Minor Disorders of Pregnancy


Published: 20 January 2021

During pregnancy, a woman’s body changes in many ways. The physical and hormonal changes that accompany each trimester can cause not only physical discomfort but also many mental and emotional challenges. Yet, for the most part, these changes are entirely organic and normal.

As Kazemi (2017) points out, pregnancy is a special condition that is neither a disease nor a normal body status, yet the minor ailments that may accompany the journey from conception to birth can significantly impact quality of life.

Most of the discomforts associated with pregnancy are not dangerous, just a normal part of the body’s adaptation to the stresses caused by a growing fetus. These can lead to metabolic, hormonal, cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal adaptations known as minor ailments in pregnancy. Fortunately, most of these can be ameliorated with simple remedies and self-care advice.

Some of the more common minor physical ailments or disorders of pregnancy include:

Digestive system

  • Morning sickness;
  • Heartburn;
  • Constipation;
  • Pica; and
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Musculoskeletal system

  • Backache;
  • Symphysis pubis dysfunction;
  • Round ligament pain; and
  • Leg cramps.
minor disorders pregnancy musculoskeletal

Renal and reproductive systems

  • Frequency of micturition;
  • Vaginal discharge;
  • Leucorrhoea; and
  • Pruritus.

Circulatory system

  • Fainting;
  • Varicose veins and haemorrhoids; and
  • Skin changes.

Nervous system

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome; and
  • Insomnia.

(University of the West of Scotland 2017)

Psychological Changes and Challenges

In addition to these common physical changes, many women also experience profound psychological changes as they prepare for motherhood. As Kazemi (2017) describes, pregnancy takes a woman on a journey from uncertainty and hesitation towards a sense of vulnerability and mental preparation for the baby’s birth. For many women, changes to their body image may also negatively impact their self-image and sex life.

Five Key Areas of Change

Although there are many potential ways to categorise the minor ailments of pregnancy, Kazemi (2017) suggests the following five categories, which all revolve around disorders affecting quality of life:

Psychological Disorders of Pregnancy

Although psychological disorders receive less attention than physical ailments, they can still have a profound effect on a woman’s life if they go unrecognised. Poor memory, feelings of boredom and negative thoughts are all psychological issues that have been flagged by recent research.

Many women also report becoming more impatient during pregnancy and having more sensitive and instant reactions in response to the behaviours of others. Sleep disorders have also been reported by many women. Examples include an increased tendency to sleep, lack of continuity of sleep, insomnia and inability to fall deeply asleep.

Body-Image Disorders

As Kazemi (2017) discovered, some women also suffer from body-image disorder during their pregnancy, causing a decrease in self-esteem. Concerns about becoming fat, or feelings of shame about their changing appearance also lead to negative feelings about obesity. Skin changes such as acne, chloasma and stria may cause some women to feel unattractive despite these being natural body changes.

Disorders in Sexual Wellbeing

Another common complaint is how pregnancy can negatively affect sexual function and wellbeing. Many women report decreased frequency of sexual intercourse due to physical pain, fear of harm to the fetus and limited comfortable positions as the pregnancy progresses. For some women, this means forgoing sex altogether, which may have a negative impact on their life. For others, these changes to their sex life also lead to feelings of low self-worth, low morale and increased concerns about trusting their partner.

Disorders of Daily Activities

Kazemi (2017) also discovered that many pregnant women experience conflict with their employment as their pregnancy progresses. Typically, this includes negative emotions about how their working conditions might affect the health of the fetus, and loss of interest in their work. The need to reduce leisure activities and housework are also common findings as pregnancy progresses.

minor disorders pregnancy daily activities

Physical Disorders

Physical changes such as those mentioned above are the most commonly reported minor disorders, with genitourinary and gastrointestinal disorders being among the most common complaints.

Encouraging Self-Care

Most of the minor disorders during pregnancy can be minimised with good health education and prompt treatment. However, as many women tend to get their information from the internet, pregnancy apps and social media, midwives and maternity nurses may be left wondering how to ensure that women are getting good quality advice and know when to seek further help.

As Amasha and Heeba (2013) point out, abnormal signs and symptoms can also lead to more serious complications. For example, morning sickness may develop into hyperemesis gravidarum. Home remedies, while popular, may also carry side effects or cause potential harm.

In other words, despite the popularity of social media and online learning, face-to-face consultations still have an important role to play in helping pregnant women recognise when to seek help for any abnormal symptoms during pregnancy.

Good Antenatal Education is Key

As Agampodi et al. (2013) suggest, good antenatal care and health promotion strategies still remain the best way to provide comprehensive, good-quality maternal health care.

It’s an obvious point but one reinforced by Gamel et al. (2017), who demonstrated that providing pregnant women with a self-care brochure for the relief of minor ailments was associated with a high degree of relief compared to women who only received verbal reassurance.

Likewise, Hassan, Ahmed and Mahmoud (2020) demonstrated that providing a simple educational program on pregnancy ailments resulted in significant levels of self-care knowledge along with a corresponding lowering of anxiety levels.

minor disorders pregnancy antenatal education

Awareness of Abnormal Signs

Fresh research is always needed in healthcare and Amasha and Heeba (2013) suggest that the question, ‘Are pregnant women aware of normal and abnormal signs of pregnancy?’ would be a valuable topic for further research. Kazemi (2017) also highlights the need for new research in this area, suggesting that information about the changes experienced by pregnant women in physical, psychological, and social areas is currently limited and requires more attention.

Midwives also have an important role to play by asking women more open-ended questions and inviting more inquiry about what is and is not normal. Despite the rise of video and online support, there still seems to be room to create further innovative ways to engage with women and increase their knowledge about the minor discomforts of pregnancy and the self-care practices that can be used to bring relief.