10 Pregnancy symptoms to call your doctor about
You feel all sorts of things when you’re growing a new human. Find out which ones are normal — and which aren’t.
When you’re pregnant, it’s natural to be on high alert for signs of anything unusual with your body. And there might be a lot of them. After all, your body is going through some big changes that can spark some strange symptoms. Think nosebleeds, a stronger sense of smell, and middle-of-the-night leg cramps.
It’s not always easy to know what’s normal and what’s cause for worry. When you’re not sure, always reach out to your medical provider. “It’s very important to be a part of your healthcare team and not be afraid to ask questions,” says Kirby Adlam. She’s a certified nurse midwife at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “If something doesn’t feel right, always follow your instincts. Ask to be evaluated.”
Of course, every pregnancy is different. But there are some symptoms that no one should ignore. Here are 10 symptoms to watch for and tell your doctor about right away so they can help keep you and your baby healthy.
1. Vaginal Bleeding
Light bleeding during pregnancy isn’t always something to worry about. “It could be something as simple as spotting after having sex. The cervix is softer during pregnancy and can bleed easily,” says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D. Dr. Minkin is a clinical professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine.
But if you have any kind of vaginal bleeding when you’re pregnant, especially combined with cramping, call your doctor. “It could be a sign of bleeding from the placenta or premature labor if you’re not at term,” Dr. Minkin says.
2. Heavy Vomiting
Unfortunately, vomiting and pregnancy go hand in hand for many people. But if you can’t keep any food or liquids down for 24 hours, that’s a problem. It could lead to dehydration, Dr. Minkin says. About 2% of pregnant women have a severe form of nausea and vomiting called hyperemesis gravidarum. There are lifestyle changes and treatments that can help. For example, your doctor might suggest small, frequent meals. Oral or IV nausea medication can also help.
Even if your vomiting isn’t severe, talk to your doctor about it. Treatments such as anti-nausea medications and vitamin B6 supplements can help you feel more comfortable.
3. A Fever Over 100 Degrees
“If you have a temperature over 100, and it stays that way for a day, let your OB know,” Dr. Minkin says. It’s probably not your pregnancy that’s causing the fever. But it could be a sign of an infection or illness that needs attention, she says.
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4. A Bad and Stubborn Headache
Headaches are common during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. They’re often caused by pregnancy hormones and a rise in blood volume. Drinking fluids and taking acetaminophen can help ease the pain. But if they don’t, tell your doctor, especially if it happens later in your pregnancy.
Headaches can be a sign of preeclampsia. It’s a condition that causes a sudden and dangerous rise in blood pressure. Preeclampsia usually develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The only cure for preeclampsia is to deliver the baby, most often after 37 weeks.
If you’re diagnosed with preeclampsia, you and your baby will be watched closely. You may also take medication to lower your blood pressure. Depending on how far into the pregnancy you are, you may need to be induced early.
5. Severe Abdominal Pain or Cramping
You might sometimes feel a pulling or painful stretching on one or both sides of your lower belly. That’s known as round ligament pain, Adlam says. It usually improves after changing positions. Staying well hydrated can also help prevent or lessen the pain.
But if you have belly pain that’s constant, strong, sharp and sudden, or feels like a cramp, tell your provider right away, Adlam says. That kind of pain can be a sign of serious problems, including placental abruption. That happens when the placenta pulls away from the uterus. Or it may be preterm labor, which is labor that starts before the 37th week of pregnancy.
6. Painful or Burning Urination
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are more common during pregnancy. About 2% to 10% of pregnant people will get them. Usually, the biggest sign of a UTI is feeling pain or a burning sensation when you have to pee.Other symptoms can include tiredness and feeling the urge to pee more often.
If you have a UTI, your doctor will usually prescribe antibiotics to treat it. It should be treated as soon as possible to stop the infection from spreading to other parts of the body, such as the kidneys.
7. Extreme Fatigue or Dizziness
There can be many reasons for feeling dizzy or extremely tired when you’re pregnant. Some of them are nothing to worry about. But they can also be a sign of anemia. Anemia often happens when you’re not getting enough iron in your diet. As a result, your body isn’t making enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your tissues.
When you’re pregnant, you need twice as much iron because you also have to supply oxygen to your baby. That’s why many prenatal vitamins have iron. If your iron is low, your doctor may run some tests to see what’s causing it. You might also begin to take an iron supplement if you’re not already.
8. Decreased Fetal Movement
Just like us, sometimes babies aren’t as active as usual. But if you notice that your baby is moving less than normal, see if you can “wake” them up: Try having a sugary drink such as orange juice and lying on your side, Dr. Minkin says. If your baby is still sluggish or doesn’t react, call your doctor. It might be a sign of slowed growth in your baby, for instance.
Not sure what counts as normal movement? One way to get an idea is to track fetal kick counts. Pick a time of day — after a meal works well — to count how many times your baby moves in an hour. Then track those movements at the same time of day for several days. “Fetal kick counts are a great tool to help keep track of what’s normal for your baby and your pregnancy,” Adlam says.
9. Vision Changes
Any changes in your vision, especially sudden ones, are worth telling your doctor about, Dr. Minkin says. Double vision, blurring, or seeing flashing lights or “floaters” can all be signs of preeclampsia. Some vision changes can simply be due to more fluid and hormonal changes in your body. Floaters are also a normal part of aging. But if you notice a sudden increase or they come with other vision changes, it could signal trouble. Since it’s hard to know the difference, always tell your doctor about any eye or vision issues.
10. Sudden Swelling in the Hands or Feet
Swollen hands and feet are common during pregnancy. Usually, the swelling happens slowly. Sudden swelling in the hands, feet, and face, especially if it comes with a headache, can be a sign of preeclampsia, Dr. Minkin says. If you notice swelling and it doesn’t go away with rest or drinking more fluids, call your doctor and get your blood pressure checked right away.
Finally, remember that not every pregnancy warning sign is listed here. If you have a symptom that doesn’t feel right, no matter how small, always ask your care team about it. To make communicating with them easier, find out if you have a digital health management app like Wellframe. These smartphone apps are offered for free by many health plans or employers. They help connect you directly with your care team so you can ask questions, schedule appointments, and more. But as always, if you’re having a medical emergency, call 911.
Contact your health plan to see if you’re eligible for Wellframe.
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