How to Ease Pregnancy Aches and Pains

It's normal to have aches and pains during pregnancy, but not all treatments are safe. Here are some tips for coping with pregnancy discomfort.

pregnant woman with abdominal pain
Photo: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock 

It's not abnormal to have aches and pains when pregnant. And it makes sense, considering the enormous changes your body is experiencing—muscles stretch, bones spread, and babies get heavy. However, the things you may reach for when you're not pregnant may not be the best treatment during pregnancy.

So, be sure to talk to a health care provider about the discomfort you experience to be sure it falls within what's expected during pregnancy. Then, ask for help determining which treatments are safe. Read on for some tips for safely easing pregnancy-related pain and discomfort.

Over-the-Counter Pain Meds

Not all over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications are safe during pregnancy. For example, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like aspirin and naproxen (Aleve) are on the "no" list during pregnancy, except for cases where a health care provider has specifically prescribed it. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends against using NSAIDs after 20 weeks because they can cause rare but serious kidney problems in developing fetuses and lower amniotic fluid levels. They can also effect the fetal heart and prematurely close the ductus arteriosus.

Doctors consider acetaminophen (Tylenol) safer during pregnancy. However, like all drugs, it has the potential for side effects. For example, in 2021, Nature Reviews Endocrinology published a consensus statement calling for more research and awareness of the risks associated with the drug when used in pregnancy, including the risk of fetal neurodevelopmental disorders.

Even so, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) still identifies Tylenol as one of the only safe OTC pain medication options during pregnancy. ACOG says there is no clear evidence proving a direct relationship between acetaminophen and fetal developmental issues. Therefore, they advise pregnant people to use Tylenol sparingly and at the lowest dose possible, and only after consulting with a health care provider.


Massage can be beneficial if you are experiencing body aches like back pain. According to ACOG, massage is safe during pregnancy. Just avoid lying on your stomach, and try your side instead. Or you can look for a massage therapist with a table with a cut-out for your belly so you can safely lie face-down.

Look for a massage therapist with experience and training in prenatal massage. And avoid aromatherapy oils because they are highly concentrated and may be absorbed by your skin. Plus, once inhaled, the fumes can enter your bloodstream. So, it's best to stick with straight carrier oils, like almond or jojoba oil, without added scents.

Essential Oils

So, what about essential oils (EOs) during pregnancy for relaxation, congestion, nausea, or other aches and pains? Essential oils can carry significant risks, so you should be careful about using them without guidance from a health care provider.

According to a 2021 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, some essential oils can affect the pregnant person's reproductive system and fetal development. Risks include:

  • Miscarriage
  • Interference with reproductive hormones
  • Maternal toxicity
  • Fetal disabilities
  • Interference with fetal development

In addition, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) points out that skin is often more sensitive during pregnancy, and certain oils and aromas that you liked pre-pregnancy might now feel or smell horrid.

Since some EOs carry more risk than others, discussing their safety with a health care provider before using is best. Then, if you get the green light, always dilute essential oils; never apply them fully concentrated.

Safer choices

According to NAHA, some diluted essential oils might have less potential for possible adverse effects, including:

  • Chamomile
  • Eucalyptus
  • Frankincense
  • Geranium
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Rose
  • Sandalwood
  • Tea tree
  • Ylang ylang

Remember, "safer" does not mean without risk. Consult a health care provider to be sure it's advised in your situation. For example, some health conditions could make EOs riskier for some people.

EOs to avoid

Other EOs have known risks during pregnancy. According to NAHA, you should avoid the following when pregnant:

  • Camphor
  • Hyssop
  • Lavandula stoechas
  • Oak moss
  • Parsley seed
  • Rue
  • Sage
  • Wormwood

This is only a partial list, so again, only use essential oils under the guidance of a health care professional.


Heat can be very soothing to muscle aches and help you relax. You can use heat in the form of heating pads, hot water bottles, and warm baths to naturally soothe sore muscles, relieve headaches, and wind down.

However, you should avoid very high temperatures (for example, too-hot baths, hot tubs, and saunas). These can raise your core body temperature, which can be dangerous for your fetus.

Heating pads and hot water bottles are considered safe during pregnancy because they warm up the area you apply them to and not your core body temperature. Warm—not hot—baths are also fine.

And one other safety consideration to keep in mind: If you're further into your pregnancy, you may need support getting in and out of the tub. So, be sure someone is around to help if needed.

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