Pregnancy is not just an expanding waistline. Hormonal changes during pregnancy bring a lot of changes in the body that pop up from time to time.
About half of all pregnant women experience nausea and sometimes vomiting –commonly called morning sickness – in the first trimester. Mood swings, sleep problems, lower back pain and swelling in the feet are also common discomforts associated with pregnancy.
But no matter how much you have read up on pregnancy, or how much advice you get from your mother or other elder family members, there are some pregnancy symptoms that should set off alarm bells.
It’s important, especially if you’re pregnant for the first time, to know which symptoms should be brought to your doctor’s attention to ensure the safety of yourself as well as your unborn baby.
Here are 10 pregnancy symptoms that you should not ignore.
1. Reduced Fetal Movement
Between 17 and 18 weeks, most mothers start to feel their baby move. Baby movements get stronger around 24 weeks. Many pregnant women even notice that their babies are more active at certain times of the day, as the fetus begins adapting to a more regular sleep-wake cycle.
But if your baby’s movements have slowed or stopped all of a sudden and you cannot feel any movement for hours, see your doctor immediately.
A long absence of movement can signal low amniotic fluid, which may mean the mother is simply dehydrated and drinking plenty of water will resolve the problem.
At times, a rupture in the amniotic sac can lead to leakage of the amniotic fluid causing decrease in fetal movement due to problems with nutrition and oxygen for the embryo. Plus, it increases the risk of infection.
Reduced baby movement after the 38th week of pregnancy may raise the need for induced delivery to prevent the danger of the umbilical cord getting compressed, cutting off blood flow to the baby.
A reduction in a baby’s movements should be taken seriously and brought to your doctor’s attention. Many women who have had stillbirths noticed their baby’s movements had slowed down or stopped.
2. Spotting and Bleeding
Vaginal spotting or bleeding during pregnancy can make any woman freak out. Just a spot of blood is nothing to worry about. Spotting is usually a normal sign that the embryo is implanting in the uterus.
But heavy bleeding should not be ignored. It can be a sign of something serious — miscarriage, placental abruption or placenta previa.
A 2009 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology reports that heavy bleeding in the first trimester, particularly when accompanied by pain, is associated with higher risk of miscarriage. On the other hand, spotting and light episodes are not, especially if only lasting one to two days.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Family and Reproductive Health reports that vaginal bleeding in the first trimester of pregnancy may predict further maternal and fetal complications.
The study also reports that second-trimester bleeding and preterm labor were significantly more prevalent in pregnant women with first-trimester bleeding.
Regardless of what may be causing spotting or bleeding during pregnancy, it’s a good idea to call your doctor.
3. Vaginal Discharge
It’s normal to have an increase in clear vaginal discharge during pregnancy. But a significant increase in vaginal discharge or a change in the type of discharge, such as discharge that has become watery or contains blood, means it’s time to see your doctor.
During the second trimester, an increase in vaginal discharge may mean the cervix is opening up early. This can be an early sign of miscarriage.
If you are leaking fluid from your vagina before 37 weeks, it may mean that your water has broken early and it’s time for your baby to come into this world.
After 37 weeks of pregnancy, an increase in mucus discharge indicates that it’s time to go into labor soon.
Any fever during pregnancy must be taken seriously. A fever can be associated with a number of reasons ranging from kidney infection or pneumonia. Irrespective of the cause, a fever during pregnancy by your doctor as it can have adverse effects on the health of the pregnant woman as well as the unborn baby.
In a 2014 study published in Pediatrics, researchers did a meta-analysis of studies on fevers during pregnancy and health impacts in the offspring. They found that a fever during pregnancy was associated with increased health problems among babies, such as neural tube defects, congenital heart defects and oral clefts.
The study suggested between a 1.5- and nearly 3-fold increased risk with fever exposure in the first trimester.
If your temperature is above 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit (37.5 degrees Celsius) and you don’t have any flu or cold symptoms, call your doctor immediately. A fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) for a prolonged period of time is harmful for the unborn baby.
5. Severe or Persistent Abdominal Pain
Any kind of pain in your abdomen before the 37th week is a matter of concern and you must see your doctor immediately.
A pain on either side of the lower abdomen during the first trimester can mean that you have simply stretched a ligament. However, it can also indicate a miscarriage. Such pain during the second or third trimesters may indicate an ectopic pregnancy, premature labor or placental abruption.
Pain in the middle or upper abdomen, with or without nausea or vomiting, can be caused by severe indigestion, heartburn or even food poisoning. It can also be a sign of preeclampsia, a serious condition that requires immediate attention.
At times, abdominal pain may indicate an appendicitis, and a delay in diagnosing it increases the risk of fetal mortality.
6. Rapid Weight Gain
Weight gain during pregnancy is but obvious.
Although there are no set guidelines to decide the amount of weight gain considered normal during pregnancy, here are some weight gain recommendations for pregnant women by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- For pre-pregnancy BMI less than 18.5, expected weight gain during pregnancy is 28 to 40 pounds
- For pre-pregnancy BMI between 18.5 and 24.9, expected weight gain is 25 to 35 pounds
- For pre-pregnancy BMI between 25.0 and 29.9, expected weight gain is 15 to 25 pounds
- For pre-pregnancy BMI 30 or more, expected weight gain is 11 to 20 pounds
However, sudden weight gain during pregnancy could be dangerous as it is a key sign of a pregnancy complication called preeclampsia.
If you are suddenly gaining 4 or more pounds a week, then you need to see your doctor right away. Excess weight gain during pregnancy could also be a sign of gestational diabetes.
7. Leg Pain
If you are experiencing severe leg pain during the last stage of your pregnancy, take this problem seriously. Severe leg pain in pregnancy increases your chances for deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a condition that causes blood clots.
Due to the increase in progesterone hormones in the body, the veins in the legs expand. This increase in blood supply can cause blood flow to the legs to slow down, which in turn can cause blot clots.
According to a 2008 study published in American Family Physician, pregnancy is a risk factor for deep venous thrombosis, and risk is further increased with a personal or family history of thrombosis or thrombophilia.
A clot can form at any stage of pregnancy and up to six weeks after the birth. It can be fatal if the clot dislodges and travels to the lungs.
DVT is difficult to distinguish from the ordinary leg cramps of pregnancy. However, a sharp pain in your calf in only one leg is a clear sign that you need to talk to your doctor. Other signs include redness, swelling and the area feeling warm to the touch.
8. Persistent or Severe Headaches
Headaches are a very common complaint during pregnancy and are usually due to the drastic hormonal changes and the increase in your body’s blood volume.
Lack of sleep and mood swings can make them worse. Although minor headaches are usually nothing to worry about, having severe headaches during the second or third trimesters is something you need to talk about with your doctor.
A 2015 study published in Neurology reports that if a pregnant woman with high blood pressure and no history of headaches suddenly develops a headache that quickly gets worse, it is a matter of concern. This type of headache may indicate a risk for pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia, which puts both the mother and fetus at risk.
Besides a headache, symptoms of preeclampsia include high blood pressure, blurry vision or abdominal pain. However, some women are asymptomatic.
9. Constant Itching
Mild itching during pregnancy is nothing to worry about but if you experience severe and constant itching then it could be a sign of something serious. It can be caused by a liver condition called intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP), also known as obstetric cholestasis (OC).
According to the American Liver Foundation, this condition affects 1 or 2 pregnancies out of 1000. The exact cause of this condition is still not known but tends to run in families.
This condition slows the normal flow of bile, leading to a buildup of bile salts in the body. As a result, it leads to intense itching in the body, especially at night, and may also cause symptoms like fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, dark urine/pale stools, and jaundice.
Obstetric cholestasis is not harmful to the mother but it can contribute to serious complications for the baby. It is associated with an increased risk of preterm labor, stillbirth, fetal distress, etc.
The condition usually clears up after the delivery.
If you experience persistent itching on the palms, soles of the feet, or throughout the body, consult your doctor as soon as possible for timely diagnosis and treatment.
Snoring during pregnancy is common. In fact, many women only started to snore during their pregnancies. But this minor annoyance should be taken seriously, as it raises your risk for complications, including slowed fetal growth.
As the uterus and baby grow during pregnancy, the pressure on your diaphragm increases, which makes it difficult to breathe normally and causes snoring.
Plus, higher levels of hormones, particularly estrogen, cause the mucus membranes and nasal passages to swell. Furthermore, the increase in blood volume expands the blood vessels and also causes the nasal membranes to swell.
A 2013 study published in Sleep reports that pregnant women who snored three or more nights a week both before and during pregnancy had a higher risk of poor delivery outcomes, including cesarean births and delivering smaller babies.
Another study published in 2016 in PLOS ONE reports that of 3,079 pregnant women, 16.6 percent were habitual snorers, of which 11.7 percent were pregnancy-onset snorers and 4.9 percent were chronic snorers. Further studies are still needed to confirm these findings.
The study also found that chronic snorers were independently associated with gestational diabetes. Also, pregnancy-onset snorers were at higher risk of caesarean delivery and having macrosomia and large for gestational age infants.