Background:  Much is known about severe maternal morbidity during pregnancy, but there has been little attention paid to the impact of pregnancy itself on women’s general health and well‐being.
Aim:  To investigate women’s general health and well‐being in early pregnancy and examine the relationship between maternal age and women’s physical and mental health.
Method:  Cross‐sectional analysis of baseline data from a multicentre, prospective nulliparous pregnancy cohort study. The baseline questionnaire included the SF‐36 health status measure and individual items assessing a range of common maternal health issues.
Results:  A total of 1507 eligible women returned baseline questionnaires in early pregnancy (mean gestation 15 weeks, range 6–24 weeks) ranging from 18 to 49 years of age (mean age 30.1 years). Study participants reported significantly poorer health compared with age and gender‐standardised population means on all SF‐36 scales except general health. Two‐thirds of women (68%) reported three or more health issues, the most common being exhaustion (87%), nausea (64%), back pain (46%), constipation (44%) and severe headaches/migraines (30%). Younger women (18–24 years) had significantly lower SF‐36 scores (poorer self perceived health) compared with women ≥35 (P ≤ 0.03). After adjusting for socio‐demographic factors, maternal age remained significantly positively associated with women’s mental and physical component scores. Younger women reported significantly more health issues than women ≥35 (4.39 and 3.27, mean difference = 1.12, 95% CI 0.75–1.79, P < 0.001). Conclusions:  Common pregnancy symptoms have a marked impact on women’s physical and mental health in early pregnancy, with the greatest impact apparent for younger women.