Treating pregnancy niggles

Posted on 18 February 2015

With all the changes your body undergoes during pregnancy, it’s natural to experience some unusual aches and pains. Dr Leneque Xanthe Lindeque, a gynaecologist and obstetrician at Mediclinic Highveld in Mpumalanga, discusses some common pregnancy niggles and how to treat them.

Acid reflux
Acid reflux occurs when the acid that’s normally in your stomach backs up into your oesophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach), causing heartburn or a burning sensation or acidic taste. Many women get acid reflux during pregnancy, with the condition worsening as the pregnancy progresses. It usually goes away after the baby is born, but if you experience acid reflux in one pregnancy, you’re likely to get it in future pregnancies.

Self-treatment methods include eating four to six small meals a day instead of three large ones, avoid eating within three hours of bedtime or of lying down, avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes and avoid foods that exacerbate the problem such as coffee, citrus fruits, chocolate and tea.

If these methods don’t work, try an over-the-counter antacid, but consult your doctor or pharmacist before medicating. While most antacids are considered safe in pregnancy, some are not. Avoid antacids that contain sodium bicarbonate and magnesium trisilicate.

If antacids don’t help enough, your doctor might recommend a surface agent, histamine blocker, or proton pump inhibitor which work better than antacids to reduce symptoms.

Call your doctor if you:

  • Have severe heartburn or chest pain, or these symptoms don’t get better with treatment
  • Have a fever, headache, nausea, or vomiting with your heartburn
  • Choke when you eat, have trouble swallowing, or feel like food is getting ‘stuck’ on the way down your throat
  • Lose weight without trying
  • Vomit bright-red blood or material that looks like coffee grounds
  • Have bowel movements that look like black tar

Leg cramps
Leg cramps are common, usually occurring during the latter half of pregnancy and often caused by pressure from a growing uterus. The cramps are due to painful muscle contractions and are generally experienced in the calves at night.

Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about a magnesium supplement, which has been proven to help reduce leg cramps.

Stretching exercises may also be an effective preventive measure. These can be performed in the weight-bearing position; they are held for 20 seconds and repeated three times in succession, four times daily for one week, then twice daily thereafter. If a cramp occurs, calf stretches (toe raises), walking, or leg jiggling followed by leg elevation may be helpful.

Other remedies include:

  • A hot shower or warm bath
  • Ice massage
  • Regular exercise for conditioning, calf strengthening and stretching
  • Increased hydration

Avoid sleeping on your back and elevate your legs if necessary.

When headaches occur during pregnancy or postpartum, it’s best to see your doctor as in some cases it could indicate a pregnancy complication. Severe pre-eclampsia (a pregnancy-specific condition that entails high blood pressure and leaking of protein in urine, which poses a high risk for mother and baby) always needs to be excluded in women who are over 20 weeks pregnant, so see your doctor during this period if you have persistent headaches. Always see your doctor if you experience:

  • A sudden onset of severe headache (‘worst headache of my life’)
  • Migraines for the first time
  • Worsening headaches
  • Pain and patterns of headaches that are different from usual headaches
  • Headache related to exertion
  • Headache with fever
  • Headache with altered mental state, seizures, changes in vision, stiff neck, or trouble focusing
  • Headache unrelieved by pain medication

Most women with migraines report improvement during pregnancy. For drug therapy, paracetamol (Panado) is the first port of call, given it’s the safest to use. For women who don’t respond to Panado alone, other combination medication is available and has proven to be safe in pregnancy. Ask your doctor about these.

Tension-type headaches aren’t likely to improve during pregnancy since they aren’t hormone-dependent. Here paracetomol is also recommended, or else physiotherapy with possible heat application to the area of pain.


The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Pregnancy

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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