Symptoms
 

 

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Pregnancy symptoms: Which ones to watch out for

Some pregnancy symptoms are more of a concern than others. Here’s a rundown of what you should flag up to your midwife.

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.

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). 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
  • bleeding
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • chills.

Painful stomach cramps could be a sign of miscarriage if accompanied by bleeding or ectopic pregnancy. They could also be something unrelated to pregnancy.

Bleeding in pregnancy

First, don’t panic. Vaginal bleeding in the early stages of pregnancy is common and doesn’t always indicate to problem. However, bleeding and/or pain can be a warning sign of a miscarriage or other complications so it is important that you contact your GP or midwife immediately (RCOG 2016; NHS Choices 2018a).

Your early pregnancy bleeding can be down to spotting, cervical changes, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. 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 Choices, 2018a).

It’s important to find out the cause of bleeding so your GP or midwife will ask about other symptoms like cramp, 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 Choices, 2018a).

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 Choices, 2018a).

To help prevent more headaches:

  • drink plenty of fluids
  • get enough sleep
  • rest and relax. (NHS Choices, 2018a)

Although most pregnancy headaches are innocent, they can be more serious or indicate an underlying heath condition like pre-eclampsia (RCOG, 2014).

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
  • vomiting
  • sudden swelling in your face, hands or feet. (NHS Choices, 2018a)

Leg discomfort 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. (NHS Choices, 2018c)

Breathlessness and 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.

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.

Leg cramps and pain 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 Choices, 2017; NHS Choices, 2018d).

Usually, cramps go away on their own but stretching and massaging the muscle might help the pain to lessen (NHS Choices, 2017). You could also try pulling your toes hard up towards the ankle or rubbing the muscle hard (NHS Choices, 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 leg discomfort section) and repeat on both feet (NHS Choices, 2018d).

This page was last reviewed in March 2018

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.