Your body goes through so many changes throughout the nine months of your pregnancy, but when symptoms start to creep up—a strange sensation in your belly, pain in your leg, or abnormal discharge, for example—you might start to worry.
Take a deep breath. Most women have healthy pregnancies and deliver healthy babies. Nevertheless, it’s important to know which symptoms might warrant a call to your doctor and which are perfectly normal.
1. Spotting and bleeding.
“Whenever there is any bleeding in pregnancy, you have to know where the source is,” said Dr. Francis Chang, OB/GYN at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, Calif.
During the first 8 weeks of pregnancy, spotting is usually a normal sign that the embryo is implanting in the uterus.
The bleeding could also be from a vaginal tear if you recently had sex or a cervical infection—neither of which are harmful to your pregnancy.
If you have spotting and pain, it might mean you have an ectopic pregnancy. Bleeding could also indicate that your cervix is getting shorter or opening up, you had a miscarriage, or a warning sign of placenta previa. Regardless of what you think it might be, it’s a good idea to call your doctor.
Many first time moms worry about Braxton Hicks contractions, which unlike labor contractions are painless and irregular, said Dr. James Bernasko, an OB/GYN in the division of maternal-fetal medicine at Stony Brook University Hospital in New York.
Braxton Hicks contractions can happen during the second trimester but are more common in the third. If you’re also dehydrated, you might feel them as well.
Before 24 weeks, contractions could also mean that you have a urinary tract or yeast infection. If your contractions are painful or regular, call your doctor.
3. Your baby’s movements have slowed or stopped.
Between 17 and 18 weeks, you’ll start to feel your baby move, although it will probably feel like a flutter. Your baby’s movements (and kicks!) will get stronger and around 24 weeks, you might notice that he’s quiet during the day and more active at night.
If your baby’s movements have slowed, drink a cup of ice water or orange juice.
“A temperature change or a sudden rush of sugar will cause the baby to move,” Chang said.
Or lie on your side for 5 minutes twice a day and count your baby’s movements. If you have less than 5 in a half hour, call your doctor.
4. Leg pain.
Pregnancy increases your chances for deep vein thrombosis, a condition that causes blood clots and can be life-threatening. The increase in progesterone that causes veins in the legs to expand and the increase in blood supply can cause blood flow to the legs to slow down, Chang said. If you have pain in your calf, air on the side of caution and call your doctor.
Between 14 and 23 percent of women suffer from depression during pregnancy, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If you have depression now, your chances of having postpartum depression are higher too. Talk to your provider who can make a referral to a mental health professional.
About 70 to 80 percent of women will have swelling in the feet, legs, face and hands during pregnancy. If you also have high blood pressure or headaches, you could have preeclampsia.
7. Vaginal discharge.
It’s normal to have an increase in clear discharge during pregnancy, but if there is also blood, or you have pressure or pain, tell your doctor. During the second trimester, these symptoms could mean your cervix is opening up early which could cause a miscarriage.
8. Chills with fever.
“Any kind of fever with pain has to be taken seriously,” Bernasko said.
Depending on where the pain is, you could have a kidney infection, listeria, or pneumonia, which are all serious during pregnancy.
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, stress or cutting down on caffeine can make them worse.
Although they’re usually nothing to worry about, headaches during the second or third trimesters could be a sign of preeclampsia especially if you never had them before and they’re severe, Bernasko said.
10. Shortness of breath.
The rise in progesterone and your growing belly can make it feel like you can’t catch your breath. It’s completely normal but in rare cases, it could be a symptom of a pulmonary embolism, heart disease or lung disease. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.