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Pregnancy can be tough. Parts you never even knew could hurt can ache and throb with fury. Ever felt like baby is punching your cervix? With all the weird and wonderful symptoms that come with the beauty of growing life, how do you know which are serious, and which are just the consequence of too many tacos? Here’s just some of the biggies that you should contact your Midwife about and the pregnancy symptoms you should never ignore.
1 – Baby’s Movements
I can’t say this enough. Always take it seriously. As a Midwife, I have seen many women present reporting reduced to no movements for a couple of days, and I hold my breath as I put a doppler to their baby. From 18-20 weeks you may start feeling some flutters and movements, maybe not. From around 24 weeks, you should be noticing periods of activity throughout the day and night.
As your baby grows, it is important to be in tune to their own individual pattern of movements. What about the age old 10 movements in 1 hour? No. There is no magic number. Any good Midwife will always encourage you to learn your own baby’s patterns and to notify them if there is any deviation from the normal.
Babies sleep in the womb, so it’s normal to have short, quiet periods and more active periods – perhaps after a meal or when you’re laying in bed trying to sleep. If you’ve had a busy day and been a bit distracted, it’s always worth sitting quietly for an hour, having something to eat and drink, hands on tummy, and tuning in to what you’re feeling. If you’re still concerned, or if you have a gut feeling something isn’t right, contact your Midwife or local maternity hospital. Never just wait and see how baby is tomorrow.
2 – Swelling
OK. This is a tricky one. We all know we can resemble a pufferfish at the less glamorous stages of pregnancy. But when is the swelling more than just a normal symptom? Ask yourself: Is this swelling normal for me? Does the swelling go away after resting overnight? Are my face and hands free of swelling? Could my swollen legs be related to being on my feet a lot today? If you answer NO to any of these questions, it is worth having a chat with your Midwife asap.
Pre-eclampsia is a condition of pregnancy that is taken very seriously, due to the impact it can have on Mum and Baby’s wellbeing. We all know the saying ‘ better safe than sorry ‘. In pregnancy it couldn’t be truer. Swelling of the hands and face, sudden onset swelling, pitting oedema, or inability to reduce swelling with leg massage, elevation, and rest can all be symptoms of pre-eclampsia, and are worth getting checked out. Also, if any swelling is associated with persistent headache, spots/flashes in vision, twitchiness, light sensitivity, abdominal pain or pitting (poke your swollen feet – does it leave a pit?), then it’s time to call your Midwife.
3 – Abnormal Discharge & Fluid Loss
Yup, I said it. Discharge. It’s not a dirty word. We need to learn and embrace our womanly changes in pregnancy so that we can be informed, confident, safe and own our incredible bodies. Fun fact – vaginal discharge exists to lubricate, keep the vagina clean and prevent infections.
Pregnancy hormones can bring a lot of changes to colour, odour, and consistency of our discharge. It may change from clearish mucous pre-pregnancy to a white smooth creamy consistency. It may smell a lot more earthy, and may be more excessive in amount, particularly towards the end of pregnancy. Normal.
What isn’t normal, and therefore should not be ignored, is any offensive smell, burning or itchiness, frothy or cottage-cheese consistency, or abnormal colours (grey/green/brown). These could be signs of thrush or infections which could require treatment through your GP. Also, if you think you have broken your waters, even if you’re only 50% sure (the other 50% attributed to possibly wetting ones self) then you should notify your Midwife.
4 – Bleeding
Any bleeding in pregnancy is considered abnormal, and requires a check up with your Midwife (GP or health care provider if you aren’t booked in with a Midwife or hospital yet).
Blood loss can be caused by several factors such as bleeding from the placenta site or the vascular cervix, injury, unknown causes, and post-coitus aka after-nooky. It is safe to have sex in pregnancy. You may or may not want to tell your partner that. But if any bleeding occurs afterwards, you guessed it, get it checked out. It’s always important to ensure a small problem doesn’t turn into a big problem.
Between 37-42 weeks, your mucous plug or ‘show’ which protects your cervix may start to come away – and this is normal. Most women have described this to me as a ‘snotty glob’ in their underwear. It is sometimes a tiny bit pink or faintly brown/red like old blood. By this stage of pregnancy, your Midwife will have discussed with you what is normal and what isn’t, what to expect, and what to get checked out.
5 – Persistent Pain
Pregnancy can certainly be a strain on the body. If we aren’t fighting the losing battle of reflux with handfuls of Fruit Tingles, QuickEze, gallons of milk, and any other magical concoction we find on the web (I feel another post coming on) then we feel sore, stiff and full of baby. And don’t get me started on the leg cramps! This is a grey area where we need to listen to the nagging little voice in our head called intuition. If you feel like something is not quite right, don’t wait and see.
Ligament and pelvic discomfort are common pregnancy symptoms. Think of a hot air balloon. Uterus = Balloon. Ligaments = strings. Pelvis = basket. If a hot air balloon basket (your pelvis) is misaligned, then the strings are going to be tight on one side and loose on the other, hence the ligament pain. Also, the balloon (your uterus) will be wonky. A well aligned pelvis means well aligned ligaments and a well aligned uterus. All of which facilitates optimal positioning of baby and easier labour and birth. If you think you’re out of balance, try some decent body work such as a reputable pregnancy Chiropractor. You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make.
So when is pain not normal? Any pain – whether in your front, back, sides, upper or lower abdomen – that is either persistent in nature, increasing in intensity, coming and going continuously, rhythmic, sudden acute onset, isn’t relieved with simple analgesia or gives you the “this doesn’t feel right” feeling, should be investigated.
6 – Itching
More often than not, itchiness in pregnancy is a normal, irritating symptom with no risks. Well, there’s always risk to mental health if it gets so bad you start smearing weird remedies from the dark places of the internet all over your body.
Skin is amazingly stretchy – any Mama past her due date is sure it couldn’t stretch anymore, yet, it does. How awesome are our bodies? The big stretch can can cause significant dry, sensitive, itchy, flaky skin. You may find yourself rubbing your belly against the shopping trolley to get a good scratch. Severe itching however, particularly of the palms and feet, can be a symptom of cholestasis, which is a disease of the liver and can affect the wellbeing of yourself and babe, or the less severe condition PUPPP (Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy). It’s always important to let your Midwife know about any itching at your prenatal appointments.
7 – Urinary Symptoms
Anyone who has had a UTI before can give you an account of the “pissing razor blades” feeling. That sensation that can illicit an undeniable shriek like no other. I once heard it in the womens’ public toilet at an airport and got the urge to buy this girl some flowers or give her a hug or something. I had to put my inner-midwife labour coach back in her box before I started saying positive affirmations through the cubicle door.
Now this one is purely observational, but over the last decade working with Mamas, I’ve come to notice that it doesn’t always quite happen like that in pregnancy. It can be more silent and subtle in nature. Sometimes the only symptom present may be frequent urination – but what pregnant woman doesn’t pee on the hour every hour? Always take urinary burning, discomfort, and dull abdominal pain seriously.
UTI in pregnancy, if left untreated, can develop into significant complications such as kidney infection, sepsis, and even premature labour. Now this doesn’t mean we need to go overboard and make every poor mother pee on a stick as she presents for her appointments. But it is important that Mamas are informed about what is and isn’t normal, empowered to be mindful of their body, and made to feel safe to ask questions and report concerns, no matter how minor they may feel they are.