9 Symptoms of Pregnancy | Spot The Signs

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9 Symptoms of Pregnancy You Need to Get Clued up On

There’s more to it than a missed period, morning sickness and obscure cravings

symptoms of pregnancy
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Okay, there are the obvious symptoms of pregnancy that you've known about for what feels like forever – a missed period, morning sickness and cravings. But what if we told you that around one in 2,500 pregnant women (or 320 UK pregnancies each year) experience nothing at all? Or, that some symptoms of pregnancy are so obscure that they could easily be thought of as entirely unrelated.

With so many symptoms of pregnancy to watch out for, including some which could signal a complication, it's a good idea to swot up, if you do hope to have a baby at some point. And, knowing how to identify the symptoms of pregnancy could, in fact, save you from medical complications, in some rare instances.

This is because there are three types of pregnancy to know about. These include your standard, straight-forward pregnancy; the life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, which can have profound implication for your mental health, and trophoblastic disease, caused by an abnormal overgrowth of all or part of the placenta, and also known as a molar pregnancy. Each type carries its own unique pregnancy symptoms, treatments and risks so let’s break each one down into simple terms.

If you have experienced complications in pregnancy and want to talk to someone who understands. you can call the Tommy's helpline on 0800 0147 800

Not meaning to state the obvious, but a standard pregnancy is when a fertilised egg implants itself in the lining of the womb and then develops into the placenta and embryo and later a foetus. It’s typically counted from the first day of your last period and divided into three three-month trimesters.

9 symptoms of standard pregnancy

No points for guessing the obvious. A missed period, if you have a regular menstrual cycle, is top of the list for Dr Patrick O'Brien, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). But since when does the female body like to play as simple as that? Read on for what other tell-tale pregnancy signs you should be watching out for.

1. A light period

That’s right, although skipping your monthly altogether is a reliable indicator that you’re expecting, so too is having a very light period. If a light flow isn't regular for you, don't dismiss this sign, if that’s out of the ordinary for you. According to the NHS, bleeding during pregnancy is relatively common.

2. Nausea

Around 80% of women experience nausea and 50% vomiting during their pregnancy, according to NHS figures. ‘It usually starts around six weeks after the start of a woman’s last period,’ O’Brien says. ‘If the vomiting becomes so severe that it leads to dehydration and significant weight loss, it is known as hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition that affects around 1-3% of pregnant women. Treatment options include antiemetics (specific drugs used to treat nausea and vomiting in pregnancy) as well as complementary therapies such as ginger, acupressure and hypnotherapy.’

3. Fatigue

‘It is common to feel tired or even exhausted during pregnancy, especially during the first 12 weeks,’ O’Brien says. ‘This is due to hormonal changes taking place in the body – these may also leave you feeling emotional and upset.’

4. The need to wee – a lot

‘Women may feel the need to pass urine more often than usual, including during the night,’ O’Brien says. ‘Other symptoms of pregnancy include constipation and an increase in vaginal discharge without any soreness or irritation.’

5. Tender, fuller breasts

‘Many early pregnancy symptoms can easily be confused with menstrual symptoms or signs of ovulation such as sore breasts,’ says Emma Cannon, fertility expert and author of Fertile. ‘But as the pregnancy continues, the symptoms may develop more strongly.’

6. Cravings

Maybe that jar of pickled onions never looked so appealing, while your usual morning porridge couldn’t seem more disgusting. Hey, you might even find foods that used to be off-limits due to allergies are suddenly a-okay. According to O’Brien, cravings are a thing. ‘Some women may experience a strange taste in their mouth, too,’ he says.

7. Sensitivities

A heightened sense of smell – feeling like the smell of Parmesan is overwhelming or really luxuriating in the scent of flowers – is a clue.

8. A slippery pulse

Which means? ‘The pulse feels full – perhaps due to the increase in blood flow and fluids,’ Cannon says.

9. A bump

Pretty hard not to get the message when your abs begin to bulge. ‘The bump will appear anytime from 12 to 17 weeks,’ O’Brien says. ‘This can sometimes be noticeable surprisingly early, even when the baby is still very small, as the rising progesterone levels cause water retention and bloating.’

So, how do I know I'm pregnant?

Apart from peeing on a stick Clearblue style – read the six things every woman should know about pregnancy tests – a blood test at your GP should give you the final confirmation to put your mind at ease. ‘They’ll measure for levels of HSG, human chorionic gonadotropin,’ Cannon says. Although the hormone is in your body even when you’re not pregnant, it’s when a foetus starts to grow that it starts to increase in quantity.

What is an ectopic pregnany?

Quite simply, an ectopic pregnancy is what happens when a fertilised egg implants itself somewhere other than the womb – 95% of the time this means a fallopian tube, but it could also include the cervix, a C-section scar or on the ovary. It occurs in around one in 80 pregnancies, and, very sadly, it’s not possible to save the pregnancy.

If you have suffered an ectopic pregnancy, and want to talk to someone who understands, call The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust helpline, on 020 7733 2653

Why? ‘Say the egg has implanted in the fallopian tube,’ says Munira Oza of the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust. ‘The fallopian tube is not designed to accommodate a growing pregnancy so as the embryo develops, it can cause the tube to burst.' This can have profound implications, such as internal bleeding, haemorrhage and, at worst, death.

3 symptoms of ectopic pregnancy

According to Oza, there are three key ectopic pregnancy symptoms to watch out for:

1. Unusual vaginal bleeding

‘This could be brown or red in colour; prolonged or on/off spotting; heavy or light bleeding – it’s anything that is unusual for you,’ Oza says.

2. Abdominal pain

‘Think a period-type discomfort in the tummy or lower back, or a one-sided pain,’ Oza says.

3. Shoulder tip pain

‘This is a unique ectopic pregnancy symptom,’ Oza says. ‘It occurs in the later stages as it is caused by internal bleeding. If you experience this symptom, seek medical assistance immediately.’

An ectopic pregnancy is typically diagnosed around the six-week mark – during a trans-vaginal ultrasound scan. ‘This is where a probe is placed inside the vagina to take a closer look at the reproductive organs,’ she says. ‘At this stage of its development, there’s a reasonable chance to see an embryo. If the scan is inconclusive, doctors would normally check pregnancy hormone levels in the blood and then do a repeat scan at a later stage. If the embryo is still not found, it would be described as a pregnancy of unknown location (PUL).

How is an ectopic pregnancy treated?

As mentioned, very sadly, ectopic pregnancies are impossible to save and the treatments available depend on how far along the pregnancy is:

Expectant management

This is the least invasive method,’ Oza says. ‘But it is only an option if the ectopic pregnancy is caught early enough.’ It involves monitoring levels of the beta hCG pregnancy hormone – if it’s dropping, around 50% of these pregnancies will end naturally within four weeks with no need for intervention.

Medical treatment

‘A drug known as methotrexate would be prescribed,’ Oza says. ‘This is a folate inhibitor, which prevents the pregnancy from developing further.’

Surgery

‘This can range from just the embryo being removed, to the whole fallopian tube,’ Oza says. ‘It is usually conducted by keyhole surgery.’

What happens next?

‘An ectopic pregnancy is 20% physical and 80% emotional,’ Oza says. Which means? Don’t underestimate its psychological toll. According to BMJ research, 28% of women meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, 32% for anxiety and 16% for depression one month following an ectopic pregnancy.

And, being one of the lesser talked-about conditions, all those feelings of shock, grief, guilt, disbelief and anxiety often get faced alone. Which is where the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust comes in, providing leaflets, online information, forums, a phone and email health line plus a Skype support service. ‘If you’ve had an ectopic pregnancy, you have got a 10% increased risk of having another one,’ Oza says. ‘But we believe hope is important; that statistic also means you have got a 90% chance of the pregnancy occurring in the right place.’

What is a molar pregnancy?

Whereas in most pregnancies the baby and placenta will develop perfectly normally, in a small number of instances, it will not. In a complete molar pregnancy, the egg only contains chromosomes from the father – so there is no baby. The placenta, however, doesn’t realise this and develops rapidly, becoming covered with cysts, referred to as moles.

In a partial molar pregnancy, the egg is fertilised by two sperm so contains 23 more chromosomes than it should. The placenta and baby begin to develop but as the baby is abnormal, it will typically not live beyond three months.

Like your average skin mole, the cysts that develop on the placenta in both instances are harmless. But in some cases, they can continue to grow and, if left untreated, they can spread to the surrounding organs. It’s when they reach organs such as the brain that serious problems can occur. According to Molar Pregnancy, a charity offering information and support about the condition, the risk of molar pregnancy steadily increases after the age of 35 and is higher for all women with a low intake of vitamin A or carotene.

Symptoms of molar pregnancy

This is a tricky one. Warning signs can be as subtle as being sick more than you would during a "regular" pregnancy, or if your womb is larger or smaller than it should be for where you’re at in your pregnancy. The moles also have a characteristic appearance which may be picked up via an ultrasound scan.

It’s important to remove as much of the molar tissue as possible – even a tiny amount left behind can grow and spread via the bloodstream in the body. Treatments include a medical evacuation using oral or vaginal tablets or a minor operation that involves ‘scraping’ out the relevant cells from the womb. During a molar pregnancy, a particularly large amount of the pregnancy hCG hormone is produced. Post-treatment, levels of this hormone will be monitored – with no pregnancy, they should naturally drop; if there are traces of the molar pregnancy left, they will not.

What happens next?

Experiencing a molar pregnancy once does not mean you will not be able to experience a normal pregnancy another time. According to molar pregnancy, the chance of suffering a second molar pregnancy is about one in 100. But, as with any early pregnancy loss, there are emotional challenges. Molar Pregnancy offers information and support.


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