When you’re pregnant, it can seem like a new symptom pops up every day, from swollen feet to varicose veins to needing to urinate all the time. While most changes in pregnancy are completely harmless (if a little annoying), some should be taken more seriously. Here are some symptoms you should never ignore:
1. A headache that doesn’t get better with medicine or causes vision changes. Headaches in pregnancy can be very common, and your usual run-of-the-mill version shouldn’t stress you out. However, if it doesn’t get better with some Tylenol, rest, or hydration or feels like the worst headache of your life, you need to let your doctor or midwife know. In addition, if it comes with vision changes (e.g., floaters, flashing lights, or blind spots), or you are prone to headaches but this one is much different, it’s also time to make a phone call. This could be a sign of preeclampsia, and you need to be evaluated to rule that out.
2. Vaginal bleeding. Some light spotting during implantation or after sex or cervical exams can be totally normal. However, if it is heavier than normal, is accompanied by clots or pain, or is completely unprovoked, you should give your obstetric provider a heads-up. It’s important in these cases to rule out scary causes of bleeding such as miscarriage, preterm labor, placenta previa, or placental abruption.
3. Absent fetal movement. Just like their mommies, babies have periods of being super active mixed with periods when they’re sleeping. So it should come as no surprise that sometimes you just aren’t going to feel your baby move as much. However, if while doing fetal kick counts you feel absolutely no movement, it’s time to call your doctor or midwife and be seen so your baby can be checked on. While it almost never fails that you start feeling kicks and punches as soon as you walk through the doors of Labor and Delivery, it is so important not to ignore this symptom. Sometimes this is the first sign that your baby is in trouble or, sadly, a stillbirth. Don’t ever be afraid to call if you can’t feel your baby move!
4. Depression/anxiety. Emotional ups and downs come with the pregnancy territory. What should not be accepted as just another part of pregnancy is when you have more bad days than good days, can’t stop crying, have thoughts of harming yourself or wishing you were dead, or have such intrusive or anxious thoughts that you can’t function or leave the house. These can be signs of true antenatal depression or anxiety and should be treated immediately.
5. Shortness of breath or chest pain. Sure, your growing uterus is going to leave you a little out of breath after you walk up four flights of stairs. But if you find walking in your house leaves you breathless or you have trouble speaking without catching your breath, you may have another issue going on (such as heart or lung problems). Additionally, all chest pain should be evaluated immediately so as not to miss life-threatening emergencies like heart attacks. It may only end up being acid reflux, but better safe than sorry.
6. Vaginal discharge. Increased vaginal discharge is normal in pregnancy, but any discharge that itches, burns, or has a foul odor should tip you off to calling your doctor or midwife. These can be signs of an infection that should be treated. In addition, if the discharge is clear and the consistency of water, be sure to give a call; it could be that your bag of water has broken.
7. Uneven leg swelling. Almost all pregnant women have some swelling, but it is not normal to have one leg (such as your ankle or calf) more swollen than the other. This could be a sign of a blood clot in the more swollen leg. This needs to be treated with blood thinners to prevent the clot from growing or moving to your lungs, which can be life-threatening.
8. Burning when you pee. While it is normal to feel like all you do is pee these days, it should not burn when you urinate. This could be a sign of a urinary tract infection. Left untreated, this could cause a more severe kidney infection, which can make you very sick and also lead to preterm labor.
Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, April 2020
- Many symptoms associated with pregnancy are harmless.
- However, some should never be ignored as they can be signs of serious problems.
- When in doubt, call your doctor or midwife to check in and get some advice.