The process of growing another human being is a magical one. At the end of it, lucky parents get to take their bundle of joy home with them for a lifetime of love and shared affection. Yet, pregnancy itself is a challenge like no other. For many expectant mothers it is filled with a whole host of not-so-wonderful symptoms that go far beyond the healthy glow and whirlwind of hormones.

From conception to the day of the birth, the female body goes through a bevy of major changes. Knowing what to expect from week to week from a changing body can be a great source of relief, whether you are a first-time parent or not. Each pregnancy is different, of course, but there are a variety of common side effects that many women are likely to experience.

Here we reveal just some of the common health problems to expect when expecting, so you can understand what your body is going through and seek assistance from your maternity team where necessary.

Backache

Backache is particularly common during pregnancy as your ligaments soften and stretch to prepare you for the impending birth of your child.

Your lower back and pelvis will be most affected. As your pregnancy progresses and the weight of your baby increases, symptoms are likely to worsen. There are several steps that you can take to protect your back and limit pain. Avoid lifting heavy objects where possible and even when moving light items take extra care to bend your knees and keep your back straight to prevent injury. Wearing flat shoes is also recommended during pregnancy as high heels can exacerbate the discomfort caused by spinal curvature.

Keeping your back supported, especially when sitting or sleeping, is vital. Rest is the key to preventing back pain, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy.

Cramp

The sudden onset of cramp can be extremely scary during pregnancy. Sudden, sharp pain can be experienced at any stage and in almost any part of your body. Cramp in the feet and calf muscles is particularly common during the night and can often require regular, gentle exercise to alleviate these most painful of symptoms. By ensuring that your muscles are stretched and circulation is good can keep cramp problems to a minimum. For this reason, many expectant mothers take up pregnancy Pilates in the months before their due date.

Incontinence

Common both during and after pregnancy, incontinence or the need to urinate more frequently are uncomfortable symptoms that can be prevented. Exercising your pelvic floor muscles should be an essential part of your daily routine. These simple exercises work to support your bladder and bowel, and prevent the weakened pelvic floor muscles that are common with age or after you have children. Weakened pelvic floor muscles put you at risk of incontinence, reduced sexual sensitivity and pelvic organ prolapse. But by completing pelvic floor or kegel exercises you can keep everything in working order and reduce the risk of incontinence after the birth of your baby.

If you are urinating frequently and experiencing pain or passing blood in your urine, then you may have a urinary tract infection. It is recommended that you see your GP within 24 hours of noticing these symptoms so appropriate treatment can be given. Medication will usually be offered. Please note that any medication taken during pregnancy should be approved by a GP, trusted pharmacist or midwife before use.

Heartburn

The hormonal changes in your body will be responsible for a number of side effects during pregnancy, including indigestion, heartburn and acid reflux. Around 80% of women experience these symptoms during pregnancy, particularly during the latter stages when the womb begins to put pressure on the stomach.

Easing the discomfort of heartburn and other symptoms of indigestion (these include feeling uncomfortably full, nausea, burping, gas and bloating) may require an expectant mother to change their eating habits to avoid any heartburn triggers. There are also a number of prescription heartburn medicines on the market – however, it is always important to check with your GP or pharmacist that medication is safe to take during pregnancy.

Nausea

Vomiting is experienced by many women during pregnancy, and whilst morning sickness is common, symptoms usually ease by week 16 to 20. Morning sickness does not put your baby at risk but if you find that symptoms persist into the second or third trimester, it may be necessary to seek help and advice from your GP, pharmacist or midwife if symptoms persist or you experience a more severe form of nausea, known as hyperemesis gravidarum (HG).