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Should I be concerned? 17 pregnancy symptoms you shouldn't ignore


There are so many new sensations, from aches and pains to severe headache, that it’s hard to know what you should mention to your midwife or doctor and what to put up with.

As a midwife I constantly tell my clients it’s always worth asking a professional. Just because your colleague once had an itch and was told not to worry by her GP, or your cousin had bleeding all through her pregnancy and everything was fine, it doesn’t mean you should ignore what’s happening with your body.

It is much better that your health care provider is aware of what you’re going through and can determine whether further investigation is warranted or can provide you with the reassurance you can trust.

Just because something is common, it doesn’t mean it’s OK for your individual set of circumstances.

It’s not a definitive list, there are other reasons you might seek a medical opinion, but these are some of the most common issues we see in a maternity hospital.

This list is not designed to add to your anxious thoughts about what might potentially become a problem. It’s aim is to let you know when it’s important to get checked to be on the safe side, when the alternative is a full range of conflicting recommendations depending on who you ask.

And also thinking about these symptoms in a more holistic way- just because something is so common it’s considered a normal part of pregnancy, it doesn’t mean there isn’t something you can do to help reduce the impact it’s having on your life.

1. A high temperature

Being pregnant can make some people feel generally warmer, but your temperature will remain within the normal range.

If you feel feverish, or your temperature is recorded at more than 37.5 C it is likely your body is fighting an infection. Even if you don’t have any idea what might be causing it, you should call your care provider and ask for further advise. It might be a minor respiratory infection like mild flu, or it might be the start of something more serious.

If you feel cold, shivery, and generally very ill you don’t need to check your temperature before seeking medical help.

It’s likely your temperature will be more than 38 degrees when you have these symptoms, and you should call your midwife, doctor, or hospital straight away. Urgent treatment and /or further tests may be required.

Having a high temperature for a long time (regardless of what’s causing it) may be harmful to your baby.

And these days the possibility of a high temperature being a symptom of Covid-19 will be flagged by your hospital- generally they will have policies in place for triaging possible cases. Giving your hospital or doctor’s surgery advanced warning of your arrival may help streamline your care

2. Leaking any fluid from your vagina

In the movies when your membranes rupture there is always a puddle on the floor followed by a rush to the hospital. In reality there is often less water and more confusion, about what has happened. Everyday maternity hospitals around the world see at least one person who suspects their waters have broken, only to be told on examination that it’s a little bit of pee. As your baby gets bigger and takes up more space there is less room for a full bladder- it doesn’t take much pressure, perhaps a vigorous movement from the baby, to allow a bit of urine to leak.

Equally I’d guestimate that every hospital will see a woman who wasn’t sure that the dampness she’s been feeling for the past week was anything to be concerned about, so she didn’t tell her care provider. Only to find out it has been risking an infection to her and her baby by not having it checked out.

It is possible for your membranes to break at any stage in your pregnancy, so it’s always worth getting confirmation- especially if you are earlier than 37 weeks pregnant.

For many women vaginal discharge may increase during pregnancy, and this is probably normal. However, a thick white discharge might be a sign of candida (thrush) especially if associated with irritation. Any discharge that has an unpleasant smell might indicate some kind of infection. Most infections can be quickly and easily treated – especially if detected early.

3. Bleeding from your vagina

Light bleeding (often called spotting) is common in early pregnancy. Most often it occurs as a one off and never happens again. For some women it may happen several times at different stages of pregnancy and can resolve with no obvious effects for you or your baby.

Even though it’s most likely to be nothing to worry about, you should consult with your midwife or doctor.

These are some of the times you should seek urgent medical attention:

If you have pain as well as bleeding. This might be back pain or abdominal pain.

If you feel your uterus (or abdomen) tighten even briefly, maybe on and off or constant.

If its bright red blood- like you’d expect if you cut yourself. (Often spotting, or a small amount of blood, may look pink or even brown this might indicate that there isn’t much blood, or the bleeding happened a while ago and isn’t continuing)

If you have heavy bleeding. The amount of blood loss is usually hard to guess so wear a sanitary pad and take whatever replace with you to the hospital so the staff can make a better assessment.

Bleeding is always a stressful situation when you are pregnant. There are occasions when it is sign of some serious complications but the majority of the time it resolves by itself and after some monitoring your pregnancy can continue on.

4. A persistent headache

If you have taken measures to resolve a headache like, drank more water to rule out dehydration, and taken some analgesia like paracetamol and your headache still persists, or has been recurring over a few days it may be a sign of something more serious. If you have a headache and any of these additional signs: High blood pressure, swelling in your hands and feet, shadows/flashing/floaters in your vision or pain under or around your ribs, let your midwife or doctor know the same day.

5. Contractions before 37 weeks gestation

If this is your first pregnancy you might be unsure what contractions feel like, but you shouldn’t ignore tightening of your abdomen, either with or without period type pain or cramping. It is possible that it’s Braxton Hicks the practice contractions that are very normal toward the end of pregnancy. But it’s also possible that it’s preterm labour. Don’t wait- call your midwife or doctor and ask for their advice.

6. Persistent nausea and/or vomiting

So many women experience severe nausea in pregnancy that it can be easy to think it’s something you have to put up with. Even if you are not vomiting you might be dehydrated by limiting your fluid intake, and suffering from insufficient nutritional intake. It’s more urgent if you haven’t kept any food down for a while but seek medical advice rather than soldier on, don’t rely on general advice about how much is safe – your set of circumstances are unique.

It might be pregnancy related or it might be a sign of stomach bug or food poisoning. Whatever the cause you can receive treatment to relieve the symptoms.

7. Generalised itching

Many women experience dry and itchy skin especially toward the end of their pregnancy and often on their abdomen as the skin stretches over the growing bump.

In many instances mild itching is nothing to worry about. However, if your itching is more severe, especially at night and particularly if your hands and feet are involved it may be a sign of a liver condition that needs to be monitored.

Other possible signs to look out for are darker urine and paler poos and maybe even some jaundice but don’t wait for these before you seek a medical opinion.

8. Pain in your chest

Always remember that pain is your body’s way of drawing your attention to an issue.

There are several possible causes for pain under or around your rib area.

Most common is indigestion/heartburn when your baby grows there is less room for your internal organs- whilst this is uncomfortable it is rarely a concerning symptom. You could reduce the amount you drink at mealtimes, or try a small shot of milk to relieve symptoms, sleeping sitting with your shoulders raised might be beneficial. Orr you could take some antacid medication.

Persistent discomfort in the middle or right side, of your chest, requires urgent investigation. It is a possible sign of pre-eclampsia and should not be ignored.

9. Pain in your abdomen

Most commonly in the third trimester women report pain on both sides of their lower abdomen, top of the thighs. It’s often ligament discomfort as your uterus grows and stretches, but you shouldn’t dismiss any painful symptoms. You might benefit from some physiotherapy or compression garments under professional guidance.

Alternatively, the pain may be a symptom of something more serious. It might be preterm labour or a sign of something else. Whether your pain is one sided, is intermittent, is persistent or only mild- you should seek medical advice.

Don’t ignore pain- listen to your body, get it checked out!

10. Visual disturbances

This might be described as flashing lights, spots, double vision, or blurred vision. Any are possible signs of pre-eclampsia. Especially if you know you have high blood pressure, or if you also have a headache, get an urgent medical assessment.

11. Feeling unusually thirsty

It’s not uncommon for pregnant women to describe feeling warmer and more prone to headaches. If the weather is warmer or you’ve been too busy to drink it’s likely that you are dehydrated, you’d expect your urine to be dark and less volume.

But if you suddenly have an increased thirst and are weeing more than normal for you it may be a sign of gestational diabetes. There are further tests that can confirm this. Gestational diabetes has several potential serious consequences for your baby’s growth and development so it’s important to get it checked- even if its after you’ve previously had a normal GTT. (Glucose Tolerance Test, a standard diagnostic test for diabetes)

12. Swelling in hands and feet

Another very common symptom in pregnancy especially in the warmer months and towards the end of pregnancy. It can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. Maybe your rings no longer fit or your shoes are too tight. As with lots of other signs it might be just an inconvenience or a sign of something more serious.

If the onset is sudden or worsening speak to your midwife or doctor.

13. Pain in one leg

Pregnant women are at increased risk of developing blood clots. This risk is even greater if you are older, overweight, have a sedentary lifestyle or have other predisposing factors such as being a smoker.

If you have pain in your leg (it’s most likely to be only in one leg) it’s sensible to get it checked. It’s possible that your leg may be tender to touch, or have some localised warmth, swelling and redness, but not necessarily. DVT’s (deep vein thrombosis) can have serious consequences and your risk stays high after your baby is born especially if you’ve had reduced mobility following a caesarean birth.

14. Pain when you wee

If you’ve previously experienced a urinary tract infection (UTI) you may be aware of the tell-tale signs; pain or burning sensation, high temperature maybe with shivers, bladder leakage, frequent urge to go, and cloudy or smelly urine. You don’t have to have all these signs when suffering a UTI. UTI’s can be easily treated with antibiotics. You can also get symptomatic relief by drinking a lot of water to keep the urine diluted. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor early so they can confirm the diagnosis. And don’t forget to take some probiotics to help restore your gut health after taking antibiotics.

15. Fainting

Feeling dizzy is another common symptom of pregnancy, it might be as simple as not having eaten enough or drunk enough water, but it may be a sign of low blood pressure. You could try drinking more fluid but it’s something you should talk to your care provider about. If you do actually faint you should get a health assessment the same day

16. The pattern of your baby’s moving suddenly changes

This is often a tricky one to ascertain because there is such a range of normal. But whether your baby moves a lot less, or a lot more, than is usual for them it’s a good idea to have a health assessment. Sometimes we have just had a busy day and been too busy to notice how much movement there has been. Initially when you first notice the movements have changed take about 30 minutes to sit or lie down on your side and focus on your baby and their movements. After that time call your midwife or doctor and follow their advice. You will often be asked to go to hospital for your baby to be monitored and the most common outcome will be that you will be reassured and can go home. However sometimes your baby’s change in movements might be a sign that they are unwell or in distress, there is a small possibility that you will advised that birth should be expedited. And depending on the level of concern you may be advised to have labour induced or have a caesarean birth.

17. If you are in a car accident, or if you fall or hit your bump.

It’s always advisable to get a check-up if you experience any of these whether you have any noticeable effects or not. However, if you then experience any of the above symptoms in particular bleeding, abdominal or back pain or tenderness, fluid leaking, contractions, or a change in your baby’s movement pattern you should be assessed as a matter of urgency.

And finally, you should know that you don’t have to have a reason, if you just feel like something isn’t right you can trust your intuition.

If you call and speak to a midwife or doctor, they can make the decision whether you should seek further medical assessment based on your symptoms, your gestation, and your individual situation.

Remember a phone call is not putting anyone out. Your health is everyone’s priority. Don’t ever think you are worrying unnecessarily unless you have been told not to worry by a health professional.

Midwife led Australia wide antenatal and hypnobirthing class

I have over 20 years experience as a midwife in the UK and Australia, working in both private and public hospitals. I have helped thousands of women in every scenario, from homebirths and water-births, births with complex issues, intervention, and caesarean births.

I am passionate about supporting women and families to be as relaxed and confident as they can be, whatever the circumstances. I have spent 20 years working in the Birth Centre and for the past few years have been an educator as part of the Child Birth Education Team. This means I am up to date with current research, policies and procedures when it comes to all things birth related.

In addition, I am a government accredited Clinical Hypnotherapist, with an Honours degree in Psychology. In my private practice I specialise in treating anxiety, trauma, fertility issues, pain management and phobias, as well as hypnobirthing techniques.

Bringing together these sets of skills, knowledge, and experience I can guide and prepare you to have the positive birth experience that you desire.

What A Focused Birth childbirth education offers you

  • Comprehensive antenatal classes developed and facilitated live by a registered Midwife and Childbirth educator
  • Access to additional resources and recommended reading
  • Toolbox of relaxation techniques, coping strategies, active birth principles
  • Breathing techniques
  • In depth breastfeeding information
  • Chance to ask questions relevant to your individual circumstances
  • Birth Preference Customisable Template
  • Comprehensive customisable ‘What to pack’ lists
  • Huge list of positive affirmations to choose from
  • Opportunity to address personal issues, such as previous traumatic experiences
  • Opportunity to upgrade to include individual hypnotherapy sessions
Justine Daly, Midwife and Childbirth educator

Online antenatal and hypnobirthing class
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Next live course starts Saturday Aug 17

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