness, when accompanied by other symptoms, can be a sign of depression. If you have any of the other symptoms of depression, such as feeling hopeless and losing interest in the things you used to enjoy, speak to your doctor or midwife. There is treatment that can help.
Many of the tests in pregnancy check the growth of your baby. If you have previously had a very small baby, or if you smoke heavily, your midwife and doctor will already be monitoring your pregnancy closely. Blood pressure checks may also pick up signs that there are complications.
If there is concern about your baby’s health, further tests may be carried out and your baby may be monitored more frequently.
When to get help
In the last weeks of pregnancy, you should keep track of your baby's movements. If you notice your baby's movements becoming less frequent or stopping, it may be a sign that your baby is unwell. You should contact your midwife or doctor immediately.
If tests show that your baby is not growing well in the womb, your midwife and doctor may recommend early delivery by inducing your labour or a caesarean section. Find out about recovering after a caesarean.
Find out about the risks of smoking in pregnancy, and how you can get support to help you stop.
Stretch marks are narrow pink or purplish streak-like lines that can develop on the surface of the skin. They're also known as stria or striae. If you get them, they usually appear on your tummy or sometimes on your upper thighs and breasts as your pregnancy progresses. The first sign you notice might be itchiness around an area where the skin is becoming thin and pink.
What causes stretch marks?
Stretch marks are very common in the general population and don't just affect pregnant women. They can happen whenever the skin is stretched, for example when we're growing during puberty or when putting on or losing weight, but hormonal changes in pregnancy can affect your skin and make you more likely to get stretch marks.
Our skin is made up of three main layers – the epidermis (the outer layer), the dermis (the middle layer) and the subcutis (the inner layer). Stretch marks happen in the middle layer, when the skin is stretched quite a bit over a short time. This stretching can break the dermis in places, forming stretch marks.
Whether or not you get stretch marks depends on your skin type, as some people's skin is more elastic. After your baby is born, the marks should gradually fade and become less noticeable, but they won't go away completely.
Pregnancy weight gain
You are more likely to get stretch marks if your weight gain is more than average in pregnancy. Most women gain between 10kg and 12.5kg (22-28lb) in pregnancy, although weight gain varies a great deal from woman to woman. How much weight you gain depends on your weight before pregnancy. It's important that you do not diet to lose weight when you are pregnant, but you should eat a healthy diet.
If you are worried about your weight, talk to your midwife or GP. They may give you advice if you weigh more than 100kg (about 15.5 stone) or less than 50kg (about eight stone).
Stretch marks are not harmful. They don't cause medical problems and there's usually no need to see your GP because there isn't a specific treatment for them. Over time, your skin will shrink and the stretch marks will fade into white-coloured scars.
Preventing stretch marks
Some creams claim to remove stretch marks once they've appeared, but there is no reliable evidence that they work. There is also limited evidence about whether oils or creams help prevent stretch marks from appearing in the first place.
A review of two studies looking at two specific creams marketed as preventing stretch marks found that massaging the skin may possibly help to prevent stretch marks in pregnancy.
The studies suggested that there was little or no benefit for women who developed stretch marks in a previous pregnancy, but that women who had developed stretch marks in puberty seemed more likely to benefit from massaging cream.
However, more research is needed into whether creams or massaging the skin can help to prevent stretch marks.
Ankles, feet and fingers often swell a little in pregnancy because your body is holding more water than usual. Towards the end of the day, the extra water tends to gather in the lowest parts of the body, especially if the weather is hot or if you have been standing a lot. The gradual swelling isn't harmful to you or your baby, but it can be uncomfortable.
Avoiding and easing swollen ankles
There are some steps you can take to prevent swollen feet and ankles. These can also help to ease the discomfort if your feet and ankles are feeling swollen already. Try to:
- avoid standing for long periods
- wear comfortable shoes – avoid tight straps or anything that might pinch if your feet swell
- put your feet up as much as you can: try to rest for an hour a day with your feet higher than your heart, for example propped up with cushions as you lie on the sofa
- do the foot exercises below
You can do foot exercises sitting or standing. They improve blood circulation, reduce swelling in the ankles and prevent cramp in the calf muscles:
- bend and stretch your foot up and down 30 times
- rotate your foot in a circle eight times one way and eight times the other way
- repeat with the other foot
Get more tips on exercising in pregnancy.
When swelling can be serious
You should seek medical attention immediately if your face, feet or hands swell up suddenly. A pregnancy condition called pre-eclampsia can cause sudden swelling, although most women with swelling don't have pre-eclampsia.
If it happens to you, contact your midwife, doctor or hospital immediately. If you do have pre-eclampsia, you’ll need to be monitored carefully, as the condition can be serious for both you and your baby.
Other signs of pre-eclampsia can include:
- severe headache
- problems with vision, such as blurring or flashing before the eyes
- severe pain just below the ribs
Risk factors for pre-eclampsia include:
- being aged 40 or older
- not having had children (nulliparity)
- a 10-year gap since your last pregnancy
- a family history of pre-eclampsia
- having had pre-eclampsia before
- a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above
- pre-existing high blood pressure
- kidney disease
- a multiple pregnancy (having more than one baby)
Find out more about the treatment for pre-eclampsia.
The RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) has information on what you need to know about pre-eclampsia.
Some women get swollen and sore gums, which may bleed, in pregnancy. Bleeding gums are caused by a build-up of plaque (bacteria) on the teeth. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can make your gums more vulnerable to plaque, leading to inflammation and bleeding. This is also called pregnancy gingivitis or gum disease.
Your dentist will be able to help with this. Dental care is free during pregnancy and until one year after your due date. To get free dental care, you need to apply for a maternity exemption certificate (MatEx). Ask your doctor, nurse or midwife for form FW8. You complete parts 1 and 2 of the form and your doctor, midwife or nurse signs it to confirm that the information you've given is correct.
Keeping teeth and gums healthy
It's very important to keep your teeth and gums as clean and healthy as possible. The best way to prevent or deal with gum problems is to practice good oral hygiene. Go to the dentist so they can give your teeth a thorough clean and give you some advice about keeping your teeth clean at home.
Here's how you can help look after your teeth and gums:
- clean your teeth carefully twice a day for two minutes – ask your dentist to show you a good brushing method to remove all the plaque
- brushing is best with a small-headed toothbrush with soft filaments – make sure it's comfortable to hold
- avoid having sugary drinks (such as fizzy drinks or sweet tea) and sugary foods too often – try to keep them only to meal times
- if you're hungry between meals, snack on vegetables and avoid sugary or acidic foods (get tips on healthy snacks)
- avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol
- stop smoking, as it can make gum disease worse
If you have morning sickness and you vomit, rinse your mouth afterwards with plain water. This will help prevent the acid in your vomit attacking your teeth. Do not brush your teeth straight away as they will be softened by the acid from the stomach. Wait about one hour before doing so.
Dental treatments to avoid in pregnancy
Discuss with your dentist whether any new or replacement fillings should be delayed until after your baby is born. The Department of Health advises that amalgam fillings shouldn't be removed during pregnancy.
If you need a dental X-ray, your dentist will usually wait until you've had the baby, even though most dental X-rays don't affect the abdomen or pelvic area. Make sure your dentist knows that you're pregnant.
Find out about the symptoms of gum disease.
All women, whether they’re pregnant or not, have some vaginal discharge starting a year or two before puberty and ending after the menopause. How much discharge you have changes from time to time and it usually gets heavier just before your period.
Is it normal to have viginal discharge in pregnancy?
Yes. Almost all women have more vaginal discharge in pregnancy. This is quite normal and happens for a few reasons. During pregnancy the cervix (neck of the womb) and vaginal walls get softer and discharge increases to help prevent any infections travelling up from the vagina to the womb.
Towards the end of pregnancy, the amount of discharge increases and can be confused with urine.
In the last week or so of pregnancy, your discharge may contain streaks of thick mucus and some blood. This is called a 'show' and happens when the mucus that has been present in your cervix during pregnancy comes away. It's a sign that the body is starting to prepare for birth, and you may have a few small 'shows' in the days before you go into labour.
Increased discharge is a normal part of pregnancy, but it's important to keep an eye on it and tell your doctor or midwife if it changes in any way.
When to see your midwife or GP
Tell your midwife or doctor if:
- the discharge is coloured
- it smells strange
- you feel itchy or sore
Healthy vaginal discharge should be clear and white and should not smell unpleasant. If the discharge is coloured or smells strange, or if you feel itchy or sore, you may have a vaginal infection.
Thrush in pregnancy
The most common infection is thrush, which your doctor can treat easily. You should not use some thrush medicines in pregnancy.
Always talk to your doctor, pharmacist or midwife if you think you have thrush. You can help prevent thrush by wearing loose cotton underwear, and some women find it helps to avoid perfumed soap or perfumed bath products.
Find out more about vaginal discharge, preventing thrush and treating thrush.
You should also tell your midwife or doctor if your vaginal discharge increases a lot in later pregnancy.
Bleeding in pregnancy
If you have any vaginal bleeding in pregnancy, you should contact your midwife or doctor. Lots of women lose a small amount of blood during pregnancy, and this is usually nothing to worry about. However, it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious problem such as a miscarriage or a problem with the placenta.
Bleeding during pregnancy is relatively common. However, bleeding from the vagina at any time in pregnancy can be a dangerous sign, and you should always contact your midwife or GP immediately if it happens to you.
In early pregnancy you might get some light bleeding, called ‘spotting’, when the foetus plants itself in the wall of your womb. This often happens around the time that your first period after conception would have been due.
Causes of bleeding
During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, vaginal bleeding can be a sign of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. However, many women who bleed at this stage of pregnancy go on to have normal and successful pregnancies.
If a pregnancy ends before the 24th week of pregnancy, it’s called a miscarriage. Miscarriages are quite common in the first three months of pregnancy and around one in five confirmed pregnancies ends this way. Many early miscarriages (before 14 weeks) happen because there is something wrong with the baby. There can be other causes of miscarriage, such as hormone or blood-clotting problems.
Most miscarriages occur during the first 12 weeks (three months) of pregnancy and, sadly, most cannot be prevented. Find out more about miscarriage.
Ectopic pregnancies (when a fertilised egg implants outside the womb, for example in the fallopian tube) can cause bleeding, but are less common than miscarriages.It's a dangerous condition, because the fertilised egg can't develop properly outside the womb. The egg has to be removed – this can be through an operation or medicines. Find out more about ectopic pregnancy.
Causes of bleeding in late pregnancy
- Cervical changes - can lead to bleeding, particularly after sex.
- Vaginal infections.
- A "show" - when the plug of mucucs that has been in the cervix during pregnancy comes away, signalling that the cervix is becoming ready for labour to start. It may happen a few days before contractions start or during labour itself. Find out about the signs of labour and what happens in labour.
- Placental abruption - a serious condition in which the placenta starts to come away from the womb wall. Placental abruption usually causes stomach pain, and this may occur even if there is no bleeding.
- Low-lying placenta (or placenta praevia) - when the placenta is attached in the lower part of the womb, near to or covering the cervix. Bleeding from a low-lying placenta can be very heavy and put you and your baby at risk. You may be advised to go into hospital for emergency treatment, and usually a caesarean will be recommended.
- Vasa praevia - a rare condition where the baby's blood vessels run through the membranes covering the cervix. Normally, the blood vessels would be protected within the umbilical cord and the placenta. When your waters break, these vessels may be torn and cause vaginal bleeding. It is very difficult to diagnose vasa praevia, but it may occassionally be identified before birth by an ultrasound scan. Vasa praevia should be suspected if there is bleeding and the baby's heart rate changes suddenly after the rupture of the membranes
Finding out the cause of bleeding
To work out what is causing bleeding, you may need to have a vaginal or pelvic examination, an ultrasound scan or blood tests to check your hormone levels. Your doctor will also ask you about other symptoms, such as cramp, pain and dizziness. Sometimes the cause of bleeding cannot be found.
If your symptoms are not severe and your baby is not due for a while, you will be monitored and, in some cases, kept in hospital for observation. How long you need to stay in hospital depends on the cause of the bleeding and how many weeks pregnant you are. Being in hospital enables staff to keep an eye on you and your baby so that they can act quickly if there are any further problems.
Varicose veins are veins that have become swollen. The veins in the legs are most commonly affected. You can also get varicose veins in the vulva (vaginal opening), although these usually get better after the birth.
If you have varicose veins you should:
- try to avoid standing for long periods of time
- try not to sit with your legs crossed
- try not to put on too much weight as this increases the pressure
- sit with your legs up as often as you can, to ease the discomfort
- try support tights, which may also help to support your leg muscles: you can buy them at most pharmacies
- try sleeping with your legs higher than the rest of your body: use pillows under your ankles or put books under the foot of your bed
- do foot exercises and other antenatal exercises, such as walking and swimming, which will all help your circulation
Try these foot exercises:
- bend and stretch your foot up and down 30 times
- rotate your foot eight times one way and eight times the other
- repeat with the other foot
Find out more about preventing varicose veins.