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Signs & Symptoms of Pregnancy

SYMPTOMS OF PREGNANCY  

Many women have a general idea of what the early signs of pregnancy are, but because they can be a bit different for everyone, a refresher of these symptoms is often needed. While a missed period and a positive pregnancy test are the clearest indicators of early pregnancy, there are a host of other symptoms of pregnancy that can alert you to new life growing within. 

COMMON SIGNS OF PREGNANCY

Here are the most common early signs of pregnancy you might expect:

  • Missed period. A missed period can be one of the earliest pregnancy symptoms. When your body registers that an embryo has implanted, the lining of the uterus does not shed, as it does when you have a period. However, if you have an irregular period, it’s not uncommon to have your period arrive a few days late. 
  • Tender breasts. When you become pregnant, changes in the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin can cause your breasts to become sore. In addition, an increase of blood flow to the breasts, more fat building in the area, and an expansion of the milk ducts can contribute to the breasts becoming tender and swollen. 
  • Nausea. Many women begin to feel nauseous a couple weeks after learning they’re pregnant, while others feel nauseous before they even take the pregnancy test. This nausea (also called morning sickness) leads to vomiting in some women, but not all. While there is not a clear cause of the nausea, it’s suspected that hormones like hCG, human chorionic gonadotropin, play a part. 

WHEN DO YOU START TO HAVE SYMPTOMS?

Around the fourth week of pregnancy (four weeks from the first day of the woman’s last period), some women experience early pregnancy symptoms like a missed period, tender breasts, nausea, mild spotting and cramping, fatigue, bloating, and an increase in urination. 

Week six of gestation can often mark the beginning of mood swings, dizziness, constipation, and temperature changes, while week eleven can bring heartburn, headaches, nipple changes, acne, and weight gain.  

The spotting and cramping usually subside after a few days, and the nausea, tender breasts, and fatigue typically let up around the end of the first trimester. Many women experience the other symptoms of pregnancy until baby is born. However, each woman is different in the symptoms she experiences, and the intensity of those symptoms.  

MORNING SICKNESS, VOMITING AND HOW TO HELP PREVENT THEM

One of the most uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy, morning sickness always involves nausea, and sometimes causes vomiting. The term “morning sickness” can be misleading, as many pregnant women experience nausea all day, or throughout different parts of the day. Luckily, there are many ways to quell this unfortunate pregnancy symptom.

TIPS FOR SOOTHING MORNING SICKNESS:

  • Stay hydrated As dehydration can intensify the nausea, drink plenty of water.
  • Eat regularly. Eating small meals every few hours can quell nausea.
  • Sniff peppermint. Smelling peppermint essential oil can soothe nausea.
  • Trust your cravings. The body is often good at signifying what it can and can’t handle via food aversions and cravings. So, if the only thing that sounds good is crackers, toast, and popsicles, let yourself eat those foods. When the nausea subsides you can get back on your typical diet. 
  • Take ginger tablets. Ask your care provider if there is a type of ginger tablet they’d recommend, as the ginger can work wonders for minimizing morning sickness. 

Note: If you are vomiting so much that you can hardly keep down food and water, it’s important to seek medical attention, as you might have what is known as hyperemesis gravidarum. Hyperemesis gravidarum is a severe type of morning sickness that often requires medication and IVF fluids. 

CRAMPING & SPOTTING DURING PREGNANCY

About 10 to 14 days after conception, the blastocyst will implant into the lining of the uterus. This implantation can sometimes cause light cramping and spotting. Because these symptoms of pregnancy often occur around the time the woman would expect her period, many mistake them for period symptoms. 

Here’s what you might expect from cramping and spotting caused by implantation:

  • Light bleeding. Unlike a period that often requires a pad, tampon, or menstrual cup, the bleeding caused by implantation is often so light you only notice it when you wipe. 
  • Pain. While the pain from implantation can be mild to severe, most women report that it doesn’t cause as much discomfort as a period.
  • Color. Implantation bleeding can be pink, red, or brown.
  • Duration. Bleeding from implantation usually lasts less than three days. 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN IF YOU MISS YOUR PERIOD

A missed period can signify pregnancy, an irregular menstrual cycle, or even a health condition like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome, or other issues. To confirm that the missed period resulted from pregnancy, you should take a pregnancy test about a week after your period was expected. 

If the pregnancy test is negative, but your period still hasn’t started, it’s best to contact your care provider. 

If the pregnancy test is positive, contact your care provider to determine next steps. They’ll likely have you schedule your first prenatal appointment, and help you make a plan for continuing, or tapering off of, any medications you’re on.  

FATIGUE DURING EARLY PREGNANCY

As your progesterone levels rise, your energy levels will likely decrease. This usually occurs early in the first trimester and levels off when you reach the second trimester. However, fatigue usually sneaks back in when you reach the third trimester. 

In addition to the increase in progesterone, there are a variety of factors that can contribute to fatigue in the first trimester: 

  • Growth of the placenta. As the placenta grows in the first trimester, your body's working overtime. 
  • Increase in blood supply. In addition to growing the placenta, your body is also working hard to pump the extra blood that supplies baby with nutrients and oxygen.  
  • Additional changes. Other changes in your body such as an increased metabolism and heart rate, and diminished blood sugar and blood pressure, can make you sleepy.  

When you get to the third trimester, there are a few reasons you might be ready for a nap pretty much all the time.

  • Excess weight. The additional weight you’re carrying can easily wipe you out. 
  • Trouble sleeping. Factors like insomnia, night sweats, heartburn, and just general discomfort can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, meaning you’ll be more fatigued during the day. 
  • Stress. As your due date draws nearer you might have an uptick in stress due to baby prep, work tasks, and other to-dos. This stress can lead to fatigue. 

TIPS FOR PREGNANCY FATIGUE: 

Instead of just suffering through fatigue, there are various things you can do to lessen the intensity of this common pregnancy symptom.

  • Nap. While you might feel like you should just push through the fatigue, one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby is rest when you’re tired.
  • Request help. If you feel like your life is too busy to allow for more rest, consider asking your partner and other loved ones, and work colleagues, for help with tasks that can be outsourced. 
  • Eat a nutrient rich diet. A diet high in protein, complex carbs, fruits and veggies, and other healthy foods can help sustain your energy. On the flip side, eating too much sugar, and processed or fried foods, can sap your energy. 
  • Eat six small meals a day. While eating three large meals can make you feel drowsy, eating a small meal every few hours can prevent your blood sugar from dropping, which can result in less fatigue.  
  • Move your body. Getting light exercise every day can help you sleep better at night, and feel more energized during the day.

CHANGES IN MOOD 

Another pregnancy symptom impacted by hormones, changes in mood can be the result of an increase in estrogen and progesterone. In addition, your mood can be impacted by fatigue, and other uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms. 

These mood shifts can lead to feelings of depression, irritability, anxiety, and even euphoria. Many women also report feeling more reactive than usual. 

Tips for managing changes in mood during pregnancy:

  • Rest as much as you’re able. 
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Minimize stress.
  • Give yourself permission to regularly release your emotions in a safe, supportive environment.

Note: If you notice that your mood changes are becoming debilitating, seek the support of a mental health specialist.  

BLOATING & CONSTIPATION

As your progesterone levels increase, your digestive system slows, which gives your body more time to absorb nutrients from food. This is a plus for the baby, but a minus for your comfort, as a sluggish digestive system can result in constipation and abdominal bloating. In addition, the growth of the uterus can also contribute to these symptoms. 

TIPS FOR CONSTIPATION AND BLOATING IN PREGNANCY:

  • Eat plenty of fiber. Consuming 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day from foods like whole grain cereals and breads, leafy greens, legumes like edamame and chickpeas, fresh fruits and veggies, and dried fruits, can support fecal matter in efficiently moving through and out of your digestive tract.

  • Drink water. Drinking eight to 10 eight-ounces glasses of water every day can soften your stools, which makes them easier to pass. 

  • Go to the bathroom when you have the urge. A prime way to minimize constipation and bloating is going to the bathroom when you feel the need. Ignoring this sign from the body can result in fecal matter hardening, and becoming more difficult to get out.

Ask your doctor about supplements and medications. If your best efforts don’t seem to curb constipation, ask your care provider if there are fiber supplements, stool softeners, or other medications that would be safe to take. 

While every woman is different in the pregnancy symptoms she experiences, most women can expect to experience at least some of the listed symptoms on her journey to motherhood. The good news is, many of these symptoms resolve long before the baby is born, and all will subside soon after the baby arrives. Engaging in quality self-care while pregnantstaying comfortable while pregnant (as much as possible!), and receiving regular prenatal care will all help to ensure that you have a healthy, enjoyable pregnancy.

Title image by Migs Reyes

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