We’re here to talk about the symptoms associated with pelvic pain in pregnancy, alongside some effective pain management tips

Pregnancy can be a special time. And while there’s lots to love about being pregnant, there are also many symptoms associated, including fatigue, sore breasts and let’s not forget the joys of morning sickness (it happens to the best of us!). If you're looking for relief from these, take a look at our tips on how to deal with common pregnancy problems.  Some women may also experience pelvic pain too, which can be surprising. Often, it’s referred to as pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain (PGP) or symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD). Both PGP and SPD refer to the same thing.

Here, we’ll cover what PGP and SPD are in more detail including what some of the symptoms might be. We’ll also share some tips on how you can help manage any pain you may be experiencing.

What is pelvic pain (PGP & SPD) & what are the symptoms?

PGP and SPD are general terms that describe an assortment of uncomfortable symptoms. The cause can be down to a stiffness of the joints, or it can be the result of joints moving unevenly. Though it can be painful and cause difficulties with mobility, it isn’t harmful to your unborn baby.

 If you have PGP and SPD, you may experience pain in the following areas:

• Over the pubic bone. Specifically at the front, in the centre

• Across your lower back (either on one side or both)

• In your thighs

• In the perineum – this is the area between your vagina and anus

Some women can also hear or feel their pelvic area grinding or clicking. Try not to panic if this does happen to you, as it can be an associated symptom. There are also certain movements that may worsen the pain, including:

• Standing on one leg

• Walking

• Travelling up or down stairs

• Moving your legs apart

• Turning over onto your side while in bed

If you have pelvic pain and are experiencing any of the following, you should call your midwife or GP for advice:

• Difficulty moving around

• Pain when you get out of your car or turn over in bed

• Pain going up or down the stairs

How common is pelvic pain in pregnancy?

If you’re struggling with pelvic pain during pregnancy, you’re not alone. PGP and SPD affect many pregnant women, and the symptoms can be more difficult for some than others. Though there is not always an obvious explanation, PGP and SPD is thought to be linked to a combination of factors, including:

• Previous pelvis injuries

• Physically demanding jobs

• History of PGP or SPD or lower back pain

• Experience with PGP or SPD during a previous pregnancy

• Previous experience of a multiple birth pregnancy

• Being overweight

It’s normal to be concerned if you’re experiencing symptoms related to PGP and SPD. However, having them doesn’t always mean they’ll start to worsen. Seeking the right treatment early on can help you manage them.

Will pelvic pain affect my labour and birth?

It’s possible to have a normal vaginal birth, even if you experience pelvic pain during pregnancy. It can be helpful to discuss this with your midwife and birthing partner. Make a note of the fact you have PGP/SPD in your birth plan. This informs the medical professionals who are going to be on hand to help you during your labour and birth.

Take time during your pregnancy to find comfortable birth positions. Once you find ones that you’re happy with you can add this to your plan and think about the type of birth you might want to have. Although it’s not for everyone, a water birth can support those with pelvic pain. Being in the water eases the weight off your joints which helps you move more freely. Speak to your midwife to find out if a water birth could be the right option for you.

How will a medical professional help ease my pelvic pain?

An early diagnosis can help ease pelvic pain and minimise long-term discomfort. You can ask your midwife to give you a referral to a physiotherapist who specialises in obstetric pelvic joint problems. Doing this may help ease your symptoms, while improving muscle function and your pelvic joint position and stability.

Some of the treatments your physiotherapist may suggest include:

• Manual therapy – a technique where your physiotherapist uses their hands to manipulate, massage and mobilise the body tissues to help relieve pain and stiffness and improve blood circulation

• Exercises in water

• Strengthening exercises for your pelvic floor, stomach, back and hip muscles

• Supportive equipment, such as crutches or a pelvic support belt

• Advice and suggestions regarding positions for labour and birth, looking after your baby and positions for sex

If your pelvic pain doesn’t completely clear whilst you’re pregnant, try not to worry. It’s likely that your symptoms will not fully go away until baby is born. However, treatment from an experienced practitioner can help provide relief, making it more manageable.

What can I do to ease pelvic pain at home?

You should always follow the medical advice of your midwife, GP, or physiotherapist. There are also some things that you can do at home to help ease your symptoms, such as:

• Wear supportive footwear

• Rest throughout the day

• Enlist the help of close family and friends with your daily activities

• Sleep in a comfortable position

• Remain seated as you get dressed

• Where possible, be active. Remain within your pain limits

• Tackle stairs one at a time. If you’re struggling, going up the stairs backwards or on your bottom may help

What should I avoid when experiencing pelvic pain in pregnancy?

If you’re experiencing pelvic pain during pregnancy it may help to avoid strenuous activities that could worsen your pain. Try planning your day ahead, so you can avoid daily activities that may accelerate your symptoms. Where possible, try and avoid:

• Carrying a baby on one hip

• Standing on one leg (for example, when you are getting changed)

• Crossing your legs

• Sitting on the floor

• Sitting or standing in the same position for prolonged periods

•  Lifting heavy items, such as shopping bags

• Carrying items in only one hand (using a backpack can help)

If you’re struggling to cope with the emotional impact of living with PGP or SPD, a physiotherapist should be able to give you the correct guidance on how to overcome this. They may suggest some relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises. If you want to try them out for yourself, take a look at our four must-try relaxation exercises to help you unwind.

If your pelvic pain is causing you a considerable amount of stress, speak to your GP or midwife.