Pregnancy can be exciting, but it can be stressful for some women, especially if previous health issues arose during a past pregnancy. Any woman could face several health risks, and it is as important for their partners to know and understand potential complications as it is for them.
Being able to identify what is a potential complication vs. a common symptom associated with the three different stages of pregnancy can help reduce stress. For example, mood changes do not mean something is wrong with the pregnancy. A pregnant woman’s hormones fluctuate significantly during the nine months. Hormones have varying influence on mood, emotions, anxiety, and responses. Knowing this can help you understand potential outbursts, withdrawal, or other mood changes.
Women with underlying health issues before pregnancy may be at increased risk for certain complications. Discussing any medical conditions with an obstetrician to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy is vital. Some women may require more supervision and monitoring during the nine months. Women carrying multiple fetuses may also be at risk of more complications, with some requiring bed rest later in their pregnancy.
Possible Pregnancy Complications to Know
Early and ongoing monitoring by an obstetrician is the best way to reduce health risks and pregnancy complications. However, even the best medical and personal care cannot prevent potential issues from developing. Knowing what is normal and what signals are warnings can help you get early treatment to help your pregnancy along.
Women with chronic health issues should discuss these concerns with their providers before becoming pregnant, if possible. The more your doctor knows, the better they can guide you through a successful pregnancy. Chronic kidney disease, obesity, type 1 or 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and other health concerns can increase the risk of pregnancy complications.
Some potential pregnancy complications to know include the following:
- High blood pressure
Hypertension can be troublesome during pregnancy as it can reduce blood flow to the uterus and slow fetal growth when arteries narrow. Women with high blood pressure before pregnancy require increased monitoring and potential medication use to prevent their blood pressure from rising too high. Gestational hypertension typically develops during the second half of a pregnancy, disappearing after delivery. High blood pressure can also increase the risk of developing preeclampsia.
Another form of high blood pressure during pregnancy, preeclampsia, can cause serious and potentially fatal complications for the baby and mother. Women with preeclampsia may have high protein levels in urine, high blood pressure, or other organ damage signs. Elevated liver enzymes, severe headaches, upper abdominal pain (under the rib cage on the right side), shortness of breath, edema, vision changes, decreased platelets, and vomiting or nausea are possible warning signs.
A woman may be at a higher risk of developing preeclampsia if it has occurred previously during pregnancy or carrying more than one fetus. Chronic hypertension, kidney disease, in vitro fertilization, type 1 or 2 diabetes, and having an autoimmune disorder increase the risks of preeclampsia. Other increased risk factors include being over 35, obesity, family preeclampsia history, first pregnancy, and more than a decade since the last pregnancy.
- Gestational diabetes
Developing diabetes during pregnancy when it was not present before is known as gestational diabetes. Hormone changes during pregnancy that interfere with the body’s ability to produce or use insulin can increase blood sugar levels.
Gestational diabetes typically disappears following pregnancy but can also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later. High blood pressure risks also increase when gestational diabetes occurs, as does the possibility of having a premature or very large baby.
- Preterm Labor
Going into early labor is scary for any woman. Preterm labor occurs before 37 weeks, as the baby has a higher risk of undeveloped lungs and brain and organ problems. Progesterone treatment helps to reduce the risk of preterm labor for women with an increased risk of developing this condition.
- Hormonal changes
Pregnant women experience increases in estrogen and progesterone due to higher levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). They also experience changes in the amount and function of other hormones, including significant increases in placental human growth hormone (HGH) levels. Learn more about the roles of HCG and HGH in the body and what is the difference.
Some infections, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs), can lead to complications during pregnancy. They may affect the fetus during pregnancy or pass to the baby during delivery through the birth canal. Some infections can increase the risk of miscarriage, birth defects, low birth rate, stillbirth, newborn illness or death, ectopic pregnancy, and preterm labor and delivery.
If you have not been adequately vaccinated before pregnancy, including measles, chicken pox, and other diseases, speak with your physician to discuss these vaccines. Pretesting for STIs is crucial, as treatment can help protect your fetus and baby.
Iron-deficient anemia may occur during pregnancy if a woman does not increase her iron intake. Most prenatal vitamins include sufficient iron to reduce this risk. Some women may require additional iron supplements. Iron deficiency symptoms include shortness of breath, feeling faint, paleness, and tiredness. Low birth weight and preterm birth are possible if not corrected.
- Miscarriage and stillbirth
Pregnancy loss that occurs before 20 weeks is often called a miscarriage. There may not be any reason why the pregnancy was not viable to continue. Warning signs may include cramping, vaginal bleeding or spotting, fluid leak, or tissue passing through the vagina. Spotting can occur for no reason and does not necessarily mean a woman is having a miscarriage. However, it should be reported to the obstetrician immediately to ensure all is well with the pregnancy.
The loss of a pregnancy after 20 weeks is called a stillbirth. While chronic health issues, placental problems, chromosomal abnormalities, and poor fetal growth are contributing factors, there may not be any discernible cause of the loss.
- Anxiety and depression
Pregnant and postpartum depression and anxiety are areas of concern for some women. During pregnancy, a woman dealing with these conditions may not properly care for her well-being, which can impact the growing fetus. Postpartum depression may interfere with a woman’s ability to care for her newborn. These conditions are treatable with the help of a physician.
- Persistent or severe nausea or vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are associated more with the first trimester of pregnancy but can persist into the third trimester. Known as hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnant woman may lose weight, feel faint, suffer from reduced appetite or dehydration, and require extra nutrients and fluids via hospitalization.
Common Symptoms of Pregnancy
Every woman’s body is different, and how she handles her pregnancy at each stage can vary significantly. Most people naturally assume that the worst three months are the first when nausea and vomiting are most common. However, those issues can develop later or linger throughout the pregnancy. Some women never experience them at all – but may feel some of the other symptoms.
The list below highlights the most common early symptoms of pregnancy:
- Nausea: “Morning sickness” is common during the first trimester and can last all day, not just in the morning. It often appears between the 4th and 6th weeks of pregnancy but could start sooner or later. Some women have trouble keeping down food or develop sensitivities to certain foods and smells. Vomiting may cause weight loss at a time when weight gain becomes common. Speak with your doctor if you continue to have trouble eating and getting ample nutrition to support the developing fetus.
- Fatigue: With the body working hard to help the fetus develop, a woman may feel she is running out of steam earlier in the day. An increase in first trimester progesterone to support the fetus and uterus can interfere with metabolism. Vomiting, anemia caused by iron deficiency, and sleep problems may worsen fatigue.
- Missed periods: Some women may notice their period is late immediately, while others may have lighter bleeding that first month. If that is not common for you, contact a doctor right away or take a home pregnancy test.
- Breast tenderness and swelling: Tender or swollen breasts are sometimes the first sign some women notice, often a few days before their expected period. Breast enlargement continues throughout the pregnancy.
- Food cravings: The intense desire for some foods and aversions to others is common and may occur early in pregnancy. Smells can also turn your favorite foods into ones you avoid. If you develop a desire for non-food items such as paper or dirt, contact your doctor. It signals a medical condition known as “pica,” which could indicate deficient nutrients.
- Frequent urination: While it may seem that the urge to urinate would increase later in pregnancy, as the growing fetus presses on the bladder, many women experience an increase in urination during the first month. The cause early on is increased body fluid levels and kidney functions.
As the pregnancy progresses, here are some other symptoms that you might notice:
- Back pain: The growing fetus can lead to changes in posture and pressure on the nerves, muscles, bones, and ligaments. Leg cramps may also occur due to acid build-up in muscles during the second and third trimesters.
- Vaginal changes: Increased vaginal discharge is common during pregnancy. Some women may notice slight spotting. Itching and inflammation may also occur. Let your doctor know if you notice any of these changes, along with differing odor, pain, or trouble urinating.
- Indigestion and heartburn: With the enlarged uterus pushing against abdominal organs, stomach acid may rise and enter the esophagus. Eating smaller meals and avoiding eating before bed may help.
- Constipation: A common issue during pregnancy, many women experience hard or infrequent bowel movements due to changes in hormones and pressure of the uterus on the rectum. The strain of pushing can also cause hemorrhoids.
- Moodiness: Many hormones influence changes in mood, and the fluctuating hormone levels of pregnancy can lead to irritability, anxiety, depression, and other emotional alterations. Get help if these feelings continue or worsen.
- Breathing troubles: The growing fetus and uterus can put pressure on your diaphragm, leading to labored breathing.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Numbness or tingling in the hands occurs when increased tissue fluids cause compression on the median nerve. Pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome often resolves following birth.
- Varicose veins: Increased circulating blood volume and uterine pressure against the veins may cause varicose veins and leg swelling. Avoiding long periods of standing, wearing support stockings, elevating feet, gentle exercise, and massage may help.
How to stay healthy post pregnancy
Staying healthy after pregnancy, especially in the postpartum period, is crucial for both your well-being and your baby’s. Staying healthy after pregnancy is essential. Here are some tips: Eat a balanced diet, stay hydrated, get enough rest, start gentle exercises, prioritize mental health, seek support, attend medical checkups, and take time for self-care. Discover more about these postpartum care packages that can include items like healthy snacks, a reusable water bottle, a cozy blanket, gentle exercise tools, stress-relief items, skincare products, breastfeeding support items, and reminders for medical checkups to help you on your journey to post-pregnancy health and well-being.
Taking action early to monitor your pregnancy with a healthcare specialist can help reduce the risk of pregnancy complications. Early prenatal care allows a doctor to ensure you receive the proper vitamins and nutrients necessary to foster proper fetal development.
Understanding the difference between normal pregnancy symptoms and signs of complications is crucial. If you have any questions, contact your healthcare provider to discuss your concerns.