Some pregnancy symptoms are more of a concern than others. Here’s a rundown of which bothersome symptoms are actually normal and which might be a concern.
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If there’s one thing you can count on in pregnancy, it’s that you’ll have a few symptoms you weren’t expecting. While the nausea, cravings and tendency to cry as you watch Emmerdale are standard, some symptoms ring a few alarm bells. Here’s what you should keep an eye on.
Is it normal to have abdominal or stomach pain in pregnancy?
Abdominal pain, aches and cramps are common for pregnant women and usually nothing to worry about. The main cause of abdominal pain is ligaments stretching with the pregnancy.
Pain can be eased by lying down on the side opposite to the pain, having a warm bath, using a hot water bottle and moving more slowly (Aguilera, 2015).
When might stomach pain might be a concern?
Contact your midwife or GP immediately if your pain doesn’t go away after a few minutes rest or if you also have:
- blood in your wee
- pain or a burning sensation when you wee
- vaginal discharge that seems out of the ordinary
Is it normal to have bleeding or spotting in pregnancy?
First, don’t panic. Vaginal bleeding in the early stages of pregnancy is common and doesn’t always indicate to problem (RCOG, 2016; NHS, 2018a).
Early pregnancy bleeding can be down to spotting, cervical changes, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy (NHS, 2018a). In later pregnancy, vaginal bleeding may be due to cervical changes, vaginal infections, a ‘show’, placental abruption or a low-lying placenta (placenta praevia) (NHS, 2018a).
When might bleeding be a concern?
While bleeding is common, bleeding and/or pain can be a warning sign of a miscarriage or other complications so it is important that you immediately contact your GP or midwife, your local Early Pregnancy Assessment Service, NHS 111 or A&E it's severe (RCOG, 2016; NHS, 2018a).
It’s important to find out the cause of bleeding so your doctor or midwife will ask about other symptoms like cramping, pain and dizziness. You may also need to undergo a vaginal or pelvic examination, an ultrasound scan or blood tests to check your hormone levels (NHS, 2018a).
Is it normal to have headaches during pregnancy?
Headaches are common during pregnancy but they usually improve or stop in the second and third trimester. You can take paracetamol if you need to but get advice from a pharmacist, midwife or GP about how much to take and for how long (NHS, 2018a).
To help prevent more headaches:
- drink plenty of fluids
- get enough sleep
- rest and relax
Although most pregnancy headaches are innocent, they can be more serious or indicate an underlying heath condition like pre-eclampsia (RCOG, 2014).
When might headaches be a concern?
Call your midwife, GP or NHS 111 immediately if you get any of the following symptoms as they could be symptoms of pre-eclampsia:
- a very severe headache
- a problem with vision such as blurring or flashing lights in your eyes
- severe pain just below ribs
- sudden swelling in your face, hands or feet
Is it normal to have swelling in pregnancy?
Gradual swelling in the legs, ankles, feet and fingers (oedema) is normal during pregnancy and isn’t harmful (though it can be uncomfortable). Swelling is usually caused by more water staying in your body than usual. Swelling tends to get worse further into your pregnancy and at the end of the day, when water has gathered in the lowest parts of the body.
Here are some tips to avoid swelling.
- Avoid standing for long stretches of time.
- Choose comfortable footwear.
- Put your feet up.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Do foot exercises. Sitting or standing, bend up then point down your foot 30 times, and circle each foot eight times in each direction
Is it normal to have shortness of breath in pregnancy?
Breathlessness is a common problem in pregnancy that may start in the first or second trimester. You are more likely to feel breathless if you have gained a lot of weight or are expecting more than one baby. Breathlessness can last until you are nearly ready to give birth. It won’t harm your baby but can be annoying for you. Try these tips to help ease your breathlessness:
- Keep in an upright position.
- Do light exercise such as walking or swimming.
When might shortness or breath be a concern?
If you’re suffering from tiredness and palpitations as well as breathlessness, it can be a sign of low iron levels in your blood. Make sure you discuss these symptoms with your midwife.
Is it normal to have leg cramps in pregnancy?
You’ll know you’re suffering from leg cramps if you get a sudden, sharp pain, usually in your calf muscles or feet. It will often happen at night and in the later stages of pregnancy but no-one quite knows why (NHS, 2017; NHS, 2018d).
Usually, cramps go away on their own but stretching and massaging the muscle might help the pain to lessen (NHS, 2017). You could also try pulling your toes hard up towards the ankle or rubbing the muscle hard (NHS, 2018d).
Regular gentle exercises in pregnancy involving ankle and leg movements will help with circulation and might prevent cramp. See the foot exercises above (in the swelling section) and repeat on both feet (NHS, 2018d).
This page was last reviewed in March 2018
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Aguilera PA. (2015) Pregnancy, round ligament pain. Available from: www.emedicinehealth.com [Accessed 1st March 2018].
Kilpatrick CC. (2018) Approach to acute abdominal pain in pregnant and postpartum women. UpToDate. Available from: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/approach-to-acute-abdominal-pain-in-p… [Accessed 1st March 2018].
RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists). (2014) Information for you: premature labour. Available from: www.rcog.org.uk [Accessed 1st March 2018].
NHS. (2017) Leg cramps. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/leg-cramps/ [Accessed 1st March 2018].
NHS. (2018a) Vaginal bleeding in pregnancy. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/vaginal-bleeding-pregnant/ [Accessed 1st March 2018].
NHS. (2018b) Headaches in pregnancy. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/headaches-pregnant/ [Accessed 1st March 2018].
NHS. (2018c) Swollen ankles, feet and fingers in pregnancy. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/swollen-ankles-feet-pregnant/ [Accessed 1st March 2018].
NHS. (2018d) Common health problems in pregnancy. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/common-pregnancy-problems/ [Accessed 1st March 2018].
RCOG. (2016) Bleeding and/or pain in early pregnancy. Available from: https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/pregnancy/pi-bleeding-and-or-pain-in-early-pregnancy.pdf [Accessed 1st March 2018].
RCOG. (2014) Healthcare professionals must be aware of the signs, symptoms and appropriate response to rarer causes of headaches. Available from: https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/news/tog-release-healthcare-professionals-must-be-aware-of-the-signs-symptoms-and-appropriate-response-to-rarer-causes-of-headaches/ [Accessed 1st March 2018].