It may be scary to think of things that could go wrong during pregnancy, but recognising any warning signs will help you be prepared for all eventualities. By midwife Andrea Klinkenberg
There are certain warning signs in pregnancy that should not be ignored. The sooner problems are picked up, the easier it is to treat them appropriately. Look out for the following symptoms.
1. Vaginal bleeding
Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy can be a frightening experience. There are a number of reasons bleeding can occur, so it’s important to determine what is causing it. If you have spotting very early on, it could be the embryo implanting into the uterus and this is nothing to be concerned about. If you have recently had sex, this could cause a small tear in your vagina and lead to some bleeding, as could an infection in your cervix. Your placenta lying close to or over the cervix (placenta praevia), a miscarriage, or your cervix opening are more serious causes of bleeding. If you have pain with bleeding, it could be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy. Either way, if you have bleeding, it is always safest to call your doctor and get it checked out.
2. Excessive nausea and vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are quite common, particularly in the first trimester, due to all the pregnancy hormones that your body releases. However, excessive nausea and vomiting could be a sign of something more serious such as hyperemesis gravidarum, an extreme form of morning sickness. If you can’t keep anything down, there’s the risk that you may become dehydrated. Call your doctor if you find your nausea and vomiting to be excessive. There is medication that can help. However, if you become severely dehydrated, your doctor may want to put you on an intravenous drip to rehydrate you.
3. Raised temperature
Any fever in pregnancy needs to be taken seriously. You may have an infection or illness unrelated to pregnancy. A fever is considered to be a temperature of 37.5°C or higher. If it isn’t accompanied by any other symptoms, you could try managing it with paracetamol. If it hasn’t gone away after a day or two, see your doctor as you may need other medication, such as antibiotics, to treat an infection. If your fever reaches 39°C, contact your doctor immediately.
4. Leg or calf pain
Cramps in your legs are quite common, but it’s important to be aware of what a cramp feels like as opposed to severe pain that can be caused by something like deep vein thrombosis (DVT) due to a blood clot in your leg. It is possible that you could develop DVT during pregnancy, which presents as pain in your calf that doesn’t go away (despite flexing your foot and walking around). One leg may also be more swollen than the other. It is safest to consult your doctor.
5. Vaginal discharge
It is never advisable to ignore an increase or change in your vaginal discharge. It may become watery, mucousy or even bloody, and these changes could signify an infection that may need to be treated with antibiotics – especially if the discharge becomes foul smelling. Bloody discharge could be an indication that you are going into labour or miscarrying. If you are over 37 weeks into your pregnancy, an increase in discharge is normal and can be a sign that you are going into labour.
6. Breaking of waters
When the protective membrane or sac containing your baby and the amniotic fluid breaks open, we call it the breaking of waters or rupture of membranes. This usually occurs during labour, before you deliver your baby. However, if this happens, and you aren’t full term, it’s important to go straight to your doctor. If this happens too early in your pregnancy, you are at risk of an infection or even a miscarriage. Occasionally, pregnant women mistake urine leakage for their waters breaking, but it’s always best to be safe and get checked if you feel a gush, or even a trickle, of water.
You will experience Braxton Hicks contractions throughout your pregnancy – these contractions are short, mild and sporadic. Braxton Hicks contractions are normal and to be expected. If you are over 37 weeks and getting closer to your due date, you may feel some mild and irregular contractions – these are perfectly normal and signal that your body is preparing for labour. However, if you have true contractions before you are full term, it is best to be examined by your doctor, and for your baby to be monitored, as you could be going into preterm labour. True contractions become stronger, last longer and become rhythmic, so you need to go to the hospital immediately to stop labour.
8. Burning or stinging when urinating
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common in pregnancy. If you feel burning or stinging when you urinate, it could be a sign that you have a UTI. Make an appointment to see your doctor as you will need a prescription for antibiotics to treat the infection. If a UTI is left untreated, it could lead to a kidney infection as well as an increased risk of preterm labour.
9. Pain in the abdomen
Sudden pain of an unknown cause needs to be seen to immediately, even more so if the pain is accompanied by vaginal bleeding. Vaginal bleeding with stomach pain can be a sign of a possible ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage. The sooner you seek medical attention the better, as it’s important to identify the cause as soon as possible.
10. Reduced foetal movements
Most first-time moms start to feel foetal movements from around 16 to 22 weeks into pregnancy. If it isn’t your first pregnancy, you may even feel them sooner than this. At first, these movements will occur every now and then, but they will increase as the baby gets bigger, simply because the bigger the baby is, the easier it is to feel him moving. All babies have a different pattern of activity, so if you find that your baby stops moving as much as he used to, it’s best to see your doctor. Decreased movement could be an indication that your baby is becoming distressed due to a lack of nutrients or oxygen. It’s best to have your baby monitored to ensure all is well.
Most of the time, the symptoms experienced by pregnant moms end up being nothing to worry about, but don’t ignore them. The sooner problems are picked up, the easier it is to treat them and ensure a healthy outcome for you and your baby. Never ignore something that concerns you – it’s always best to trust your instincts and get a professional opinion.
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