Pregnancy is one of the most beautiful things a woman can experience but can sometimes be one of the most uncomfortable periods, too. Growing humans is hard!
Especially once we hit the third trimester, many of us experience a high degree of aches, pains, and general pains that can make everything- even sleep- uncomfortable for us. It’s like the universe wants to get us ready for sleepless nights before the baby even arrives by giving us uncomfortable sleep during pregnancy, too. But to that, we say Hard Pass, Mother Nature. There are some tools we can have under our belt (literally and figuratively) that can help make the last few months (which actually feels like several years) a little more comfortable.
Why Is Pregnancy So Uncomfortable?
Pregnancy is different for every woman and for some, the entire pregnancy is a wonderful, joyous, and beautiful experience. We still have yet to find these women, but we hear they exist. For most of us, pregnancy isn’t without at least some discomfort, especially during the third trimester. Our growing bodies and bellies can cause pain in places we never had before, having us reach for any tool that promises us a little bit of relief.
Outside of the obvious expanding belly and growing baby that adds weight to our hip and pelvic area, there are a few other reasons pregnancy can be so dang uncomfortable.
The relaxin hormone is a hormone produced by the placenta and the ovaries during pregnancy. It is secreted in order to help relax the ligaments and the muscles of the cervix and pelvis in preparation for childbirth. It is highest during the first trimester of pregnancy as it allows the uterus to relax and implantation to occur and prosper, and it increases again as a woman gets closer to the end of her pregnancy.
In terms of pain during pregnancy, relaxin will often soften the ligaments of the spine, hips, and pelvic area which can cause instability and pain as there is increased pressure from the growing baby, increased blood volume, and an expanding belly. Some women experience pain from relaxin as round ligament pain, back pain, hip pain, or increased pressure in the pelvic area.
Increased Blood Volume
A woman’s blood volume increases by 50% to help support the growing baby, expanding uterus, and the placenta. This rapid increase in blood volume can add to extra weight giving some women discomfort throughout their body. It can cause aches and pains, acute soreness, and extreme swelling.
Round Ligament Pain
Round ligament pain occurs most often in the second trimester of pregnancy and is often characterized as a sharp, jabbing pain in one’s lower belly, abdomen, or pelvic area. It is one of the most common complaints of pregnancy. The round ligament goes from the front of the womb to your groin, so pain is often seen in these areas. It can be exacerbated by exercise, rapid movements, rolling over during sleep, or even totally and completely avoidable things like sneezing (insert eye roll here).
Throughout pregnancy, the round ligament will tighten and relax slowly- usually anyways. When rapid or sudden movements occur, it can cause the round ligament to tighten suddenly which causes the pain. In addition, as your belly grows your round ligament will stretch making it more likely that it will become strained.
Hip pain during pregnancy often occurs because of the increased weight and strain that your body is taking on as a result of your growing baby. The increased blood volume, growing placenta, and the position of the baby can cause significant hip pain for a pregnant mother. Hip pain can also be from round ligament pain and/or an increase in the relaxin hormone on your lower back and spine.
Knee and Wrist Pain
Knee pain is another common ailment that many pregnant mothers experience. The increase in weight can cause strain on the knee joints. Coupled with increased relaxin hormone and relaxed ligaments and muscles, additional weight strain can cause sore knees or even sharp pains. Water retention can also cause additional pain in your joints.
Some women develop pain in their wrists, even resulting in carpal tunnel syndrome, during pregnancy. Again, this is often a result of the relaxin hormone loosening the ligaments of your joints, causing them to strain more easily even with regular, everyday activities.
Sciatica pain is one of the most painful parts of pregnancy, but luckily not all women get it. This pain is often characterized as occasional sharp, shooting pains from one’s lower back, down the back of their leg and hip, through their calf to their heel. It often only occurs on one side at a time. Sciatica pain can occur in anyone not just in pregnancy and may increase in frequency postpartum if you do have it during pregnancy.
In pregnancy, sciatica pain is the result of a few variables working together (and consequently against you). The relaxin hormone has relaxed the ligaments in your spine and lower back, causing them to strain more easily. Increase in weight because of the growing baby, increased blood volume, water retention, and the growing placenta adds stress to your back and hips. And then, if your baby is sitting towards your back, it can pinch the sciatic nerve, causing the shooting pain down your leg.
Sciatica pain can sometimes be debilitating. The sharp shooting pain can last for a few seconds to several minutes and can cause one’s knees to buckle if they are standing. It can also be very painful to walk, although this simple act can help relieve the pain a bit faster.
How to Relieve Back Pain and Sciatica Pain During Pregnancy
Back pain is one of the most common complaints of pregnant women throughout pregnancy. Even from the first trimester, many women will experience pain in their lower back because of the increased relaxin hormone, increased blood volume, water retention, and the expanding uterus. As the baby, and your belly, grows, additional weight and strain are placed on your hips and back causing acute soreness or even extreme shooting pain. Even in birth we don’t get a break as many women experience painful back labor.
There are a few things you can do to help prevent and relieve back pain during pregnancy:
- Exercise– Walking, yoga, and low impact exercise can help prevent back pain during pregnancy. It can also help alleviate it when the pain occurs.
- Pregnancy stretches– There are several different stretches that are safe for pregnancy that can help alleviate back pain. A seated piriformis stretch, pigeon pose, and a hip flexor stretch are all great for the lower back and sciatica.
- Foam rolling– Foam rollers are a great way to massage your back muscles on a regular basis which can help prevent and relieve sciatica pain.
- Pregnancy Pillows- Pregnancy pillows are designed to help a pregnant woman get the support she needs for her changing body while she sleeps. There are several different designs but each one is meant to help support the belly and the back throughout pregnancy and even postpartum.
How Pregnancy Pillows Work
Pregnancy pillows either large body pillows or simple wedges that contour to a person’s body. They often have a place to rest your belly, at a minimum, while some offer support for your back, head, neck, hips, and knees. Pregnancy pillows are designed to help alleviate the stress of weight during your sleep, giving you much-needed support for your muscles and joints. You will often rest your belly on a support piece and then wrap your legs around the body of the pillow.
Pregnancy pillows are not only for use during pregnancy, though. They can also be used to help recover from birth, as a breastfeeding pillow, or as a pillow used to simply relax. Some pregnancy pillows can also be used as a newborn lounger as well. In addition to pregnancy, these contouring pillows can be used by athletes for recovery. those recovering from injury, those with chronic pain, fibromyalgia sufferers, those with chronic sciatica pain, and for better overall sleep.
Best Pregnancy Pillows
This U-shaped body pillow helps to support one’s back, hips, knees, neck, and head during pregnancy, postpartum, and even everyday regular sleep. It can help relieve discomfort from pregnancy and beyond including sciatica pain, fibromyalgia, reflux, and more. The PharMeDoc also has a detachable extension that can be used as it’s own body pillow. It measures 53 inches long, 31 inches wide, and 7 inches high and is perfect for pregnancy and beyond.
The soft and velvety pregnancy pillow will have you feeling like you’re sleeping on a cloud. It is 100% velvet and follows the natural shape of a pregnant woman’s body. It fully supports the back and the front of the body and offers significant pain relief throughout pregnancy and beyond. It can also be used for those with fibromyalgia, sciatica pain, reflux, congestion, and restless leg syndrome. The unique design of the Queen Rose U-Shape/Double C-Shape pillow allows you to reposition the pillow in several different ways so that you can make it comfortable for your body and use it in many ways.
It can be repositioned for reading in bed, watching television, or working on your laptop. The cover is machine washable.
The Snoogle original total body pillow is a C-shaped pillow that offers comfort for one’s head, neck, back, knees, and growing belly throughout pregnancy. It is perfect for side sleepers who need extra support during the night for their back, for breathing issues, and for temperature control between their knees. It follows the natural contour of one’s body and the extra-long midsection allows for great support for a pregnant woman’s growing belly. It is another great option for a pregnancy pillow that isn’t as bulky as some of the U-shaped ones and is a great option if you have a smaller bed or a smaller space for sleep.
If a full-body pillow isn’t something you need or want, or you have limited space, a pregnancy wedge like this one from Hiccapop is a great solution. The two-sided pillow has a soft and a firm side so you can choose what is most comfortable for you. Proper belly support is important during pregnancy, especially when sleeping, as it can help prevent extreme swelling or edema in your legs, hands, and feet. The Hiccapop pregnancy wedge relieves back pain and stress and can be used as a belly wedge, back pillow, or knee pillow. The velvet cover is soft, durable, and washable and the inner foam is made with CertiPUR-US foam, which is free from PBDEs, TDCPP or TCEP (“Tris”) flame retardants, mercury, lead, heavy metals, formaldehyde, phthalates regulated by the CPSC, and CFCs, is breathable so that you won’t get too hot when using it.
The Zootzi pillow can help a pregnant woman sleep through the night comfortably with neck, head, shoulder, and leg support. It is a U-shape so it supports the front and the back of the body, especially a growing belly. It is a great option for both during pregnancy and postpartum recovery. It can also be used as a breastfeeding pillow or recovery from a c-section or vaginal birth. The Zootzi also helps relieve pain from sciatica, hip pain, soreness from athletic training, and fibromyalgia. It can also be useful for those in physical therapy as it offers full-body support throughout the night. The removable and washable cover is made from 100% cotton and is easy to put back on.
This uniquely shaped G-shape body pillow from Battop helps support the back and the front of your body. It is perfect for expecting mothers as it supports one’s belly and helps prevent pain from pregnancy like round ligament pain, sciatica pain, and hip pain. It can also help athletes in their recovery process, those recovering from an injury, or those suffering from pain related diseases like fibromyalgia. The Battop pregnancy pillow helps to cradle your body and your belly, offering overall support and eliminate tossing and turning throughout the night. It can also be shaped into several different positions to create a comfortable spot for watching television, reading, or just relaxing. The filling is made with 100% cotton and the outer cover is made with a soft, velvet material. The additional extension can be removed to be used as a body pillow as well.
This versatile wedge pillow from Chilling helps to support your belly throughout the night or during the day. It can be used as a belly support pillow or turned to offer support for your head and in between your knees. It can also be used post-pregnancy as a support pillow to help recovery from a c-section, as a breastfeeding pillow, or as a newborn lounger. The removable cover is machine washable and the filling is made with Bionic Polyethylene filling.
The Bamibi pregnancy pillow is a C-shaped pillow that can be used in a variety of ways. It can be used as a pregnancy pillow for sleep, a newborn lounger, a breastfeeding pillow, or a support pillow for reading and relaxing. Place it between your legs to offer support for your head, neck, belly, hips, and knees. For use with a baby, the extra cushion can be placed in the center to give a baby a sweet place to lounge during downtime. The cover is washable, and the pillow itself is durable and versatile.
The AngQI L-shaped body pillow is a unique body pillow that can be used before, during, and after pregnancy. It helps to support one’s growing belly as well as their head, neck, hips, and knees. The filling of the pillow is made with 7D PP hollow fiber which keeps it from getting flat. The cover is made with jersey-knit cotton which is soft, durable, comfortable, and easy to wash. The AngQI L-shaped pillow is perfect for side sleepers and can be used by anyone in the family. It helps to relieve swelling, aches and pains from training or injury, and helps to relieve stress making sure that you get a good night’s sleep whether you are with child or not.
One of the best-known brands for moms and moms-t0-be, Boppy, offers a unique pregnancy wedge and pillow that is specifically designed to help support your growing belly. It has two pillows- one for your back and one for your belly- for full-body support. It is compact enough for travel and fits easily in your bed so you aren’t taking up most of the space and kicking your partner out. The pillow is machine washable and the cover is made with jersey-knit cotton. Sleep comfortably anywhere with the Boppy Side Sleeper Pillow.
Many women report acute pain and uncomfortableness from pregnancy. Using a pregnancy pillow like the ones listed above can help provide support to your head, neck, back, hips, belly, and knees so that there is less pain experienced throughout the day.
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