Your pregnancy

Pregnancy symptoms and common health problems

8 min read

From morning sickness to pelvic pain, learn more about common pregnancy symptoms from the first weeks through to the third trimester – and when you should seek medical help.

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Mind-numbing tiredness, all-day nausea, back pain, cramps and bleeding gums – pregnancy can bring about a host of symptoms and health problems. We take you through what’s normal and when you should get help from a doctor or midwife.

When will I get early signs of pregnancy?

Some of the first signs of pregnancy often appear very similar to what you might experience before your period (feeling bloated, menstrual cramping and tender breasts), so it can be hard to know if they’re early pregnancy symptoms until you’ve missed your period and have a positive pregnancy test in your hand.

For most women, more characteristic pregnancy symptoms, like morning sickness, start around the middle of the first trimester (week 6 or 7) when the level of the pregnancy hormone hCG has risen to a higher level in your body.

What are the most common pregnancy symptoms?

  • Morning sicknessAround seven out of ten women experience nausea to some degree when they’re pregnant, ranging from feeling slightly ill for a couple of weeks to vomiting daily for months.
  • Tiredness: Feeling exhausted is very common in early pregnancy as your body’s working hard and getting used to hormonal changes.
  • Frequent urination: Needing to go to the toilet more often than usual, including during the night, is another response to changing hormones in the first trimester.
  • Sore breasts: From the very start of pregnancy, your body starts gearing up for breastfeeding, which can make your breasts and nipples sore and sensitive to touch.
  • Cramping: Your uterus has a lot of growing to do and it starts from day one. This can make you feel pain similar to menstrual cramps, or some occasional sharp pains in your stomach.
  • Headaches : If you usually get headaches around your period, you’re also more likely to get them in early pregnancy. Like many other early symptoms, headaches often go away in the second trimester.
  • Heightened sense of smell: Do you suddenly feel like a bloodhound? You’re not imagining it – a lot of pregnant women are able to sense smells that other people are oblivious to.
  • Food cravings and aversions: You may go off food entirely, either because of nausea or due to the digestive system slowing down. On the other hand, you may have an increased appetite or crave only certain foods – even weird combinations or things you wouldn’t normally eat.

What if I don’t have any early pregnancy symptoms?

Not all women experience pregnancy symptoms and it doesn’t mean there’s anything to worry about. Usually, it just means that your body is managing the hormonal changes better than most women’s.

Similarly, having a lot of pregnancy symptoms unfortunately doesn’t mean that you’re safe from miscarriage.

If you’re worried about a lack of symptoms, speak to your midwife or doctor at your booking appointment.

When should I seek medical help?

Although they can be uncomfortable, most symptoms in early pregnancy are normal. However, there are a few things you should look out for, as these could mean something is not quite right. 

If you experience any of the below, contact your GP, nearest early pregnancy assessment unit (EPAU), A&E or your midwife.

  • Bleeding: Many women experience some light bleeding in early pregnancy, often spotting around the time when their period is due. However, you should always contact your midwife or GP if you experience any vaginal bleeding, as it can be a sign of miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.
  • Severe or one-sided pain: While some cramping is a normal part of pregnancy, severe pain or pain on one side of your abdomen can be a sign that you’re having an ectopic pregnancy, especially if you’re also bleeding or find it painful to go to the toilet. You need to have this investigated by a doctor or midwife, as it can be dangerous if you leave it too long.
  • Severe vomitingFor a small minority of women, nausea in pregnancy is so severe that it becomes a medical condition: hyperemesis gravidarum. If you find it very difficult to keep food and fluids down, you’re at risk of dehydration and may require hospital treatment. Try to contact your midwife or doctor as soon as possible if you find the nausea difficult to manage, as treatment is often more effective the earlier you start it.

Why have my early pregnancy symptoms disappeared?

The first few weeks of the second trimester are often referred to as ‘ghost weeks’ as early signs of pregnancy are often gone, but you probably don’t yet have a bump or feel your baby moving.

Your hormone levels start to even out at this point and the placenta has taken over the supply of nutrients to your baby. All of this can mean fewer pregnancy symptoms – and you may even get a welcome boost of energy.

What can I expect in later pregnancy?

In the second half of your pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester, you may start to experience new symptoms and health problems because of the weight of your growing baby and your body preparing for labour.

  • Back painYour growing bump and weaker abdominal muscles make you lean backwards when you walk to balance out the weight, but your new posture puts extra strain on your lower back, which can cause pain. It’s important to note that back pain can also be a sign of labour, so if you find that you’re in a lot of pain it’s a good idea to talk to your midwife or doctor straight away for advice.
  • Pelvic painThe ligaments holding your pelvis together soften up ahead of birth, to allow your baby to pass through the birth canal. This can be very painful in your hip or groin when you’re walking, going upstairs or turning over in bed. Talk to your midwife about what help is available, as the symptoms can often be managed well if you get the right advice and treatment early on.
  • HeartburnTowards the end of your pregnancy, your uterus is crowding your stomach and pregnancy hormones relax your muscles, which makes it easier for acid to leak upwards from your stomach and cause heartburn or indigestion, particularly after eating.
  • Bleeding gums: It’s common to get a mild form of gum disease when pregnant. It’s important to see your dentist so you can get the treatment you need – and the good news is that dental care is free during pregnancy.
  • Leg crampsMany women start getting cramps in the second and third trimester, especially at night. Try doing gentle foot exercises throughout the day to increase blood circulation to your legs and feet.
  • ItchingMild itching is normal because of the increase in blood volume when you’re pregnant, but get in touch with your midwife or doctor if you experience severe itching, particularly on your hands and feet, as it can be a sign of a rare liver condition called obstetric cholestasis.
  • SwellingTowards the end of your pregnancy you may find that your body starts to retain a lot more fluids, especially in your hands and feet. This is normal, and you’ll lose it after the birth. However, swelling can also be a symptom of pre-eclampsia, so it’s a good idea to mention it to your midwife or doctor.
  • Braxton Hicks: You may find that Braxton Hicks (also known as practice contractions) are stronger and more uncomfortable if you’re physically active or if you’ve had a baby before. As long as they’re not painful they’re not a sign of labour, just your body getting into the swing of things ahead of the big day.

Will any of my pregnancy health problems affect the birth?

Although pregnancy symptoms and health problems can be difficult to deal with, most won’t affect how and where you can give birth.

However, some symptoms can be signs of more serious pregnancy health conditions that mean that you’re at increased risk of complications during labour and birth.

For example, headaches or swelling on their own won’t affect birth, but if they’re a sign that you’re developing pre-eclampsia, you may be advised to have extra monitoring and give birth in a hospital to make sure you and your baby are safe.

In other cases, such as with pelvic pain, the condition usually doesn’t limit your options of where you can give birth, but it can still be a good idea to mention it in your birth plan so that the people caring for you in labour can give you the right support. You can also try out different birth positions in advance and consider using water in labour as that will allow you to move around more freely.

If you’re wondering whether any of your personal circumstances could affect the birth of your baby, it’s a good idea to talk to your midwife at your next antenatal appointment so you can get advice tailored to you.

Can I take medicine when I’m pregnant?

  • If you need to start taking a new prescribed medicine: A lot of medicines can be transferred from you to your baby through the placenta, so you should always check with your pharmacist, midwife or doctor before taking any new medication.
  • If you were on regular medication before you got pregnant: You should seek advice from your doctor straight away when you find out that you’re pregnant, but don’t stop taking or reduce your medication before you do as it can be dangerous for your health.
  • Over-the-counter medicines: Advice varies on taking pain relief like paracetamol and ibuprofen, antihistamines including hay fever medicines and other commonly used medications during pregnancy. Speak to your midwife or GP to find out what’s safe for you and what dose they recommend.

The UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS) has information on common medicines and how they may affect your baby if you take them when you’re pregnant.

Make sure you mention that you’re pregnant to any new healthcare professional that you see, as they may not have read through your notes before prescribing medicines to you.

More from Which?

  • Antenatal classes: learn how they can help you prepare for the birth and parenthood and how to find one close to you.
  • Visiting a maternity unit: use our handy checklist to make sure the hospital or birth centre you’re going to is right for you.
  • Pregnancy scans: find out about NHS pregnancy scans and what’s available privately
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