Hesperian Health Guides

Common Problems during Pregnancy

When you are pregnant your body changes and you may have some of the following common problems. But remember, most of these problems are normal in pregnancy.

Sick stomach (nausea)

Although it is often called `morning sickness', during pregnancy you may feel sick to your stomach at any time during the day or even all day long. It usually goes away by the end of the 3rd or 4th month.

What to do:
  • Drink a cup of ginger or cinnamon tea 2 or 3 times a day, before meals.
  • Eat small meals often, and avoid foods that are oily or hard to digest.
  • Lick a lemon.
  • Ask the midwives in your community for good local plant medicines or remedies.
IMPORTANT! See a health worker if you vomit so much that you cannot keep any food down, or if you are losing weight. Also watch for signs of dehydration.

Heartburn or indigestion

Heartburn causes a burning feeling in the throat and chest. It is most common in later pregnancy, after eating or when lying down.

a woman drinking water
What to do:
  • Eat several small meals instead of one large meal.
  • Avoid spicy or oily foods.
  • Drink plenty of water and other clear liquids.
  • Try not to lie down right after eating.
  • Sleep with your head higher than your stomach.
  • Take a cup of milk or yogurt, some bicarbonate of soda in a glass of water, or calcium carbonate (antacid).

Discharge from the vagina

During pregnancy, it is normal to have more white discharge than usual from the vagina. But if the discharge itches, burns, or has a bad smell, you may have an infection of the genitals, which should be treated. If the discharge is bloody or has mucus in it, or if there is a lot and it looks like water, see a health worker. You may be starting labor too early.

Swollen veins (varicose veins)

Blue swollen veins in the legs and around the vagina are called varicose veins. They are caused by the weight of the growing baby. They can become quite large and painful.

a pregnant woman in a chair with her feet on a stool
Women with swollen veins should try to put their feet up when they can, and wrap their legs if the swelling is very bad.
What to do:
  • Try not to stand up for too long. If you have to stand, walk in place or move your feet and legs. When you are sitting down, put your feet up as often as possible.
  • Be sure to walk every day. If you have a disability and cannot walk, ask someone in your family to help move and exercise your legs.
  • If the problem is severe, wrap your legs with cloths. Begin wrapping at the ankles and work up to just below the knee. The bandage should be tighter around the ankle and looser further up the leg. Take off the bandages at night.

Constipation (difficulty passing stool)

Pregnancy makes the bowels work more slowly. This can make the stool harder, so it is more difficult to pass.

What to do

(these things also help prevent constipation):

  • Drink at least 8 glasses of liquid every day.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • If you are taking iron tablets, try taking only one a day with fruit or vegetable juice. Or skip a few days.
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and foods with fiber—like whole grains and cassava (manioc) root.
  • Do not take laxatives. They only solve the problem for a short while and then you need to take more.
a woman sitting in a basin with her feet on the ground
If you have hemorrhoids, sitting in cool water can
help with the pain.

Piles (Hemorrhoids)

Hemorrhoids are swollen veins around the anus. They often itch, burn, or bleed. Constipation makes them worse.

a woman on her knees with her elbows on the ground
What to do:
  • Sit in a basin or pan of cool water to relieve the pain.
  • Follow the advice above for preventing constipation.
  • Soak some clean cloth in witch hazel (a liquid plant medicine) if you can find it, and put it on the painful area.
  • Kneel with your buttocks in the air. This can help relieve the pain.

Leg cramps

Pregnant women often get foot or leg cramps--especially at night, or when they stretch or point their toes down. Leg cramps may be caused by not enough calcium in the diet.

What to do:
  • Eat plenty of foods that contain calcium, such as milk, cheese, sesame seeds, and green leafy vegetables.
  • If your foot or leg cramps:

down on
your heel...

a heel on the floor with toes pointing up

your toe

a hand stroking the back of the leg

stroke your
leg to help
it relax.

WWHND10 Ch6 Page 71-3.png

point your
toe down.
It can make
the cramps

Low-back pain

Low-back pain is caused by the weight of the growing baby.

What to do:
  • Ask someone to rub or massage your back.
  • Ask your family for help with some of the heavy work.
  • Take care to stand and sit with your back straight.
  • Sleep on your side with a pillow or rolled up cloth between your knees.
  • Do the `angry cat' exercise for a few minutes, 2 times each day, and whenever your back hurts.

Swelling of the feet and legs

Some swelling of the feet is normal during pregnancy—especially for women who must stand all day.

What to do:
  • Put your feet up as often as you can during the day.
  • When resting, lie on your left side.
  • If your feet are very swollen, or they are swollen already when you wake up in the morning, or your hands and face also swell, these are signs of danger during pregnancy. See information about pre-eclampsia.

This page was updated:23 Oct 2019