Hip pain during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, is a very common complaint women bring to their OB-GYNs. While many women find hip pain to be more of a nuisance than anything, some end up in excruciating and debilitating pain wondering if what they're experiencing is something that is a cause for concern. Although sometimes it is, most of the time, hip pain (varying from mild to intense) is very normal during pregnancy. Doctors have narrowed the most common causes down to three logical explanations: round ligament pain, sciatic nerve pain, and connective tissue stretching.
Round ligament pain occurs when the round ligament, which supports the uterus, grows and stretches as the baby gets larger and heavier. According to the American Pregnancy Association, pain is experienced when the ligament quickly contracts and releases. "Any movement (including going from a sitting to standing position quickly, laughing, [sneezing], or coughing)... can cause a woman to experience pain". With round ligament pain, the pain shouldn't last very long (only a few seconds or so) and it shouldn't be unbearable. To help alleviate the discomfort, many women find moving slowly when changing positions and bracing themselves by leaning forward prior to coughing, sneezing, or laughing helps because it puts less strain on the ligament. Some natural methods to help reduce round ligament pain can be found here.
The sciatic nerve is a nerve that runs from your lower back to your feet. The human body consists of two sciatic nerves (one running down each leg). During pregnancy, the pressure from the developing baby and growing uterus can press down on this nerve sending a signal that something is atypical. According to the APA, sciatica is usually diagnosed with the presence of pain, numbness, or a tingling sensation in the buttocks, hips, and thighs. As your baby grows and moves around, the presence of the pain and discomfort should shift depending on his/her position. All in all, sciatica is very normal during pregnancy but is still something that should be brought up to your doctor. The APA warns that there are other serious causes of sciatica other than pregnancy.
If you find your pain occurs when you lay still for any length of time or when you are doing a lot of physical exercise, your pain may be due to connective tissue stretching. This pain can vary from slightly uncomfortable to almost paralyzing (especially trying to get out of bed in the middle of the night or in the morning). The APA explains that "during pregnancy, your body releases hormones that allow connective tissue to relax and soften. As a result of this, the joints and ligaments between the bones in your pelvis will begin to loosen". Pelvic girdle pain is another name used for this sort of discomfort (read more about it here).
The best ways to reduce hip pain during pregnancy is heat and massage. If that doesn't work, speak with your doctor about taking acetaminophen to help ease the symptoms. As your baby grows, your body is preparing a little more every day for his/her exit. Unfortunately, this means your hips need to widen and open up for that to occur. Remember, always speak with your doctor about any pain you are experiencing during pregnancy because pregnancy can often mask other hidden problems.