HealthAgenda

pregnancy & birth

Pregnancy warning signs

You’ll experience lots of changes to your body during pregnancy. Here are some signs to watch out for, telling you it’s time to see your doctor.

Fran Molloy 
July 2018

With all the changes happening to your body in pregnancy it can be hard to know what’s healthy and what requires medical attention.

Midwife Andrea Fallon, outlines some of the most common issues you may experience during pregnancy and some of the indications that suggest it’s time to check in with your midwife or doctor.

Bleeding

About 1 in 4 women will experience ‘spotting’ in those early weeks. Spotting is a small amount of blood that wouldn’t use up a sanitary pad. The Royal Women's Hospital recommends that women contact a health professional if they experience any bleeding during any stage of their pregnancy.

Morning sickness

Despite the common name, it might not only happen in the morning: nausea and vomiting can strike at any time of day during pregnancy. Though some women manage to get through their pregnancy without being ill, up to 80% of pregnant women are affected by nausea and vomiting.

The symptoms usually fade after the first trimester – but a small percentage of women struggle with nausea and vomiting throughout their pregnancy.

An even smaller number – about 1 in 1,000 – suffer from severe morning sickness, known as hyperemesis gravidarum, with symptoms including repeated vomiting, weight loss and dehydration.

“While some nausea and vomiting is normal in pregnancy, persistent vomiting where fluid is unable to be kept down warrants a visit to the doctor for medication, and in some cases hospitalisation is required,” says Fallon.

Mood swings

Pregnancy can sometimes feel like an emotional roller-coaster: in a single day, it’s not unusual to swing from happy to sad, calm to irritable or controlled to tearful.

Be watchful for long periods of feeling low, though. Around 9% of Australian women experience depression during pregnancy, and it’s important to get help early. Speak to your healthcare team if you’re concerned.

If you need to talk to someone, contact beyondblue on 1300 224 636. Alternatively, contact The National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline from 9am-7.30pm AEST/AEDT on 1300 726 306.

Itching

This is an odd, but concerning, pregnancy symptom, says Fallon.

“Constant and intense itching, especially on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, can be a sign of cholestasis of pregnancy.”

This is a liver condition triggered by pregnancy hormones, which should be monitored by a health professional. It can lead to the baby being born early or having lung problems. It’s rare for this to lead to further problems for the mum.

If your stomach area is itching, it’s usually caused by your skin stretching. Speak to your healthcare team if the itching is excessive or unbearable.

Aches, pains and discomfort

The big changes that happen during pregnancy can trigger headaches, back, leg or abdominal pain, particularly during the later months.

While headaches can be common, “Severe or persistent headaches, particularly after 20 weeks, do need to be checked out as they could be a sign of pre-eclampsia or high blood pressure,” says Fallon. Also seek medical help for blurred vision, another symptom of pre-eclampsia.

Pelvic pain

Pains around your pelvis, known as symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), is a common complaint that affects about 20% of pregnant women.

SPD – sometimes called pelvic girdle pain – can limit your movement, making it hard to climb stairs and get in and out of cars. Physiotherapy, massage and equipment such as pelvic support belts can help, so talk to your midwife or doctor if you’re struggling.

Severe or sudden pain, however, can indicate a more serious situation, such as premature labour, and should be discussed with your care provider.

Lack of baby movement

From 16 to 18 weeks, you should start to feel infrequent ‘flutters’ in your uterus as your baby moves around.

“If your baby is moving less than usual for a time or if no movement is felt by 24 weeks, then follow up with a doctor,” says Fallon.

Frequent urination

Many women need to go to the toilet frequently during pregnancy because of hormonal changes and their growing baby putting pressure on their bladder.

But it’s worth mentioning to your doctor, because it’s one of the symptoms of gestational diabetes, which, if left untreated, could lead to a difficult labour or health problems for you and the baby.

Many women with gestational diabetes don’t have symptoms, so it’s important to be up to date with health appointments. You should get a blood test for this between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy, or earlier if you’re at greater risk.

Swelling

This is a tricky one to spot, because in late pregnancy – particularly in hot weather – swollen ankles are normal, particularly by the end of the day.

However, “excessive swelling of hands, face or feet first thing in the morning and any extreme swelling [particularly at the start of the day] can be a sign of pre-eclampsia and should be investigated,” says Fallon.

Regular health checks

While it’s important to treat pregnancy as a normal part of life it does come with some risks. The best way to reduce your risk is to keep up with your prenatal visits to your midwife, GP or obstetrician.

In a healthy pregnancy, you should have at least 1 check-up before 12 weeks and at least 10 before you reach full term. Make sure you don’t miss your appointments so that any pregnancy warning signs can be spotted long before they might cause trouble.

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