Common pregnancy symptoms like spotting and contractions can be harmless or signs of trouble. Here’s how to tell the difference.
Early in her pregnancy, Deborah Johnson (not her real name) started having on-and-off light bleeding. “At first I was really freaked out,” she recalls. “My immediate reaction was, ‘Oh, this can’t be good.’ ”
She called her doctor, who was concerned but calm. “She said she was going to play it safe by giving me progesterone, but that if the baby wasn’t meant to be, no amount of progesterone was going to make a difference,” Johnson says. Though the spotting continued throughout her entire first trimester, Johnson gave birth to a healthy baby boy six months later.
Few women pass through pregnancy without an anxiety-producing incident (or more) like this along the way. Fortunately, most go on to have normal pregnancies and healthy babies. While expectant moms with certain health conditions or a history of premature labor, or those who are carrying multiples, need to pay special heed when anything seemingly unusual occurs, most women can relax and let nature take its course.
We’re here to help you do just that. The following are among the most common, and most distressing, pregnancy scenarios, with information about why you probably don’t need to worry about them—and when you should. Keep in mind that these are only guidelines; call your doctor or midwife if you have questions or concerns specific to your pregnancy.
BLEEDING: Am I miscarrying?
Why it happens Bleeding during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, is fairly common. In fact, approximately 25 percent of women experience some spotting or heavier bleeding in the first 13 or so weeks; of those, more than half go on to have perfectly healthy babies. While bleeding—especially when it’s accompanied by cramping—is, unfortunately, one common sign of miscarriage, it often has other, more benign causes. The most common has to do with implantation of the fertilized egg in the lining of the uterus, says Daniel Landers, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Cervical polyps, which are fairly common whether you’re pregnant or not, may also be to blame. Another potential cause is cervical bleeding, which can occur after intercourse in pregnant women with tender tissues. Finally, bleeding can occur when the mucus plug that seals the cervix is expelled in early labor.
When to call your caregiver If you experience any bleeding at any time.
CONTRACTIONS: Am I in labor?
Why it happens Many pregnant women experience random uterine contractions, aka Braxton-Hicks contractions, after 24 weeks. These are irregular and sporadic, as opposed to real labor contractions, which occur at regular intervals and increase in frequency and intensity, Landers says.
When to call your caregiver If the contractions seem to be regular (e.g., every 10 minutes). Time them to be sure.