Scary Stuff | Fit Pregnancy

Scary Stuff

Spotting. Leaking. Cramps. These and other symptoms can be normal—or signs of trouble. Here’s how to tell the difference.

Six weeks into her second pregnancy, Kim Schuler Heinrichs thought all was lost. After learning she was pregnant, Schuler, now a mother of three in Allentown, Pa., started bleeding and cramping. "My husband and I were sure we were losing the baby," she says, "but soon the doctor found a heartbeat." A trouble-free seven months later, Schuler gave birth to a healthy girl.

Few women pass through pregnancy without an anxious moment (or more) like this along the way. Fortunately, most go on to have normal pregnancies and healthy babies. While women with special health conditions or a history of premature labor, or those who are carrying multiples, need to pay special heed when anything unusual occurs, most women can relax and let nature take its course.

We're here to help you do just that. The following are the most common concerns among pregnant women, with information about why you probably don't need to worry—and when you should. Keep in mind that these are only guidelines; call your doctor if you have questions or concerns specific to your pregnancy.

Bleeding

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.

Although bleeding—especially when accompanied by cramping—can be one sign of miscarriage, it often has other causes. The most common has to do with implantation of the egg in the lining of the uterus, says Daniel Landers, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

Benign 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 lost in early labor.

When To Call The Doctor: If you experience any bleeding, no matter when it happens.

Contractions

Why It Happens: Many pregnant women experience random contractions, often called Braxton-Hicks contractions, after 24 weeks. These are normal as long as they are irregular and sporadic (as opposed to real labor contractions, which occur at regular intervals and increase in frequency and intensity). "Although no one knows for sure what purpose these contractions serve, the important difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and the contractions of real labor is regularity," Landers says.

When To Call The Doctor: If the contractions seem to be regular (e.g., every 10 minutes). Time them to be sure.

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