11 Common pregnancy problems: when should you call the doctor?

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Common pregnancy problems - when you should worry and when you should call the doctor in pregnancy

Pregnancy is a joyous and wonderful experience but, for many mums-to-be it can also be a time of heightened anxiety with a myriad of common pregnancy problems.

It’s hard to know when you should bat your worries away as pregnancy angst or when you should get things checked out just to be on the safe side.

You don’t want to hot foot it down to the surgery for every tiny twinge but there are times when it IS better to just call your doctor and make sure everything’s OK.

So we’ve put together a list of the reasons when you should do just that and touch upon some of the common pregnancy problems that can occur.

If you’re unsure about anything and worrying then it’s always better to ask your midwife and GP. Don’t sit in silence because you don’t want to bother people.

If in any doubt, get it checked out.

Chances are – everything’s fine. But it’s always better to make sure.

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Common pregnancy problems - when you should worry and when you should call the doctor in pregnancy
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Spotting or bleeding

It is terrifying if you notice spotting in your knickers or blood when you wipe.

It’s all too easy to go straight to the worst case scenario in your mind and presume it’s a sign of miscarriage or that your baby is in serious trouble. But that won’t always be the case.

For example bleeding in the first trimester is quite common. 1 in 5 pregnant women (20%) will experience some spotting during pregnancy, and most go on to have perfectly healthy pregnancies and babies.

That doesn’t change the fact that you should always go the doctor if you notice any spotting or bleeding.

They will run tests and perhaps give you an ultrasound to determine if it’s nothing to worry about or a concern that needs further investigation. Sometimes they tell you to go away and ‘wait and see’. Which can be agonising.

If your bleeding is heavy it’s important you get it checked out straight away, especially if you also notice any pain or any other symptoms too.

For more on bleeding during pregnancy see our brief guide: 4 types of spotting and bleeding during pregnancy.

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Common pregnancy problems - when you should worry and when you should call the doctor in pregnancy
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Reduced movements

As a mum-to-be you will be aware of how much you feel your baby kicking or moving in your womb. You will often notice baby’s first movements as flutterings between 16 and 24 weeks.

As you progress through your pregnancy you will get used to the feeling of your baby kicking and moving. You will probably start to notice the usual times when your baby is quiet and those when he is more active.

When you go into your third trimester it becomes more important to actually count the kicks. Write them down and get to know what is normal for your baby. If you notice any changes then get it checked out, even if it’s only been a day.

  • Count the Kicks is a free app to make monitoring baby’s kicks easier.
  • Kicks Count is also a UK campaign with a wealth of info and advice for mums-to-be. They have wristbands that help you count the kicks, which have plastic sliders to help you track what is normal for you and your baby.

Reduced movements can be an important warning sign that your baby is unwell. The sooner you notice and can get help the better so always get checked out.

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Common pregnancy problems - when you should worry and when you should call the doctor in pregnancy
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A severe headache

Headaches in pregnancy can be common.

They are uncomfortable but do not always mean a cause for concern. Sometimes headaches can be down to dehydration so do make sure you are drinking enough fluids.

However, if you have a severe headache, especially if it is accompanied by feeling dizzy, faint, having blurred vision or swollen hands and feet always seek medical advice.

Headaches can be due to many things, such as stress, migraines or low blood sugar.

They can though also be a sign of preeclampsia. Especially in your third trimester. If preeclampsia is not monitored it can lead to serious complications for both you and your baby.

Early diagnosis means that you’ll be carefully monitored and cared for so always check it out.

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A high temperature or fever

We can all get high temperatures or fevers due to all sorts of viruses and common conditions.  They can make us feel unwell and miserable. Often we will get better after a few days.

Sometimes though a high fever could be a sign of infection and you need to check that it hasn’t affected your baby.

If a fever is accompanied by sudden swelling of the hands and feet then it can also be a sign of preeclampsia, which requires urgent medical treatment and monitoring.

So, if you have a high temperature in pregnancy it’s always better to get it checked out.

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Common pregnancy problems - when you should worry and when you should call the doctor in pregnancy
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Severe itching

In pregnancy, as your skin stretches over your growing bump, it’s normal to feel your skin is more sensitive than normal and a bit itchy.

Hormonal changes can increase how itchy you feel. But feeling very itchy can also be sign of a more serious pregnancy condition, known as intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP). 

ICP is a liver disorder that can develop during pregnancy. It can lead to a higher chance of your baby being born prematurely or being stillborn.

So if your itching is severe or doesn’t go away, always mention it to your midwife or GP and get it checked out.

Symptoms of ICP:

The main symptom is itching, often without a rash.

It can be more noticeable on the hands and feet but can be all over the body. It can often be worse at night.

Other symptoms can include dark urine, pale poo and (less commonly) yellowing of the eyes.

ICP more often occurs from 30 weeks of pregnancy.

If you feel itchy during pregnancy then always mention it to your GP or midwife who can ask more questions, do more tests and monitor you more closely.

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Common pregnancy problems - when you should worry and when you should call the doctor in pregnancy
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Painful urination

Any pain when you pee usually means you have a UTI (a urinary tract infection).

It can often be accompanied by lower back pain, or a raised temperature.

If you get a urine infection during pregnancy it is not a cause for immediate concern but you should always get it treated, with antibiotics that are safe to use during pregnancy.

If left untreated urine infections can lead to more serious infections or early labour.

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Common pregnancy problems - when you should worry and when you should call the doctor in pregnancy
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Vaginal discharge and itching

Some vaginal discharge is normal but if you notice it is a funny colour or smell accompanied by pain or itching, then it could be a sign of a sexually transmitted disease.

If left untreated, it could harm your baby. So do get it checked right away.

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Common pregnancy problems - when you should worry and when you should call the doctor in pregnancy
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Pelvic pain

It’s not talked about much but a recent UK study  suggest that as many as 1 in 27 women suffer from Symphysis Pubis Disorder (SPD) during pregnancy.

It’s a condition where your ligaments loosen in your pelvis causing severe pain. Sometimes women end up on crutches.

SPD won’t harm your baby but it can mean you will suffer pain during pregnancy. You might need physio and to consider the best birthing positions for labour.

If you notice any strong pelvic pain then get it checked out and ask for help and support.

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Common pregnancy problems - when you should worry and when you should call the doctor in pregnancy
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Incessant vomiting

All mums-to-be brace themselves for morning sickness.

For some mums-to-be sickness and vomiting can ramp up a gear and be incessant and can become extreme.

This could mean you have developed hyperemesis gravidarum (HG): a pregnancy condition that hit the spotlight in recent years because Kate Middleton suffered from it.

HG can be severe and can require hospital treatment to ensure you don’t become dehydrated. HG can have dramatic symptoms but it is unlikely to cause any harm to your baby.

But if you get it then you, as a mum-to-be, will need care

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Common pregnancy problems - when you should worry and when you should call the doctor in pregnancy
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Contractions early in your third trimester

If you feel contractions weeks before your baby is due, tell your midwife straight away.

It’s tricky because you may not know if what you are feeling are Braxton Hicks (practice contractions that you will get in later pregnancy) or real contractions.

Braxton Hicks are not regular, unpredictable and don’t increase in intensity.

Real contractions will be a few minutes apart and increase in intensity.

If you think you are having contractions it’s always better to check with your midwife or GP.

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Common pregnancy problems - when you should worry and when you should call the doctor in pregnancy
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Excessive thirst and a need to pee more often

If you notice these symptoms always mention them to your doctor or midwife. Together with a dry mouth and tiredness they can be a sign of gestational diabetes.

All these symptoms can also be common anyway in pregnancy and may well be nothing to worry about but do check.

Your midwife will check your blood sugar levels regularly at antenatal appointments to look out for any signs of gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes is when your body cannot produce enough insulin – a hormone that helps control blood sugar levels – to meet the extra needs in pregnancy. If it is diagnosed then you will be monitored closely and informed of ways to lower your blood sugar so that you and your baby are safe.

 

See our article Is it dangerous to exercise during pregnancy? for more pregnancy tips.