Pregnancy brings a lot of changes that can be unexpected and even concerning – especially for first-timers.
Here, Nebraska Medicine OB-GYN Mary Kinyoun, MD, shares 10 things you might experience during pregnancy. "After being pregnant myself, I've experienced it all too," says Dr. Kinyoun. "If you're experiencing something that seems unusual to you, there's a good chance other women have also experienced it. So ask your provider and let them know if you have any concerns."
"Often it's totally normal and we can offer reassurance. But other times, it can bring to our attention an issue that might be going on. There are no silly questions when you're pregnant because it's such a high anxiety time."
1. Pregnancy headaches or migraines
"Women who are prone to migraines might have an increase during pregnancy," explains Dr. Kinyoun. "Particularly, if you're used to menstrual migraines, you may experience an uptick."
If you're used to headaches, then it may be nothing to worry about. Some migraine medications are avoided in pregnancy, so check with your doctor if you are pregnant or trying to conceive. But if they're new onset headaches, tell your doctor, Dr. Kinyoun says. Headaches, especially later in pregnancy, are a warning sign of preeclampsia and other concerns.
If the headaches don't relent, your doctor may do a full workup to get to the bottom of what's causing them. You also may treat headaches with different medicines while pregnant. Avoid ibuprofen while you're pregnant.
2. Bleeding gums
If you see more red than usual when you brush your teeth, don't panic. It's normal. If you experience bleeding from other sites such as vaginal bleeding, nose bleeding or easy brusing please alert your provider.
"Bleeding gums is very common during pregnancy," says Dr. Kinyoun. "With pregnancy's hormonal changes, your gums and other mucosal surfaces have increased blood flow."
"We also recommend you have at least one dental visit during your pregnancy," she advises. "Dental infections and periodontal disease can put you at risk for things like preterm birth. So having up-to-date dental care is important."
3. Brain fog
"I experienced this myself," says Dr. Kinyoun. "Difficulty sleeping, hormonal changes and the energy required to grow a baby can all contribute to brain fog for a pregnant woman. You might also have some mental distraction with the anxieties of pregnancy."
If you need help remembering the little things, give yourself some grace. Dr. Kinyoun recommends making lists and using your phone to set reminders.
4. Pregnancy asthma
"There are many respiratory changes during pregnancy. The progesterone hormone can change your respiratory patterns," says Dr. Kinyoun. "Some people will feel more shortness of breath during pregnancy."
For people with preexisting asthma, your symptoms may change during pregnancy. About a third of them will stay the same, a third will get worse during pregnancy and a third will actually feel some relief during their pregnancy. Having good control of your asthma is important, so you may need medication adjustments in pregnancy.
5. Incontinence or leaking
A growing baby can put pressure on your bladder, urethra and pelvic floor muscles. This pressure, along with changing hormone levels that relax certain ligaments, can cause urinary leakage.
A lot of pregnant people notice leakage when they laugh or sneeze. But urinary incontinence is treatable. Your OB-GYN can help determine the best options for you.
6. Foot swelling
For some women it can be normal to increase your shoe size by a half size or more during pregnancy.
"A couple of reasons can cause foot swelling during pregnancy," says Dr. Kinyoun. "When you're pregnant, your blood volume increases. The uterus also compresses the veins that bring blood flow back to the heart from your lower extremities, like your feet." Swelling typically lasts for a couple of weeks postpartum.
Some types of foot swelling would be concerning, however. "If one leg is significantly more swollen than the other or if there's pain, tell your doctor. Swelling in the third trimester can be a sign of preeclampsia."
Your OB-GYN can tell you what's normal and what's concerning. For treatment options and expert advice, call 800.922.0000 to make an appointment.
7. Gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes is diabetes specific to pregnancy. "We diagnose this typically in the second trimester. If you have risk factors, we'll test you earlier on," says Dr. Kinyoun.
Risk factors include:
- A history of gestational diabetes
- Strong family history of diabetes
- A history of having large babies
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Later age in conception
Your OB-GYN can screen you for gestational diabetes using a sugary drink test, followed by a blood draw, to see how your body responds. If you have relatively high blood sugar levels, they'll do a follow-up test.
Dietary and lifestyle changes can help you manage gestational diabetes. Some women can do everything right and still require medication, largely because of the hormones secreted by the placenta.
8. Hair changes
Hair changes are completely normal, due to fluctuations in your hormones.
"Some people notice a thickening of their hair during or after pregnancy," says Dr. Kinyoun. "Some folks notice hair on their upper lip, their abdomen or around their nipples."
9. Vagina changing colors
Have you noticed your vagina looks a bit different than what you're used to? Dr. Kinyoun says this is nothing to worry about. "You can have increased blood flow, particularly to the pelvic region, which can cause some purplish discoloration of the vagina," she says. Called Chadwick's sign, it's an early sign of pregnancy.
Another cause of color changes? Varicose veins. "Just like you can get varicose veins on your legs, you can get them on your labia as well during pregnancy," explains Dr. Kinyoun. "That's because your uterus sits on bigger veins that bring blood from the lower extremities back up to the heart."
"Often the varicose veins will resolve after pregnancy," says Dr. Kinyoun. "If you're experiencing pain, we'd recommend full-support hose to support the vulva and take the pressure off."
Due to hormonal changes, you may feel warmer than you're used to. "Carrying around a gestating uterus, you start to feel warmer because of the increased weight. I used to wear ice packs while I was pregnant in the operating room," Dr. Kinyoun recalls.
You may get so warm that you pass out. So take care to monitor yourself, especially if you're prone to fainting or hypoglycemia. Be sure to stay very well-hydrated and eat small frequent meals.
Which of these 10 pregnancy things have you experienced? Or is there something not on the list? Call 800.922.0000 to make an appointment with an OB-GYN to get your concerns checked out.