Becoming pregnant is exciting, scary, nerve-wracking, and every emotion in between. But many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant until a few weeks into their term because they cannot distinguish the early signs of pregnancy from normal, everyday occurrences.
Let’s look at some of the early signs and symptoms of pregnancy so you can start enjoying the childbearing months and reduce some of the stress surrounding those “what-ifs.”
1. Missed Period
The most universally recognizable sign that you might soon give birth is if you miss your period. But why exactly does this happen when you become pregnant?
Each month, ovulation occurs when the ovary releases an egg to be fertilized by the sperm.
The lining of the uterus then thickens in anticipation of a fertilized egg being implanted – this results in a pregnancy.
However, if no fertilized egg attaches, there is no reason for this uterine lining to be there, so the body naturally sheds it through the vagina as menstrual blood.
That’s why you don’t get a period when you’re pregnant, as the body retains that uterine lining to house the implanted egg.
It is impossible to get your period while pregnant, so this is one of the most accurate indicators that you’re pregnant.
It’s important to keep track of your menstrual cycle to see if your period is late. Of course, this symptom can be slightly misleading if you have an irregular menstrual cycle.
2. Tender, Swollen Breasts
It’s no secret that hormone levels during pregnancy differ from normal.
These shifts in pregnancy hormones are the basis for almost all of the early signs and symptoms you’ll start noticing.
And swollen, tender breasts are another sign of early pregnancy.
As hormones increase, so does blood flow and fluid retention.
Couple that with the fact that blood volume increases during pregnancy, and it’s no wonder that you can feel breast tenderness.
You might also notice that the breasts enlarge around the six to eight-week mark, and you might need to go up a size or two for your bra.
The nipples and skin around the nipples (areolas) might also become darker.
Veins around the breasts may darken, and you might even notice leakage of a yellow, thick substance from the breasts known as colostrum.
These are all normal changes that are not a cause of concern.
While these sensations and changes can be weird, it’s a great sign because it means that your body is preparing for the baby's arrival.
3. Morning Sickness
Morning sickness is one of the most common symptoms of early pregnancy, and despite its name, it can strike at any time of day.
Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, or just general feelings of sickness.
Morning sickness doesn’t usually cause any harm to the baby or mother, but it can lead to weight loss or dehydration if left untreated.
Loss of appetite and psychological effects like depression are also common.
It’s unknown what causes morning sickness, but it’s thought to be related to high levels of hormones such as estrogen and blood pressure fluctuations.
Additionally, metabolism and carbohydrates become altered, and enormous physical and chemical changes throughout pregnancy can lead to certain byproducts.
You can try to remedy morning sickness by eating dry foods like crackers or plain bread in the morning, often when symptoms are at their worst.
You can also try to avoid foods that might make you nauseous and eat throughout the day to prevent an empty stomach.
Stay hydrated and avoid medications unless your doctor or OB-GYN (obstetrics and gynecology) recommends them.
4. Increased Urination
One of the stranger symptoms you might notice as you continue along your pregnancy journey is that you spend more time inside the restroom than outside. Hormonal and physical changes during pregnancy cause frequent urination.
Your bladder, which stores urine, is located in the same small space of your abdomen as your uterus, where the baby forms.
As the uterus expands, it applies pressure onto the bladder, making it more difficult to hold your urine as well as you once could.
Additionally, your kidneys (which produce urine) become more efficient during pregnancy and can cause you to urinate more frequently.
Some women also experience weakening of the pelvic floor muscles due to increased hormone relaxin, which might make it more difficult to control the bladder.
You can work to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles to make holding your urine easier. Frequent urination is likely to subside after the baby is born and the pressure is released off the uterus.
Pregnancy fatigue is another common symptom that is common during every trimester.
But early in the first trimester, this fatigue is likely caused by hormonal changes as well as changes in blood sugar levels.
Blood pressure and blood sugar are lower because the body produces more blood to carry nutrients to the growing baby. In addition to increased progesterone levels, it’s normal to feel sleepy when pregnant.
You might also continue to feel sleepy because of sleep changes while pregnant.
Symptoms like morning sickness, cramps, and muscle soreness and tenderness can make it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, resulting in more daytime sleepiness.
You can enhance your ability to fall and stay asleep by creating a comfortable environment for sleep. Treat yourself to new pillows and a comfortable mattress that supports the pregnant body better.
Additionally, consider shutting off phones and other screens at least a half hour before going to bed, as the light can interfere with your natural circadian rhythm and make you feel like it’s still daytime.
6. Food Aversions and Cravings
One of the more common changes that can occur during pregnancy is a change in appetite.
Appetite changes are a common symptom that can make you crave certain foods you’d never normally eat and avoid foods you might’ve once loved.
Common food aversions during pregnancy include alcohol, coffee, tea, fatty food, meat, spicy food, and eggs. These can stem from hormonal changes related to the chemical gonadotropin, which can cause appetite changes and food aversions.
7. Spotting or Light Bleeding
Light bleeding is one of those pregnancy symptoms that can be a little scary. However, light spotting is not out of the ordinary.
This spotting is known as implantation bleeding, and it occurs when the egg attaches to the uterine lining and implants itself to start growing an embryo. This process is safe and healthy but can cause irritation and light bleeding.
Implantation bleeding presents as just a few spots of red or pink blood in your panties, and if you see any heavier bleeding, you would want to reach out to your medical professional.
Cervical polyps can also cause spotting. Cervical polyps are harmless growths on the cervix.
These are more likely to bleed during pregnancy because of higher estrogen levels. Additionally, intercourse or heavy lifting can also cause some light vaginal spotting.
You should report any bleeding in the second or third trimesters to a doctor. In the first trimester, it is somewhat more common. Regardless, it never hurts to reach out to a doctor if you need.
8. Mood Changes
Pregnancy is just as stressful as it is exciting, and because of that, mood swings are entirely common.
Combine that stress with hormone changes, fatigue, and metabolism changes, and you’ll likely start to experience some swings in mood from time to time.
It’s common to experience mood changes during the first trimester between weeks six and 10.
However, they may continue for the duration of pregnancy. They are generally not something you need to worry about, but they can sometimes progress.
Firstly, understand that you are not alone in experiencing your mood changes. But secondly, know that there is always professional help.
If your symptoms last more than two weeks and do not seem to get better, you might want to seek assistance from a mental health professional.
Depression is a prevalent mental health disorder among pregnant women but is highly treatable.
Cramping or abdominal pain during pregnancy is another symptom that you can easily overthink.
However, the feeling of a small twinge or cramp during the first trimester is usually not a concern.
After you’re pregnant, the uterine lining expands and grows to accommodate a growing baby.
The resulting discomfort is perfectly normal, and it’s one of those symptoms that is a good sign because it means the body is adjusting to pregnancy as it should.
The uterus is a muscle, so it might continue to contract and expand throughout the second and third trimesters. However, if your cramping starts to become severe, you should contact a medical professional.
You can relieve early pregnancy cramps through home remedies like increasing magnesium and potassium intake. You can also contact a medical provider for extra strength relief like prescription medications.
10. Nasal Congestion
Pregnancy rhinitis is a fancy term for a stuffy nose during pregnancy.
Congestion is a response to inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the nose.
This becomes prominent during pregnancy because increased blood flow to the nasal passages can enlarge the nasal veins, making it more difficult for mucus to flow.
Nasal congestion can make you feel more tired throughout the day because it can interrupt sleep.
And long-lasting nasal congestion can lead to complications like sinusitis and ear infections.
It’s advised not to use over-the-counter decongestant sprays because they might not be able to alleviate the symptoms of pregnancy rhinitis. They might worsen the symptoms and lead to even more nasal blockage.
Instead, consider drinking plenty of fluids and increasing humidity levels in your home to loosen up mucus and make it easier to expel.
You can also consider getting more regular exercise to reduce congestion, as this can also help you regulate sleep.
In addition to the sensation of muscle cramping, you might also start to experience more bloating during pregnancy.
Progesterone increases during pregnancy, relaxing the muscles in the body, including the intestinal muscles.
Because of that, the intestines start to move a bit more slowly, which makes it harder to digest food.
This slowing of the intestines leads to a build-up of gas, bloating, flatulence, burping, constipation, and other signs of slowed digestion.
You can ease gas by drinking plenty of fluids, staying physically active, or eating more fiber. You can also ask your healthcare provider if you might be able to take fiber supplements to help improve digestion.
12. Weight Gain
You’ll probably start to notice a little bit of weight gain as an early pregnancy symptom. This weight gain will begin once the baby starts to grow in the womb.
As your breasts enlarge and your appetite changes, you will notice the numbers on the scale go up.
However, some weight gain is essential because it helps to prompt the baby’s development. You should try to gain a few pounds in the first few months during the first trimester.
13. Heightened Sense of Smell
Yep, you read that right. One of the stranger symptoms of pregnancy is a heightened sense of smell.
Estrogen, which is a chemical that is responsible for your sense of smell, increases during pregnancy.
Scientific evidence is sparse on why this happens, but it can make certain scents smell horrible, and others smell fantastic.
Couple this with morning sickness and feelings of nausea, and it can make certain scents unbearable to a pregnant individual.
Acid reflux and heartburn are common during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester.
These digestive upsets occur because your uterus presses up against your stomach, leading to pain, burning, or tingling in your throat.
You can work to alleviate heartburn by eating healthily and changing your drinking habits. It helps to eat small meals often while avoiding acidic foods and reducing caffeine. Additionally, keep upright, stop smoking, and avoid alcohol.
Blood pressure will likely drop in the early stages of pregnancy due to changes in your hormones and physicality. A drop in blood pressure often leads to feelings of dizziness since the blood vessels dilate.
However, high blood pressure is also possible during pregnancy, and this can also lead to feelings of dizziness.
Hypertension is often a result of an underlying condition.
Symptoms of high blood pressure include headaches, vision problems, chest pain, or irregular heartbeat.
If you experience one or more of these, you should contact a medical professional as soon as possible.
There are loads of different symptoms associated with pregnancy, and understanding what to expect can help you alleviate stress in the long term.
Plus, it can also help you see what is normal and abnormal and when it might be time to contact your OBGYN.
Some of the most common symptoms include a missed menstrual period, tender breasts, and morning sickness.
However, frequent urination, food cravings and aversions, mood changes, and cramping are also extremely common.
Some lesser known symptoms also common in pregnancy include a heightened sense of smell, heartburn, dizziness, bloating, or spotting.
As a general rule of thumb, many symptoms and changes during pregnancy are not something to be concerned about.
However, if symptoms persist, worsen, disappear, or are causing you stress, it never hurts to contact a healthcare professional just to ensure everything is okay.
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Bridget Reed is a Tampa-based content development manager, writer, and editor at GR0; specializing in content related to varying fields including medicine, health, and small businesses. Bridget went to St. Petersburg College and majored in Management and Organizational Leadership.
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