Common pregnancy symptoms like spotting and contractions can be harmless or signs of trouble. Here’s how to tell the difference.
CRAMPING: Is my period—or a miscarriage—coming?
Why it happens Many women feel something akin to menstrual cramps very early in pregnancy. That achy heaviness is caused by increased blood flow to the uterus and other pelvic organs, and it’s normal.
When to call your caregiver If you notice consistent cramping on only one side or if it’s accompanied by bleeding; your doctor or midwife will need to rule out an ectopic pregnancy or ovarian cyst. Serious cramping in the second or third trimester is more worrisome, as it could indicate early labor.
SWELLING: Am I going to explode?
Why it happens Hormonal changes cause pregnant women to retain excess fluid in their tissues. “This puffiness has little to do with how much or how little water or salt you ingest,” says OB-GYN Richard Frieder, M.D., an assistant clinical professor at the UCLA School of Medicine.
When to call your caregiver If sudden swelling (especially in your feet, legs or hands) is accompanied by a headache, particularly after week 28; this may be a sign of preeclampsia, a dangerous high blood pressure condition.
UNUSUAL VAGINAL DISCHARGE: Do I have an infection?
Why it happens Your cervix is undergoing many normal changes that can result in unusual or even excessive mucus discharge, says Landers.
When to call your caregiver If burning, itching or a foul smell accompanies your vaginal discharge; you could have an infection.
DAMPNESS DOWN BELOW: Has my water broken?
Why it happens If you see a wet spot on your sheets or underpants, most likely, the moisture is only urine. Because the growing uterus puts pressure on the bladder, many women leak urine without realizing it.
When to call your caregiver If the wetness persists or seems excessive; your doctor will want to be sure you’re not leaking amniotic fluid. This is a major concern after week 37 because it could trigger labor or lead to infection in the uterus.
It’s when something scary happens that women are especially glad they made the effort to find a supportive caregiver. “It’s critical to have a doctor who takes things seriously but doesn’t completely freak you out either,” says Deborah Johnson. “Right at the outset, mine told me that bleeding is just something that often happens in the first trimester, and she was right. Literally the day my second trimester started the bleeding completely stopped—for good. I felt like I could finally take a breath and enjoy my pregnancy.”
How blue is too blue?
Pregnancy is “supposed” to be a blissful time, but just as many expectant women as nonpregnant ones suffer from depression: approximately 12 percent. Left untreated, it usually leads to postpartum depression. So seek help if you experience unusual fatigue; changes in appetite or sleep; lack of interest in normal activities; feelings of despair, hopelessness or guilt; or excessive crying. Safe treatments are available. For resources, go to postpartum.net.