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Pregnancy Symptoms: What are the signs of being pregnant?

Some women are so in tune with their menstrual cycle that they feel pregnant soon after they conceive.  For women whose regular monthly menstrual cycle runs like clockwork, the earliest sign of pregnancy is missing a period.  Sometimes, women who are pregnant have a very light period, losing only a little blood.

Many women may feel changes two weeks after their last period. This coincides with ovulation, which is when conception is most likely to occur. These symptoms are usually similar to a normal menstrual cycle but relate to how midwives and doctors count the weeks of pregnancy.

During the third week of pregnancy a fertilised egg will travel down the fallopian tube. When it reaches the womb it implants into the uterus lining. It’s not unusual to notice slight spotting at this stage as the egg displaces part of the uterus lining.

By week four, most women will have noticed a missed period, the clearest indication of pregnancy.

Here is a list of other early pregnancy signs and symptoms, but it is important to note that every woman is different and not all women will notice all of these symptoms.

 

Feeling sick

Most women will experience some sickness in pregnancy, this can range from occasional mild nausea to severe vomiting requiring hospitalisation.  The good news is that there are many ways to manage nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy, and for the majority of women the symptoms will be mild and won’t endure throughout pregnancy.

Morning sickness is the term commonly used to describe pregnancy-associated nausea and vomiting. The symptoms can occur at any time of the day though, so the name is slightly misleading. About 80% of pregnant women will experience some nausea in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy; this is due to increasing levels of one of the hormones associated with pregnancy, HCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin). For many women the nausea may be mild and only occasional. Others may find they have significant vomiting and about a third of pregnant women will have to take some time off work as a result of their symptoms.

A small number of pregnant women (about one in a hundred) will experience prolonged and severe sickness and will be diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). These women often need admission to hospital for treatment as they can become severely dehydrated and very unwell.

Thankfully, for the majority of women, symptoms can be managed at home, either with or without medication.

Non drug treatments for pregnancy associated nausea and vomiting include:

  • Rest – tiredness can make nausea worse and the first trimester of pregnancy is often associated with significant tiredness
  • Sipping fluids slowly rather than drinking large quantities quickly
  • Snacking frequently and eating small meals, high in carbohydrate
  • Avoiding strong smells – it may be helpful to eat cold foods as hot foods often give off stronger smells which can make sickness symptoms worse
  • Wearing comfortable clothes and avoiding tight waistbands – pressure on the stomach may add to nausea
  • Ginger has been shown to help mild sickness symptoms and some women take a supplement (just check that anything you purchase over the counter is safe in pregnancy) whilst others may snack on ginger biscuits or sip ginger ale.

 

If the above measures are not working and you are vomiting so much that you can’t keep food or fluids down then you may need additional treatment.

Contact your GP or midwife immediately if you:

 

  • Are unable to keep any food or fluids down for 24 hours
  • Have very dark coloured urine, or if you don’t pass any urine for over 8 hours
  • Experience abdominal pains or a fever
  • Vomit blood.

 

You’ll be assessed for signs of dehydration and your urine checked to ensure you don’t have a UTI (these are common in pregnancy and can also cause sickness). If your sickness is not controlled without medication then you’ll be offered anti-sickness drugs. There are several drugs which are commonly used to treat pregnancy associated nausea and vomiting. These are all thought to be safe in pregnancy, although your doctor will be able to give you more information on individual drug treatments and potential side effects.

In some cases you may need to be admitted to hospital for fluids given via a drip into the veins, and anti sickness medication delivered by injection. Typically a hospital stay for vomiting in pregnancy isn’t too long – your medical team will give you treatment to rehydrate you and give you anti-sickness medication that you can take by mouth so that you can continue taking this medication at home.

Hyperemeises gravidarum (HG) is diagnosed in pregnant women who have severe nausea and vomiting that is not relieved by simple treatments and is associated with weight loss of more than 5% of total body weight (before pregnancy), dehydration and changes to the salts levels in the body as a result of vomiting.

Initial treatments for HG include rehydration and anti-sickness medication, but if vomiting continues despite other treatment then steroid treatment can be given.

Unfortunately for some women, they have such severe symptoms that it is not possible to continue with the pregnancy. Termination of pregnancy as a treatment for pregnancy associated nausea and vomiting, or for hyperemesis gravidarum, should only be offered when all other treatments, including steroid treatment, have been offered first.

For more information and support on nausea and vomiting in pregnancy this group is an excellent resource: https://www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk

 

Feeling tired

For some women, the word tired doesn't do justice to their feelings.  Exhaustion would be more accurate, especially during the first 12 weeks. Hormonal changes are taking place in your body at this time, which can make you feel tired, nauseous and emotional.

 

Sore breasts in early pregnancy

Your breasts may become larger and tender to the touch, just as they can before your period. They might also feel tingly, the veins may be more visible and your nipples might darken and stand out.

 

Peeing all the time

With more pressure on the uterus, bathroom breaks will become more frequent and can interfere with sleep patterns. Lots of women feel the need to pee more often than usual, including during the night.  Often, it is only a thimble full of wee-wee that comes out.  You might also experience constipation and an increased vaginal discharge.

 

Cravings and funny tastes and smells

You might find that your senses are heightened during early pregnancy and, perhaps unfairly, some foods or drinks you previously enjoyed suddenly become revolting.

You might notice:


• a metallic taste in your mouth
• cravings for strange, previously unappealing combinations of foods
• previously enjoyed foods become repulsive
• that you have a more sensitive sense of smell than usual 

 

If you have all these symptoms, then take a pregnancy test. Positive test results are very reliable, but negative test results are less so.

Read more about pregnancy tests here

Read the top 10 pregnancy myths here

Most women will start to feel pregnancy symptoms around four weeks after conception. Every woman is different, some may feel twinges as early as two weeks into the pregnancy while for others it could take a couple of months. A missed period is usually the first clear sign of a pregnancy.

 

Constipation During Pregnancy

Constipation affects at least half of all pregnant women

However it is not only a condition of pregnancy as it also affects approximately 2% of the general population being more common in women and the elderly. So, why do we get constipated and what can we do to try and avoid it?

The digestive system is highly efficient. It takes only hours to break down the foods eaten, liquids drunk, extract the various vitamins, minerals and energy and prepare the the leftovers for disposal. This material passes through six meters of intestine, has water removed from it in the colon, and is expelled through the rectum within a day or two. 

A common misconception is that to be 'regular' one needs to 'go every day'! But, depending upon factors like diet, age, and daily activity, 'normal' regularity varies from three bowel movements per day to one every three days. A normal stool, however, should neither be too firm or to soft. You ought not to have no strain unreasonably to pass it. Constipation therefore is when bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. 

During pregnancy the following factors cause constipation: 

  • Hormonal changes relax the bowel, which slows the transit of food through the stomach and intestine.
  • The ever-growing uterus compressing the intestine
  • Iron supplements
  • Antacids 

    There are also many other causes that occur during, but are not unique to pregnancy. These are: 
  • Diet. The most common cause of constipation is a low-fibre diet. Not enough liquids. Liquids add fluid to the colon, and bulk to the stools, making bowel movements softer and easier to pass. 
  • Lack of exercise. 
  • Ignoring the urge of a bowel movement may eventually cause a person to stop feeling the urge, leading to constipation. 
  • Abuse of laxatives may lead to the colon beginning to rely upon laxatives to bring on bowel movements. Over time laxatives can damage nerve cells in the colon, affecting the colon's ability to contract. 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes abnormal spasms in the colon that affect bowel movements, often leading to alternating constipation and diarrhoea. 
  • Ageing may also affect bowel regularity because a slower metabolism results in less intestinal activity and lower muscle tone. Problems with the colon and rectum such as intestinal obstruction, scar tissue and diverticulosis can compress, squeeze or narrow the intestine and rectum and cause constipation. 
  • Anal Fissures are small tears at the opening of the anus. They can be so painful that bowel movements are avoided, both causing and aggravating constipation. 
    Diabetes.
  • Depression and anti-depressant medication.

Should I see the doctor about my constipation?

You should see your doctor if:

  • If constipation develops after starting a new medication or supplement, the dosage may need to be changed or discontinued altogether. 
  • If you have blood in your stools, it is usually due to a fissure or haemorrhoids, but it can also be a sign of colorectal cancer. 
  • If the constipation is associated with fever, or lower abdominal pain with thin or loose stools, these symptoms may be indicative of diverticulosis. 
  • If you are losing weight. 
  • If you have severe pain with bowel movements. 
  • If you have been constipated longer than 10 days. 

Common Questions During Early Pregnancy 

If you want to know what the first signs of pregnancy are and if you have any of the usual pregnancy symptoms, then take a look below.

For the vast majority of women, the first sign of pregnancy is when your periods stop. This can be caused by many things but if your breasts feel swollen or tender and you also feel nauseous - especially in the morning - it is possible that you are pregnant.

How can I confirm that I'm pregnant?

The usual way to test for pregnancy is with a home pregnancy test. You can buy one over the counter at most chemists. You can also visit your GP or a Family Planning Clinic who will be able to do a pregnancy test for you free of charge.

How soon can I do a pregnancy test

You can do a pregnancy test just a few days after your missed period. Some of the newer tests work earlier than this but it is generally accepted that it is better to wait until you have missed a period.

How can I work out when the baby will be born?

Conception takes place around ovulation - that is when an egg is released from your ovary. Ovulation takes place midway through the menstrual cycle, around the 14th day, if you have a 28 day cycle and the first day of your period is taken as day one.

The beginning of a pregnancy is calculated from the first day of your last period. A normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks in total, so it is easy enough to work out the baby's due date.

For an easy way to work it out, follow these rules: if, for example, the first day of your last period was April 1st, add one week - April 8th. Then add nine months to find the date of the birth. So the due date would be January 8th the following year.



Work out your Due Date with our Pregnancy Calendar

Pregnancy and The Pill

If you become pregnant soon after coming off The Pill, you may have irregular ovulation, irregular periods or even no periods at all. When this is the case it is difficult to reliably work out the baby's due date. An ultrasound scan will however establish the correct due date. An ultrasound scan performed in the first trimester of your pregnancy gives the most accurate estimate of when the baby is due by working out the size of the foetus. Every maternity hospital provides this as a routine service to pregnant women.

Many women experience some form of bleeding during pregnancy. In the first trimester up to 1 in every 5 women may experience bleeding, despite having a healthy, on-going pregnancy. Of course, if you are pregnant any bleeding can be extremely worrying and you should seek advice from your midwife or doctor. In many cases your baby will be fine but it’s wise to discuss with your healthcare provider, as some bleeding in pregnancy can be dangerous.

 

What causes bleeding in pregnancy?

Bleeding in the first 12 weeks  

First trimester bleeding or spotting is really common, and often it’s not a sign of miscarriage. Light bleeding, also known as “spotting” could be caused by several things including hormonal changes in early pregnancy, implantation bleeding (when the egg implants in the lining of the womb in the first few days of pregnancy), or irritation or infection in your cervix or vagina.

In some cases bleeding is a sign of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. Usually these conditions are associated with abdominal pain and cramping. If you have pain in addition to bleeding in early pregnancy then seek medical advice immediately.

Bleeding after the first 12 weeks

It’s less common to experience bleeding further on in pregnancy, but still very important to seek advice from your healthcare provider if you do experience any bleeding. 

Causes of bleeding later on in pregnancy may be similar to those mentioned previously, for example changes in the cervix, infections in the womb, or a miscarriage.

Other conditions may also occur later in pregnancy which don’t affect pregnancies in the early stages:

A “show” can occur before or during labour, it happens when the cervix changes in preparation for birth, releasing the mucous plug that has been in the cervix during pregnancy. This is usually a blood stained discharge rather than heavy bleeding.

A low lying placenta – a condition known as placenta praevia – can lead to very serious bleeding requiring emergency treatment. Usually you will be told if you have a low-lying placenta as it will be seen on your ultrasound scan at 18 – 24 weeks. If you do have this condition you will most likely be advised to have a caesarean section to deliver your baby.

Placental abruption occurs when the placenta starts to detach from the inside of the womb before the baby has been delivered. This condition causes pain in the tummy and heavy bleeding, although the bleeding is sometimes internal so it can’t always be seen.

 

What should I do if I experience bleeding in pregnancy?

Get advice from a midwife or doctor as soon as you can, even if the bleeding stops or isn’t too heavy. It may be that your care provider can assess you over the phone and give you advice or you might be asked to attend for further assessment such as an examination, blood tests or a scan.

Why am I losing hair during pregnancy?

Pregnancy affects the entire body, including hair, skin and nails. Often, there are undesirable changes that can leave a pregnant woman worried or frightened. However, hair loss in particular is very common after pregnancy and should not cause undue concern.

Hair loss can also occur after you stop taking the contraceptive pill or any other form of hormonal birth control system. It may also occur from the stress of having a miscarriage Pregnancy is generally regarded as one of the most common causes of hair thinning and hair loss. If you experience severe hair loss during pregnancy, go to your doctor or a qualified Trichologist at once for consultation.

Telogen Effluvium is the medical term for excessive shedding and is a very common hair disorder. It can be a very quick onset which lasts only a few months or can be a slower onset over years which is hardly noticeable at first, but over years the thinning just becomes worse and worse until the person has lost over 30% of the hair!

With Telogen Effluvium, the anagen (growing) phase of the hair shortens causing an excessive amount of telogen hairs (dead hairs) to shed prematurely. This results in lots more hair coming out at once which causes your hair to lose volume and become fine and frizzy. Even though the hair follicles are still producing hair, the cycle is shortened and so it is 'volume' that you lose. It may reassure you to discover that you never go bald from this disorder although I appreciate that it is little consolation if your hair has become very thin to the point of 'feeling' bald. Yes, hair loss is distressing but in many cases it is quite rectifiable.

If you have Telogen Effluvium, you'll notice a thinning of hair on the scalp, and little 'broken' hairs around the fringe and poking out around the parting. Sound familiar? Chronic Telogen effluvium is a problem which usually carries on indefinitely until the problem is rectified so it is important to seek help as soon as possible. For acute sufferers, shedding is short-lived but very stressful.

 

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