Coping with Pain in Pregnancy: Care Plan

Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
pregnant belly

Most pregnant women will attest to the fact that this beautiful, life-changing time period can be full of aches and pains. Many suffer from back pain and headaches, not to mention bloating, gas, and heartburn. While pregnancy pains can be abundant, and sometimes debilitating, most doctors recommend that mothers-to-be avoid painkillers and pain medications.

Common Pregnancy Pains

Back Pain

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, back pain is one of the most common pregnancy pains due to the expansion of the growing uterus. There are two major types of pregnancy back pain - lumbar pain and posterior pelvic pain. The former is typically low back pain around the waist level that sometimes radiates down the legs. The latter is usually felt in the buttocks or in the backs of the thighs. Sciatica, or pain caused by a herniated bulging disc in the lower spine, is not very common in pregnancy.


Headaches typically affect pregnant women more in their first and third trimesters. There are many causes for this ailment, including low blood sugar, dehydration, lack of sleep, stress, and caffeine withdrawal.

Reasons to Avoid Painkillers

Many doctors recommend that pregnant women avoid taking most over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription painkillers.

Over-the-Counter Painkillers

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, many popular OTC pain medications feature pregnancy risks. For example, aspirin is associated with perinatal mortality, decreased birth weight, neonatal hemorrhage, and prolonged gestation and labor. Some common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAID analgesics) should be used with caution and avoided altogether in the third trimester. This is because they are associated with hypertension of the newborn, premature closure of the fetal ductus arteriosus, fetal nephrotoxicity, oligohydramnios (low amniotic fluid), and hemorrhage. Some examples of NSAID analgesics are Ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil) and Naproxen (Aleve).

Prescription Painkillers

Opioid analgesics, or prescription painkillers, also feature many pregnancy risks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of the most common opioid analgesics are hydrocodone, oxycodone, and codeine. Pregnant women who take these painkillers may increase the risk of having a baby born with birth defects. According to the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, treatment with opioid analgesics has previously been linked to spina bifida, glaucoma, hydrocephaly, gastroschisis, and several congenital heart defects.

Alternative Pain Relieving Methods

Just because you want to avoid taking high-risk painkillers doesn't mean you have to suffer for nine months. There are many alternative methods of treating common pregnancy pains.

Back Pain

Try some of these methods to prevent and treat backaches and pains.

  • Apply a heating pad or soak in a warm tub to ease back pain.
  • Ditch your high heels and flip flops and find comfortable shoes with excellent arch support.
  • Use a pregnancy pillow (or body pillow) and sleep on your left side.
  • Wear a maternity support belt or pants with a supportive waistband to ease pressure on your back and shoulders.


You can prevent and treat headaches with many natural remedies.

  • Apply a warm compress around your nose and eyes to relieve a sinus headache.
  • Place an ice pack or cold compress at the base of your neck to ward off a tension headache.
  • Drink water and eat small, frequent meals to remain hydrated and maintain your blood sugar.
  • Start a prenatal yoga practice to relieve stress in a healthy manner.

When Pain Medication Outweighs the Risks

If you have to take some form of pain medication due to a surgery or ongoing chronic pain, be sure to talk to your doctor about all your choices and the risks associated with them. Some common reasons for taking these types of medications, with a doctor's approval, include treating infections, chronic diseases, and injuries. Some doctors approve the use of acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, to relieve temporary, minor body aches.

While many people enjoy the experience of pregnancy, it can be a difficult time full of unexpected side effects. If you have a particularly painful pregnancy, take solace in knowing that the aches won't last forever and the outcome will be a beautiful baby.

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Coping with Pain in Pregnancy: Care Plan