8 warning signs during pregnancy

What’s normal and what isn’t? Learn from specialists in women’s health and delivering babies

Pregnant woman talking to doctor

Being pregnant is like no other experience for your body. You really have no baseline for what things should feel like. And even if you’ve been pregnant before, no pregnancy is exactly like another. So how can you know what’s normal and what’s not?

We asked Jeffrey Boyle, M.D., a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Jessica Sedevie, M.D., a Sanford Health OB/GYN in Bismarck, North Dakota, about warning signs you should not ignore during pregnancy.

1. Vaginal bleeding after 12 weeks

Light spotting is normal before eight weeks as the embryo implants itself. You could also experience some spotting after sex or with a cervical infection.

Bleeding with pelvic pain could signal an ectopic pregnancy, and bleeding after 12 weeks can mean the cervix is shortening or dilating, which can lead to preterm birth or miscarriage.

Call your doctor if:

You have bleeding accompanied by pain or bleeding after 12 weeks.

Consult with a specialist: Maternal-fetal medicine from Sanford Health

2. Contractions

Contractions or abdominal cramping are common in pregnancy and can occur from the second trimester until childbirth. Braxton Hicks contractions are normal and do not typically change the cervix or indicate labor.

Braxton Hicks contractions usually:

  • Are painless
  • Feel like tightening or hardening of the uterus
  • Occur irregularly

Call your doctor if:

Your contractions are painful, regular or accompanied by any bleeding or spotting.

3. Decreased fetal movements

You should feel your baby’s movements by 18 weeks. At first, the movements will feel like fluttering but will get stronger as you get farther along.

Fetal movements after 28 weeks are usually more regular and more common at night than during the day. All pregnant people should monitor fetal movements. Starting at 28 weeks, count how long it takes to feel 10 movements. This should be done daily in the evening from 6 to 9 p.m.

Call your doctor if:

You don’t feel 10 movements within two hours.

4. Leg swelling and pain

Your body is constantly changing during pregnancy. This can put you at an increased risk for blood clots. Blood clots can be dangerous and require immediate treatment.

Call your doctor if:

You experience swelling and pain in one leg, especially in the calf. This can be a red flag for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE).

5. Severe swelling, headache, blurred vision, high blood pressure

In addition to signaling a possible blood clot, leg swelling can be a sign of high blood pressure in pregnancy, called preeclampsia, especially if accompanied by:

  • Severe headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Spots in your eyes
  • Abdominal pain

If you experience these symptoms, have your blood pressure checked.

Call your doctor if:

Your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher with these symptoms.

6. Pelvic pressure

As the baby grows, you will experience pelvic pressure and uterine stretching pains. You will also have a small amount of vaginal discharge during the pregnancy. This is usually normal.

Call your doctor if:

The pressure turns into pain and the discharge becomes bloody or increased in amount. You should get checked for possible cervical dilation and preterm labor in this case.

7. Pain with urinating or one-sided lower back (kidney) pain

Frequent urinating is common in pregnancy, but you should not feel pain when urinating or feel back pain on one side. These could be signs of a bladder or kidney infection. Bacteria in the bladder or kidney can result in a serious blood infection and preterm labor.

Call your doctor if:

You have pain with urinating or one-sided lower back pain.

8. Headaches

Hormone changes in pregnancy cause the blood vessels to dilate. This can result in headaches. A lack of sleep and discontinuing caffeine can also bring on more headaches.

In most cases, you can relieve headaches while pregnant with Tylenol.

Call your doctor if:

You experience severe headaches, especially occurring in the front or back of your head. Severe headaches can be a sign of preeclampsia, which may need additional testing or treatment.

Find a doctor: Sanford Women’s health specialists

Other warning signs in pregnancy

  • Blurry or impaired vision, which can be a sign of preeclampsia
  • Severe or persistent abdominal pain or tenderness as this can be preeclampsia, gallbladder disease or appendicitis
  • Excessive vomiting and diarrhea, especially if you’re losing weight, feel weak or can’t keep any fluids or food down
  • Fever over 101 degrees F or chills
  • Increase in vaginal discharge or a change in the type of discharge, especially a surge of watery vaginal discharge
  • Worsening anxiety or depression
  • Trauma to the abdomen from a car accident, fall or hit
  • Fainting, frequent dizziness or rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Severe itching of your abdomen, palms or the soles of your feet
  • Exposure to someone with the flu or if you have flu symptoms; flu symptoms include fever, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, fatigue, body aches and chills
  • Exposure to someone with chicken pox if you are not immune

Normal symptoms during pregnancy

Uncomfortable symptoms are a normal part of pregnancy. These may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting in the first trimester
  • Heartburn
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Sciatica, or nerve pain that shoots down from buttocks to legs
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome, which is pain and numbness in the thumb and fingers
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Constipation
  • Frequent urinating or incontinence
  • Round ligament pain, sharp groin pains or pain on the sides of the uterus with movement
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness with standing
  • Back pain
  • Leg swelling
  • Mild shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Nasal stuffiness
  • Nose and gum bleeds
  • Darkening of the skin on the abdomen and face
  • Small red rashes on the face, neck and chest
  • Redness of the palms
  • Varicose veins
  • Stretch marks
  • Yeast infections

While these symptoms are fairly normal, talk to your OB/GYN if they become severe. Together, you can develop a plan to ease your symptoms and help you have a happy and healthy pregnancy.

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Posted In Bismarck, Health Information, Pregnancy, Sioux Falls, Women's