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Common pregnancy symptoms

This factsheet is for women who are pregnant, or who would like information about the symptoms of pregnancy.

Common symptoms of pregnancy

During pregnancy, your body undergoes a number of changes as your baby develops inside your womb. These changes can cause various symptoms, but they aren't usually serious. They tend to disappear during pregnancy or soon after you give birth, without any treatment.

Here is a list of the most common symptoms of pregnancy, to help you know what to expect.

Missed period

If you have a regular menstrual cycle you may notice that you miss a period about two weeks after you conceived. This is typically one of the first signs of pregnancy.

Sore breasts

Your breasts will start to change in your first trimester (weeks one to 12 of your pregnancy) as your body begins to make tissue for producing and storing milk. They may be more tender than usual and tiny spots around the nipple area will become more obvious.

Tiredness

In early pregnancy your body is undergoing lots of changes and this takes its toll on your energy levels. Later on in your pregnancy you will also feel tired as the baby grows bigger and heavier. You should rest whenever you can. If you feel extremely tired, this may mean that you have anaemia. If you are worried about this, you should see your midwife or GP.

Needing to urinate more often

Pregnancy hormones can make you want to urinate more often. As your pregnancy progresses, you will also need to urinate more often as your growing baby presses on your bladder. When you are pregnant, you have an increased risk of developing a urinary tract infection. This is because pregnancy hormones and your growing womb can slow down the urine passing out of your body. For this reason, it's important that you drink plenty of fluids. Studies have shown that cranberry juice may help to stop a urinary tract infection from coming back. If you have a urinary tract infection during your pregnancy, you will need early treatment. So, if you have any pain or burning when you urinate, it's important that you get advice from your GP or midwife.

Morning sickness

Many women feel sick throughout the day and sometimes at night. About three-quarters of women feel sick or vomit early on in their pregnancy. This usually eases off after about 14 weeks, but it can come and go throughout your pregnancy. It may help to eat small meals regularly so that you don't get hungry. Eating ginger biscuits or drinking ginger tea can also help to relieve your symptoms.

Constipation

Pregnancy hormones have a relaxing effect on your muscles, so your bowels don't work as well as they normally would to push the food through your body. Your digestive system absorbs more water from the food and this makes your faeces harder and more difficult to pass. You should make sure you are drinking plenty of fluids and eating plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and high-fibre foods such as cereals.

Weight gain

You will put on weight during your pregnancy - the exact amount varies from woman to woman and also depends on your weight before you became pregnant. You can expect to gain around 10 to 12.5kg (22 to 28lbs) during pregnancy if you are a healthy weight to start with. Your GP or midwife may have specific advice for you if you weigh less than 50kg (7st 12) or more than 100kg (15st 10).

The weight you gain during pregnancy is made up of:

  • your developing baby, placenta and amniotic fluid
  • the growth of your womb and breasts
  • the increased blood in your circulation
  • water retention and fat stores

Backache

During pregnancy your ligaments become softer, and this can put a strain on the joints of your lower back and pelvis. Make sure you bend your knees and keep your back straight when you are lifting something. Massage may also help. It's a good idea to speak to your employer if you are having problems with backache at work - your employer is legally bound to provide a safe working environment for you.

Heartburn

Pregnancy hormones have a relaxing effect on the muscle at the end of your food pipe (oesophagus). This can cause acid from your stomach to pass back up into your oesophagus, causing heartburn. You may also experience discomfort or pain in your upper abdomen. Try eating smaller meals more frequently. You can also talk to your pharmacist about which antacid medicines you can safely take to relieve your symptoms during pregnancy.

Varicose veins

These are swollen veins which are usually found in the legs but occasionally appear around the vulva (the area around the opening to the vagina). They are very common in the legs and are due to pregnancy hormones making your circulation slower. You should try not to stand for long periods of time. Compression stockings may help prevent existing varicose veins in your legs getting worse.

Piles (haemorrhoids)

Piles, or haemorrhoids, are found around your anus. They can appear if you have had constipation (a common pregnancy symptom) and they can be painful and itchy. Your GP may give you some cream to help to reduce them or give you advice on other treatments available.

Urinary incontinence

Lying across the bottom of your pelvis is an important muscle called the pelvic floor, and one of its jobs is to support your bladder. During pregnancy your pelvic floor is stretched and sometimes damaged. This can lead to stress incontinence where the bladder leaks a small amount of urine when you cough, sneeze, laugh, jump or run. You will be encouraged by your midwife to do pelvic floor exercises both during and after pregnancy to strengthen this muscle and reduce the risk of stress incontinence. Your midwife can give you more information on these exercises.

Swelling in your ankles, feet and hands

This is also called oedema. It happens because your body retains more fluid and also carries more blood when you are pregnant. However, if it's more severe it will be monitored by your midwife to make sure you aren't developing a condition called pre-eclampsia.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

The carpal tunnel is a channel in the palm side of the wrist. A nerve passes through this channel, from your forearm to your hand. This nerve can become squashed (compressed) by extra fluid in your body during pregnancy. This causes you to have tingling, numbness and pain in your fingers and thumbs, and sometimes it can affect how you use your hands. It usually goes away shortly after your baby is born.

Stretch marks

During pregnancy your skin stretches as your baby grows and for most women this causes stretch marks. To start with, they appear as red lines, usually on your tummy, hips and thighs. After your baby is born they will tend to fade and become silvery in colour. There are many creams and lotions available that claim to prevent and reduce the appearance of stretch marks, but it's not known whether any particular ingredients bring special benefits.

Bleeding gums

Pregnancy hormones make your gums much more likely to bleed. It's important that you keep your teeth and gums healthy - make sure you clean your teeth twice a day and use dental floss and mouthwash if you need to. NHS dental care is free during pregnancy and for one year after, so you should make an appointment to see your dentist. If left untreated, gum problems can lead to periodontal disease and tooth loss.

Changes to your hair

Hormone changes during pregnancy may make your hair thicker and grow faster. You may find that your hair also falls out faster - but don't worry - it's just because your hair is growing faster.

Changes to your skin

Pregnancy hormones cause your skin to produce more oil, so you may get spots during your pregnancy. You may also find that your skin is dry and/or itchy. You can help soothe your skin by moisturising daily. It's a good idea not to use perfumed products, which can irritate your skin.

How do I know if something is wrong?

You should always attend your antenatal appointments, which may be with a midwife, GP or obstetrician. This gives you the chance to talk about how you are feeling and it helps whoever is looking after you to pick up any problems. Throughout your antenatal care you will have regular checks, including:

  • blood pressure monitoring
  • giving a urine sample
  • blood tests

If you are worried about any of your symptoms or if you think something is wrong, you should see your midwife or GP as soon as possible.

Further information

National Childbirth Trust (NCT)

Emma's diary (Royal College of General Practitioners)

Sources

  • The Pregnancy Book. The Department of Health, 2007. www.doh.gov.uk
  • Sickness and Vomiting. Clinical Knowledge Summaries. www.cks.library.nhs.uk, accessed 13 March 2007
  • Information Centre. National Childbirth Trust. www.nct.org.uk, accessed 14 March 2007
  • Antenatal Care - Information for the public. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). www.nice.org.uk, accessed 12 March 2007
  • Being Pregnant: Did you know? The Royal College of Midwives. www.rcm.org.uk, accessed 14 March 2007
  • Dyspepsia in Pregnancy. Clinical Knowledge Summaries. www.cks.library.nhs.uk, accessed 13 March 2007
  • Creams for preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. The Cochrane Library. www.mrw.interscience.wiley.com, accessed 13 March 2007
  • Randomised trial of cranberry-lingonberry juice and Lactobacillus GG drink for the prevention of urinary tract infections in women. BMJ. BMJ 2001;322:1571
  • How weight gain is made up in pregnancy. Emma's diary. www.emmasdiary.co.uk, accessed 17 March 2007

Related topics

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Indigestion
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Routine care during pregnancy
  • What to expect during pregnancy
  • Urinary incontinence in women