All women are different and will experience a variety of symptoms during their pregnancy. Some will experience all pregnancy symptoms, whilst others may have none at all. This article discusses some of the most common pregnancy symptoms you might come across.
Missing your period is one of the clearest signs of early pregnancy. Your periods stop because your body producing the pregnancy hormone human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (hCG).
Fatigue is a more common pregnancy symptom in your first and third trimester. A raised progesterone level is one of the factors that contributes to fatigue in early pregnancy but there are many other reasons. In the first trimester, your body is working hard, making the placenta and developing your baby. Your hormone levels and metabolism are rapidly changing and your blood sugar and blood pressure tend to be lower.
Oestrogen and progesterone levels increase rapidly in early pregnancy which can have a big impact on your mood, making many women feel more emotional and upset. Feeling tired will also affect your emotional wellbeing. See our article, Understanding your pregnancy hormones for more information.
Bloating, wind and belching
As mentioned above, your body produces higher levels of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy. This relaxes the smooth muscle tissue throughout your body, including those that help digestion. The result is more wind, bloating and discomfort.
Around seven in 10 women experience nausea or vomiting, or both during pregnancy. It is thought to be triggered by all the changes taking place in your body, such as the high level of hormones in your bloodstream. Although it is usually experienced between six and 12 weeks in pregnancy, for some it can last up to 20 weeks – or even the whole pregnancy if you’re unlucky. As long as you are managing to keep some food and fluids down, this is completely normal. You can get anti-sickness medication from your GP.
If you are unable to keep any fluid or food down you might have what is known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). Approximately 1 in 100 women experience HG and have to be treated in hospital. This is to ensure you and your baby are getting the essential nutrients and fluids you need.
You may experience more headaches than usual during your first trimester. It is thought that an increase in your hormones and blood volume play a part – giving up caffeine can be another reason. Other potential factors could include, fatigue, sinus congestion, allergies, eye strain, stress, depression, hunger and dehydration. Headaches usually disappear during the second trimester, when the flood of hormones stabilises and your body grows more accustomed to its altered chemistry.
In your second and third trimester headaches can be a symptom of pre-eclampsia, if you are worried contact your GP or midwife. See our article, Pregnancy conditions explained: Pre-eclampsia for more information.
Two in every five women experience constipation during pregnancy, usually in the first trimester. It is caused by an increased level of progesterone which acts as a muscle relaxant. It can be safely treated in pregnancy without causing any harm to your baby – get in touch with your GP.
In pregnancy these are known as secondary leg cramps. They are caused by your muscles suddenly contracting, causing pain in your leg. This is known as a spasm and can last from a few seconds up to 10 minutes. It is thought that they are more common in pregnancy due to the extra weight placing strain on the leg muscles.
Tender, larger breasts
Increased levels of progesterone in pregnancy cause sensations in the breasts such as tingling and soreness, particularly in the nipples. Some women may find their breasts increase in size significantly, whilst others remain the same. Your nipples and areola darken in colour and the veins on the surface of the breast may become more noticeable. From about 16 weeks the breasts are able to produce milk and it is not unusual for them to leak small amounts of straw coloured fluid called colostrum.
See Breast changes during and after pregnancy for more information.
Frequency of urination
Increased levels of the hormone hCG causes more blood to flow to your pelvic area and kidneys. In the first trimester your growing womb puts pressure on your bladder, giving it less room to store urine. As your pregnancy progresses your kidneys have to deal with the extra waste from both your circulation and your baby. Your bladder increases in capacity during your pregnancy to deal with this. As the womb grows, it rises into the abdominal cavity and the pressure on the bladder is relieved until the end of the pregnancy – about 35 weeks. This is when the baby’s head will enter the pelvis and once again put pressure on the bladder.
Weight gain, weight loss
Weight gain in pregnancy varies greatly, with most women gaining between 10 kg and 12.5 kg and putting the majority of the weight on after 20 weeks (read more about healthy weight gain here). Although much of the weight is the baby growing, your body will also be storing fat, ready to make breast milk after the baby is born. Putting on too much, or too little weight can lead to health problems for you and your unborn baby.
See our article What is healthy weight gain in pregnancy.
Heartburn is caused by an increase in progesterone, which relaxes the smooth muscle. Experts believe this also relaxes the valve that separates your oesophagus (food pipe) from your stomach. This allows gastric acid to seep back up, causing a burning sensation.
There are a few reasons why you may experience backache in pregnancy. Your body makes a hormone called relaxin which allows ligaments in the pelvic area to relax and your joints to loosen. This prepares your body for the birth process. Relaxin can also loosen the ligaments that support your spine, which can cause you instability and pain. As your pregnancy progresses and your baby grows, the abdominal muscles that run from the rib cage to the pubic bone (rectal abdominis) may separate. This can also put strain on the muscles in your back.
Weight gain also contributes to lower back pain, as well as your growing baby who can put pressure on the blood vessels and nerves in your pelvis and back.
As your posture changes during pregnancy, so does your centre of gravity. It is something that happens gradually and you may not be aware that you are adjusting your posture and the way you move to compensate. This can result in back pain or strain. Exercises, such as Pilates, that strengthen your core can help with this.
You are likely to experience quite vivid dreams in pregnancy and the content of your dreams will vary greatly. Women can experience anything from sexual dreams to nightmares to talking animals, etc., and this is completely normal. The dreams are thought to reflect your changing emotions, which may range from anxiety to excitement about the changes in your body and your life.
As your sleep is likely to be more disturbed during pregnancy – because you need the loo, you have to change your sleeping position more often, or you wake with leg cramps – you will experience more rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and less deep sleep. You go from drowsiness to light sleep and onto REM sleep before going into a deep sleep. REM sleep is when you experience most of your dreams and if you are in this state of sleep more due to disturbed nights, you are more likely to remember the dreams that you have. If you have dreams that disturb you, you should discuss them with your partner or midwife.