11 Pregnancy Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

Most pregnancy symptoms aren't fun, so which ones are no biggie and which are worth a call to the doctor? Here's the deal.
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ByMaggie Overfelt
Updated
Feb 2020
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Photo: Johner Images

Baby may not have officially arrived yet, but those mom instincts kick in early—so it’s normal to worry about your child’s wellbeing during pregnancy. Chances are, you and baby are doing just fine, and the real challenge is figuring out how to relax. But sometimes things do go awry. The key is knowing which red flags to look for. Here, experts explain the pregnancy symptoms you should never ignore, since they may be your body’s way of telling you something important.

Bleeding

Understandably, vaginal bleeding or spotting during pregnancy might freak you out a bit—but the good news is that a tinge of blood is often no big deal. For example, if you recently had sex or a vaginal exam, you might have just irritated your cervix a bit (it’s more sensitive when you’re pregnant). However, “spotting that doesn’t go away within a day or if it’s moderate to heavy bleeding—saturating more than one pad in an hour—or if it’s accompanied by pain, fever or chills, you want to report it immediately to your provider,” says Crystal Stamps, CNM, a certified nurse midwife at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Bleeding can be a sign of something serious—possibly a miscarriage during early pregnancy or placental abruption or placenta previa later on—so definitely notify your OB or midwife any time you experience it.

Abdominal Pain

Some aches and pains are to be expected during pregnancy. After all, baby’s getting bigger by the day, and your muscles and ligaments are doing a whole lot of stretching. The pulling or sharp, stabbing sensations that you might feel on one or both of your sides or over your pubic bone caused by round ligament pain isn’t worrisome. “What you should report immediately is severe pelvic or abdominal pain that’s not relieved by a heating pad, soaking in a warm tub or Tylenol,” says Stamps. If it’s accompanied by nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, it could indicate something that needs treatment, like a GI virus, kidney infection or UTI—so pick up the phone. And if it’s accompanied by bleeding or other symptoms, it could be miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or a cyst.

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Swollen Hands or Face

Yup, everything’s getting bigger, and a little bit of swelling is to be expected. But pay close attention to your hands and face. By itself, a little puffiness in your face isn’t abnormal. But accompanied with other symptoms—such as headaches that aren’t resolved with Tylenol, gastric pain, dizziness or changes in vision—swelling in your hands or face could be a sign of preeclampsia, Stamps says, which is a complication that requires close monitoring and possible intervention. Early detection is important with preeclampsia, so let your doctor know if you experience any of the signs.

Rapid Weight Gain

No, don’t stress about gaining weight during pregnancy—after all, you’re supposed to! But according to Rhonia Gordon, MD, an ob-gyn at NYU Langone Health in New York City, if you put on more than five pounds in one week, call your healthcare provider immediately to rule out preeclampsia.

Itching

Here’s another (completely annoying) pregnancy symptom that could mean nothing at all, or it could indicate a risk to you and baby. Your skin could be itchy simply because it’s dry and stretched or because you have a rash called PUPPP, which is aggravating but not harmful at all. But if you have all-over itching, or your itchiness is severe, talk to your OB. They may have to do a special test to rule out cholestasis of pregnancy, a rare liver disorder that can cause serious issues, such as preterm labor and stillbirth. Before you panic, take a deep breath and know that according to Gordon, cholestasis impacts only about 0.3 to 5 percent of pregnancies.

A Persistent Headache

For many moms-to-be, headaches that come and go are par for the course during pregnancy (you can thank those hormones coursing through your body). But if your headache doesn’t go away after some Tylenol, rest and/or hydration, “we want to hear about them,” says Stamps. “They’re a major symptom of preeclampsia.”

Persistent Back Pain

Back pain is pretty common in your third trimester (you’re sporting a big baby bump, after all). But if that pain just doesn’t quit, call your doctor. They can check to make sure it’s just normal pregnancy pain and not a sign of kidney or bladder infection, cyst, miscarriage or preterm labor. “When back pain is associated with fever or chills or urinary frequency/pain with urination, report it immediately,” says Stamps.

Blurry Vision

Maybe you got up too fast and you’re experiencing some normal pregnancy dizziness. But blurry vision that’s persistent or comes with other symptoms, such as swelling, abdominal pain, headache or rapid weight gain could be a sign of preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, both of which require medical treatment. Report it immediately, Stamps says.

Fever

You’re more vulnerable to cold and flu germs while you’re pregnant, so a fever is actually pretty likely to happen sometime while you’re pregnant. Still, let your doctor know if you have any fever of 100.4 or greater, Stamps says. There are a number of viruses and conditions that can cause fever, and it’s important to get yours diagnosed and treated.

Baby Moving Less Often

Feeling baby kick? Make a mental note so you can start to develop a sense of baby’s habits and patterns. “Babies have sleep and wake cycles,” says Gordon. “If you’re concerned that the baby is moving less than usual, try drinking something cold or having a sweet snack and then lay on your side.” That may help entice them to get moving again. While you’re relaxed, start doing fetal kick counts every time baby moves. During a two-hour period, you should be able to track at least 10 movements, says Gordon. If you don’t, call your doctor for a professional check-in on baby.

Gush of Fluid

This isn’t your average pregnancy discharge. Feeling constantly wet down there or having a trickle (or gush!) of fluid can mean your water has broken. If that’s the case and you’re not in labor yet, you’re likely to be within 24 hours. Either way, it’s important that your doctor knows ASAP.

Updated February 2020

Expert bios:

Crystal Stamps, CNM, MSN, is a certified nurse midwife at the University of Chicago Medical Center. She earned her certification from the Frontier School of Midwifery and Family.

Rhonia Gordon, MD, is an ob-gyn and clinical assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Health in New York City. She earned her medical degree from Ohio State University in 2015.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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