Common complaints during pregnancy

Most health-related issues associated with pregnancy can be easily dealt with by a midwife, doctor or pharmacist. Some mothers may develop more complicated problems which could require going to hospital or an antenatal clinic.

Guidance for pregnant women and information on what is happening in their regional unit during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can be found on NI Maternity

Morning sickness

Feeling nauseous or sick in the early stages of pregnancy is extremely common. Morning sickness usually occurs during the first three months of pregnancy, although for some women it may last longer.

Although it is known as morning sickness, it can last throughout the day.

Most sufferers will feel nauseous, but may not be sick, while other women find they are not able to keep any food down. Morning sickness is caused by hormones which are helping in the development of the baby and placenta. Although the symptoms are unpleasant, they won’t harm the developing baby.

You can help counter morning sickness by:

  • eating small, frequent meals
  • eating dry, carbohydrate snacks throughout the day
  • taking rests throughout the day
  • keeping well hydrated with water, avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • wear comfortable clothing, tight waistbands can make you feel worse

If you are being sick all the time and cannot keep food down, tell your midwife or doctor. Some pregnant women experience severe nausea and vomiting. This condition is called hyperemesis gravidarum and needs specialist treatment.


You may become constipated in early pregnancy because of the hormonal changes taking place in your body.

You can avoid constipation by;

  • eating foods that are high in fibre, like wholemeal breads, wholegrain cereals, fruit and vegetables, beans and lentil
  • exercising regularly to keep your muscles toned
  • drinking plenty of water
  • avoiding iron supplements – ask your doctor if you can manage without them or switch to a different type

Pain management during pregnancy

Pregnant women can suffer from mild headaches and other aches and pains. However, not all painkillers can be used during pregnancy.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen are not safe to use in pregnancy. They may cause miscarriage in the early stages, or induce early labour, and may interfere with kidney function.

Aspirin is not recommended for pain relief as it can increase the risk of bleeding. Codeine-based analgesia can cause breathing problems for the baby in the later stages of pregnancy and should only be taken in the early stages under a doctor’s supervision.

Paracetamol is safe but should be taken only if necessary in pregnancy and for the shortest possible time.

If you come down with a cold during your pregnancy, be sure to speak with your pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter medication. Many will contain antihistamines or Codeine, which are not advised in pregnancy.

Paracetamol will help to relieve headaches.

Skin changes and rashes

Many women will experience changes in their skin during pregnancy. Most of these changes are termed ‘physiological’ which means they are entirely normal and associated with being pregnant.

  • hyperpigmentation – a darkening of the nipples and genital area
  • Linea Nigra – a dark, sometimes hairy, line which runs from the belly button to the pubic area
  • Striae Gravidarum – stretch marks around the abdomen as it expands, usually starting off pink and becoming white or shiny after delivery
  • Varicose veins on the legs


Pregnant women can also be affected by rashes such as eczema and psoriasis. Your doctor will advise you on whether using steroid or other cream or lotion is advisable and safe.

There are also:

  • rashes specific to pregnancy, called specific dermatoses (skin disorders) of pregnancy
  • non-specific rashes that could occur at any time
  • itching without a rash

These disorders can cause harm to mother and baby, so seek medical advice if you spot skin changes that seem abnormal. Itching without a rash can be normal or abnormal in pregnancy. Advice should be sought if itching occurs, especially if it keeps getting worse.

Swollen ankles, feet and fingers

Ankles, feet and fingers often swell a little in pregnancy because your body is holding more water than usual. 

You can minimise swelling by:

  • avoiding standing for a long time
  • wearing comfortable shoes
  • putting your feet up as much as you can
  • doing foot exercises

If the swelling does not reduce, ask your doctor or midwife to check your blood pressure.

Teeth and gums

Dental treatment is free during pregnancy and for a year after your baby’s birth, so you should make sure you go to your dentist for a check-up. Always tell your dentist that you are pregnant as this may affect your treatment.

During pregnancy, hormonal changes in your body can cause plaque to make your gums more inflamed and they may become swollen and bleed more easily. When your baby is born, your gums should return to normal.

Ask your dentist if any new or replacement fillings should be delayed until after the baby is born.

Varicose veins

Varicose veins are veins which become swollen. The veins in the legs are most commonly affected.

Tell your doctor if you have varicose veins or if a close relative has ever had a clot or blood clotting disorder.

If you have varicose veins;

  • avoid standing for long periods
  • try not to sit with your legs crossed
  • try not to put on too much weight
  • sit with your legs up to ease the discomfort
  • try support tights
  • sleep with your legs higher than your body
  • try antenatal exercises to help your circulation

Vaginal discharge

Almost all women have more vaginal discharge in pregnancy. It 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 an infection.

The most common infection is thrush, which your doctor can treat easily. You can help prevent thrush by wearing loose cotton underwear.

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