Managing pregnancy discomforts

The many physical changes of pregnancy may cause discomfort for some women. Please seek treatment or advice if any of these conditions affect you or are limiting your ability to cope with everyday activities.

Pregnancy side-dishes—tips to manage common pregnancy side effects

Many women experience pregnancy discomforts. These may include morning sickness, constipation, heartburn and feeling overfull. Watch the video below, where we explore practical tips to help manage these side-effects while maintaining a nourishing diet for the healthiest pregnancy possible.

Morning sickness

Morning sickness is usually due to hormonal changes of pregnancy and can affect you at any time of the day. Symptoms usually disappear or become much milder by around 16 weeks. For a small number of women it can last longer. If you are unable to keep food and fluid down see your doctor. 

It can impact anyone. Here’s a firsthand story from one of our dietitians.

Some tips that may help morning sickness:

  • Start eating early—have some dry biscuits beside your bed to eat before you get up in the morning
  • Eat small amounts every two hours
  • Avoid smells and foods that make you feel worse
  • Eat healthier carbohydrate foods such as dry toast, crackers, breakfast cereals or fruit
  • Eat fewer fatty and sugary foods as they may increase nausea
  • Speak to your pharmacist or doctor about vitamin B6
  • Ginger can help nausea—try sipping dry ginger ale, adding ginger to meals and ginger supplements
  • Keep your fluids up—sip on flat lemonade, Lucozade, sports drinks (e.g Gatorade), suck on icy poles if you can’t eat.


Most women will suffer from constipation, especially towards the end of pregnancy as your levels of pregnancy hormones slow your digestion.

Some tips to help you with constipation include:

  • Drink more fluid. Try eight to 10 glasses of water per day
  • Eat more high fibre foods. High fibre foods include high fibre breakfast cereals, legumes, whole grain bread, fruit and vegetables. Prunes and dried apricots may also help.
  • Exercise can help keep your digestive tract moving as well as keep you fit and healthy.
  • If you are taking supplements containing iron, speak to your doctor or midwife about the possibility of it contributing to your constipation.

Safe toileting tips:

  • Go to the toilet when you first feel the urge to use your bowel, as this is the best time to empty your bowel fully. Most people feel this urge first thing in the morning, after a meal or a hot drink, which stimulates bowel movements.
  • Sit on the toilet with your elbows over your knees, leaning forward, keeping your back straight. This helps to relax your pelvic floor and anal sphincter muscles. Use a footstool to support your feet if this is more comfortable.

Heart burn and indigestion

Most women will experience heart burn or indigestion and often towards the end of pregnancy.

Some tips to help with heart burn:

  • Don’t eat right before bed—try to leave at least two to three hours after eating before you go to bed
  • Eat small meals and chew food well to help with digestion—put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls to help slow down
  • Avoid foods that make it worse—these may include rich or fatty foods, spicy foods, alcohol and coffee
  • Prop your head and upper chest up when in bed—this can be done by sleeping on two pillows or propping up the head of the bed
  • If none of these help speak to your doctor about safe medication options.

Fatigue or tiredness

During pregnancy you may feel more tired than you would normally. It is a good idea to adjust the intensity of your exercise program or break it into smaller portions.  For example, do two 15 minute walks instead of your daily 30 minute walk. Lying down during the day for about one hour, especially during late pregnancy can help.  

Back pain

It is common to experience back pain and stiffness in pregnancy. Make sure you have good posture, lift safely and avoid any activities that aggravate the pain. General exercise and abdominal strengthening exercises can help too.

Cramping in your lower legs can occur at night and may be painful. Regular calf stretches throughout the day may help.

Pelvic joint pain

Pelvic joint pain is a common complaint during pregnancy. Pain is experienced at the front (pubic bone) or the back of the pelvis and can be made worse by uneven weight bearing, like standing on one leg or climbing stairs.

See exercise tips, abdominal and pelvic floor strengthening and back care for more tips. You may need to modify your exercise to ensure you don’t aggravate your pelvic joint pain. Speak to the physiotherapist for advice.

Varicose veins and swollen ankles

Varicose veins and swollen ankles commonly occur in late pregnancy. Avoid crossing your legs and standing for long periods. When sitting, prop your legs up and circle your feet to improve circulation.

Walking or calf raise exercises may help—(standing, repeatedly rise up and down onto your toes 10 to 20 times). Repeat regularly throughout the day. If your varicose veins become painful you may need support stockings. 

Varicose veins and swollen ankles commonly occur in late pregnancy. Avoid crossing your legs and standing for long periods.

Hand tingling or numbness

Extra fluid during pregnancy may cause your hands to swell and lead to tingling, pins and needles and pain in your hands and fingers. This may be Carpal tunnel syndrome. You may need to be fitted with wrist splints to ease discomfort. Ask your maternity health care professional for a referral to an occupational therapist or physiotherapist.

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For urgent assessment at any stage of your pregnancy, please present to your nearest emergency centre or Mater Mothers’ 24/7 Pregnancy Assessment Centre in South Brisbane.

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