Some women develop pelvic pain in pregnancy. This is sometimes called pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain (PGP) or symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD).
PGP is a collection of uncomfortable symptoms caused by a stiffness of your pelvic joints or the joints moving unevenly at either the back or front of your pelvis.
Symptoms of PGP
PGP is not harmful to your baby, but it can be painful and make it hard to get around.
Women with PGP may feel pain:
- over the pubic bone at the front in the centre, roughly level with your hips
- across 1 or both sides of your lower back
- in the area between your vagina and anus (perineum)
- spreading to your thighs
Some women feel or hear a clicking or grinding in the pelvic area.
The pain can be worse when you're:
- going up or down stairs
- standing on 1 leg (for example, when you're getting dressed)
- turning over in bed
- moving your legs apart (for example, when you get out of a car)
Most women with PGP can have a vaginal birth.
Non-urgent advice: Call your midwife or GP if you have pelvic pain and:
- it's hard for you to move around
- it hurts to get out of a car or turn over in bed
- it's painful going up or down stairs
These can be signs of pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain.
Important: Coronavirus (COVID-19) update
If you're well, it's really important you go to all your appointments and scans for the health of you and your baby.
If you're pregnant, hospitals and clinics are making sure it's safe for you to go to appointments.
If you get symptoms of COVID-19, or you're unwell with something other than COVID-19, speak to your midwife or maternity team. They will advise you what to do.
Treatments for PGP
Getting diagnosed as early as possible can help keep pain to a minimum and avoid long-term discomfort.
You can ask your midwife for a referral to a physiotherapist who specialises in obstetric pelvic joint problems.
Physiotherapy aims to relieve or ease pain, improve muscle function, and improve your pelvic joint position and stability.
This may include:
- manual therapy to make sure the joints of your pelvis, hip and spine move normally
- exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor, stomach, back and hip muscles
- exercises in water
- advice and suggestions, including positions for labour and birth, looking after your baby and positions for sex
- pain relief, such as TENS
- equipment, if necessary, such as crutches or pelvic support belts
These problems tend not to get completely better until the baby is born, but treatment from an experienced practitioner can improve the symptoms during pregnancy.
You can contact the Pelvic Partnership for information and support.
Coping with pelvic pain in pregnancy
Your physiotherapist may recommend a pelvic support belt to help ease your pain, or crutches to help you get around.
It can help to plan your day so you avoid activities that cause you pain. For example, do not go up or down stairs more often than you have to.
The Pelvic, Obstetric & Gynaecological Physiotherapy (POGP) network also offers this advice:
- be as active as possible within your pain limits, and avoid activities that make the pain worse
- rest when you can
- get help with household chores from your partner, family and friends
- wear flat, supportive shoes
- sit down to get dressed – for example, do not stand on 1 leg when putting on jeans
- keep your knees together when getting in and out of the car – a plastic bag on the seat can help you swivel
- sleep in a comfortable position – for example, on your side with a pillow between your legs
- try different ways of turning over in bed – for example, turning over with your knees together and squeezing your buttocks
- take the stairs 1 at a time, or go upstairs backwards or on your bottom
- if you're using crutches, have a small backpack to carry things in
- if you want to have sex, consider different positions, such as kneeling on all fours
POGP suggests that you avoid:
- standing on 1 leg
- bending and twisting to lift, or carrying a baby on 1 hip
- crossing your legs
- sitting on the floor, or sitting twisted
- sitting or standing for long periods
- lifting heavy weights, such as shopping bags, wet washing or a toddler
- pushing heavy objects, such as a supermarket trolley
- carrying anything in only 1 hand (try using a small backpack)
The physiotherapist should be able to provide advice on coping with the emotional impact of living with chronic pain, such as using relaxation techniques. If your pain is causing you considerable distress, then you should let your GP or midwife know. You may require additional treatment.
Download the POGP leaflet Pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain for mothers-to-be and new mothers.
You can get more information on managing everyday activities with PGP from the Pelvic Partnership.
Labour and birth with pelvic pain
Many women with pelvic pain in pregnancy can have a normal vaginal birth.
Plan ahead and talk about your birth plan with your birth partner and midwife.
Write in your birth plan that you have PGP, so the people supporting you during labour and birth will be aware of your condition.
Think about birth positions that are the most comfortable for you, and write them in your birth plan.
Being in water can take the weight off your joints and allow you to move more easily, so you might want to think about having a water birth. You can discuss this with your midwife.
Your 'pain-free range of movement'
If you have pain when you open your legs, find out your pain-free range of movement.
To do this, lie on your back or sit on the edge of a chair and open your legs as far as you can without pain.
Your partner or midwife can measure the distance between your knees with a tape measure. This is your pain-free range.
To protect your joints, try not to open your legs wider than this during labour and birth.
This is particularly important if you have an epidural for pain relief in labour, as you won't be feeling the pain that warns you that you're separating your legs too far.
If you have an epidural, make sure your midwife and birth partner are aware of your pain-free range of movement of your legs.
When pushing in the second stage of labour, you may find it beneficial to lie on one side.
This prevents your legs from being separated too much. You can stay in this position for the birth of your baby, if you wish.
Sometimes it might be necessary to open your legs wider than your pain-free range to deliver your baby safely, particularly if you have an assisted delivery (for example, with the vacuum or ventouse).
Even in this case, it's possible to limit the separation of your legs. Make sure your midwife and doctor are aware that you have PGP.
If you go beyond your pain-free range, your physiotherapist should assess you after the birth.
Take extra care until they have assessed and advised you.
Who gets pelvic pain in pregnancy?
It's estimated that PGP affects up to 1 in 5 pregnant women to some degree.
It's not known exactly why pelvic pain affects some women, but it's thought to be linked to a number of issues, including previous damage to the pelvis, pelvic joints moving unevenly, and the weight or position of the baby.
Factors that may make a woman more likely to develop PGP include:
- a history of lower back or pelvic girdle pain
- previous injury to the pelvis (for example, from a fall or accident)
- having PGP in a previous pregnancy
- a physically demanding job
- being overweight
- having a multiple birth pregnancy
healthtalk.org has interviews with women talking about their experiences of pelvic pain in pregnancy.
Read more about coping with common pregnancy problems, including nausea, heartburn, tiredness and constipation.