If you’re trying to conceive, you’re probably paying close attention to your body for signs of pregnancy, such as fatigue, nausea, breast tenderness, and bloating. How do you tell whether the symptoms you are experiencing are those of pregnancy or of premenstrual syndrome?
Here is a list of common signs of pregnancy to help you determine whether you have a baby on the way. Of course, the symptoms of pregnancy can vary significantly among women. The best way to tell whether you are truly expecting is to try a home pregnancy test.
Missed Period: One obvious sign of pregnancy, if not the most obvious, is a missed period. If your menstrual cycles are regular, a missed period is an even stronger indication that you may be pregnant. It also should motivate you to take a home pregnancy test.
Your period stops when your body starts producing the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). If there is no rise in hCG, then your uterine lining will begin to shed and you will begin your period shortly after.
Bloating is common in pregnancy, and is often accompanied by gas. Bloat is caused by a digestive disturbance that results in fluid or gas build-up, which causes a distended abdomen. You may find the extra belching and flatulence associated with bloating more annoying than the swollen belly.
Some women may feel bloated very early in pregnancy. This is because of the increase in your hormone levels, particularly progesterone, not because of your developing baby. Progesterone causes smooth muscle tissue in the gastrointestinal tract to relax, slowing down the digestion process. While the slowing of digestion ensures that your baby receives the nutrients from the food you eat, it can cause bloating.
Discomfort from bloating often occurs as your pregnancy progresses and your uterus expands, pressing on your gastrointestinal tract and leaving you feeling like you ate too much, even after small meals.
Frequent Urination: An increase in trips to the bathroom is one of the early signs of pregnancy. This need to urinate is caused by hormones that increase blood flow as well as urine flow. As your uterus grows, it applies pressure on your bladder, also causing you to urinate more frequently. Many pregnant women will have to get up at least once in the middle of the night for a bathroom visit.
Unfortunately, this need to urinate more frequently generally lasts throughout pregnancy. If you can drink the amount of fluids you require daily during the day and reduce or stop your intake of fluids early in the evening, it could help prevent middle-of-the-night bathroom trips. Avoiding caffeine can also help reduce trips to the bathroom.
While the increased need to urinate can be uncomfortable at times, feeling the urge to urinate all the time is not normal and may be a sign of a urinary tract infection. If that “gotta go” feeling is constant, ask your doctor about it.
Fatigue: One of the most common symptoms of pregnancy is fatigue. With all the body is doing in the first trimester of pregnancy, it is no wonder that you are feeling tired and exhausted all the time, even after a good night’s sleep. Pregnancy fatigue can be overwhelming in the beginning. This is because your body is working extra hard, and burning a lot of energy, to build a life support system for your baby—the placenta.
The baby develops at an extraordinary rate, and this requires a lot of nutrients and water. There is not much you can do about fatigue other than rest when your body is tired, eat well, drink plenty of fluids, and stay active when you do have a little bit of energy. Too much rest is not good. It is much better for you and your baby if you can continue your normal activities and light exercise throughout pregnancy.
By the second trimester, if your pregnancy has been uncomplicated, you should feel more energetic, although you can experience fatigue at any time during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, due to a lack of sleep from multiple late-night bathroom trips and uncomfortable sleeping positions to accommodate your growing belly. It is important that you don’t push yourself to the point where you become weak, breathless, or faint.
Nausea coupled with fatigue is often a warning sign that you need more rest. Listen to your body and limit your activities when necessary. If you can’t limit your activities (for example, because you have another child to tend to), don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Spotting and Bleeding: A small percentage of women may experience light staining or spotting when the fertilized egg implants in the uterus (implantation bleeding). This can occur around the time of your expected period and could be mistaken for your period if your periods are light to begin with. Implantation bleeding is often light brown or pink and the flow is scanty, whereas period bleeding is typically bright red and flows heavily.
More often pregnant women have what’s called “breakthrough bleeding” about the time that their period is due. Although the cause of this bleeding is unclear, it may be that the hormones in control of your menstrual cycle are still having an effect while the pregnancy hormones are in the process of taking over. Both implantation bleeding and breakthrough bleeding can last a few hours to a few days.
A home pregnancy test can determine whether the light staining or spotting was caused by your period. Bleeding that differs from your period can also be a sign of a chemical pregnancy, a miscarriage, or something more serious. If the bleeding is accompanied by sharp pain in the lower abdomen or other unusual symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.
Morning Sickness: While the nausea and vomiting associated with morning sickness is common during pregnancy, not all pregnant women will experience it. Morning sickness is often a sign of a healthy pregnancy, although that is little consolation for those who have it.
The term morning sickness is a misnomer because the nausea typically lasts all day. Although morning sickness usually decreases during the second trimester, some women experience bouts of nausea and vomiting throughout pregnancy. This could be related to fatigue.
There are many theories to explain why morning sickness occurs, but the cause remains unknown. Higher than normal hormone levels, gastroesophageal reflux, and the enhanced sense of smell in pregnant women may be contributing factors. Emotional stress can also cause or exacerbate the symptoms of morning sickness.
Although you may not have had morning sickness in your first pregnancy, you may have it in a second or third pregnancy. There are many options for managing morning sickness. Getting extra sleep and eliminating stress often helps. Of course, you must eat well and often, drink a lot of fluids (cold drinks may be more palatable), and take a prenatal supplement. Real ginger (not ginger ale) and lemons can also ease queasiness. For other treatment options, ask your Ob/Gyn.
Lower Abdominal Pressure: Some women feel pressure in the lower abdomen. This mild cramping without bleeding is normal. You may be feeling the sensation of implantation, or it may be the increased blood flow in the uterus and buildup of the uterine lining. It could also be gas pain or bowel spams caused by the effect of pregnancy hormones on your gastrointestinal system — or by constipation, which can be another side effect of pregnancy. The pressure usually passes within a few days or weeks and does not require any treatment.
Breast Changes: Tenderness of the breasts and nipples is often one of the first signs of pregnancy. This may be similar to what you feel during your premenstrual cycle. If you are pregnant, the tenderness will continue and be more intense. As your pregnancy hormone levels increase, so does the size of your breasts. At term, your bra size could be three times what it is normally.
Your breasts start growing within weeks of conception and expand faster than your belly. This is your body’s way of preparing your breasts to feed your baby, by increasing fat and blood flow to the area. While your breasts will continue to enlarge throughout your pregnancy, the tenderness will go away or be felt periodically.
Other normal breast changes you may notice include a darkening of your areolas (the pigmented areas around your nipples), prominent little bumps on the areola, and vivid blue veins. These changes usually resolve after delivery or after you’ve finished breastfeeding.
Food Aversions/Cravings: An increase in appetite is a natural part of pregnancy. You may enjoy food more because your sense of smell is enhanced. On the other hand, your super smelling ability may cause you to turn up your nose at some foods you normally have no problem with.
Although your tastes in food may change during pregnancy, you are not likely to have cravings for pickles and ice cream late at night. In reality, many pregnant women find that they indulge in some foods more than others or enjoy combinations of foods that they typically would not eat. The types of foods pregnant women often crave are fatty, such as ice cream, or citrus (fruits). Aversions to poultry and vegetables are common.
Hormones may be partially to blame for your altered eating habits, but it could just be your body’s response to the significant changes it is undergoing during pregnancy. Regardless of the cause, cravings can be satisfied with gusto and you need not worry about food aversions. Any odd eating habits will return to normal after your pregnancy is over. If you’re craving unhealthy foods, try to replace them with more healthy alternatives (for example, substitute granola bars for candy bars).
Weight Gain: In early pregnancy, weight gain is usually minimal and may be unnoticeable to the expectant mom. Some women even lose a few pounds from morning sickness, insomnia, or other conditions. In women who are overweight, weight gain may not be apparent until the second trimester.
Gaining the right amount of weight while pregnant is vital, but there is no magic formula for weight gain. If you eat well and gain the right amount of weight, then you should have no problem losing the weight after delivery. In general, if your body mass index (BMI) is average (between 18.5 and 26), then you can expect to gain between 25 and 35 pounds. Women with higher BMIs should gain less weight.
If you are expecting twins, a weight gain of 35 to 45 pounds is normal. Your weight is measured at each of your prenatal appointments. If your doctor feels that you are gaining too much or too little, he or she will discuss your diet with you. Your focus should not be on the scale, but rather on your food intake and how to eat healthy.