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What’s normal (and what’s not) when you’re expecting Prenatal Care

What’s normal (and what’s not) when you’re expecting

Prenatal body changes range from quirky to nasty to downright worrisome. Learn what’s coming up around the bend, and identify a few red flags you should look out for.

From the moment you conceive, your body begins to transform from the everyday vehicle you’ve always known into an amazing, efficient (and sometimes kinda gross) baby-making machine. Some changes are obvious—a burgeoning belly, for example—while others will take you by surprise. (Who knew hair texture had anything to do with growing a baby?) We’ve rounded up some of the symptoms you’re likely to encounter during pregnancy and detailed what’s normal—and when you might have reason to worry.

Spotting scares
During implantation, when the fertilized egg nestles into the uterus, you might experience light vaginal bleeding called “spotting.” It can seem like you’re about to get your period, but then the bleeding stops before it really gets going.

Spotting might also reappear after intercourse or following a doctor’s exam. All normal. However, it’s prudent to keep your doctor informed of any and all spotting you’ve experienced.

If bleeding becomes heavier or more frequent, or if you’re experiencing abdominal pain along with bleeding, call your doctor immediately. These could be signs of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or problems with the placenta.

Nausea ad nauseam
A perpetually self-emptying stomach is no picnic. Although many moms-to-be wave goodbye to morning sickness after the first trimester, others are plagued by nausea all the way through. Then there are those whose inability to keep anything down becomes a threatening issue.

“Hyperemesis gravidarum” is med-speak for “excessive vomiting during pregnancy.” The condition leads to dehydration, continual weight loss and malnutrition. Depending on the gravity of the situation, your doctor could prescribe a brief hospital stay in order to replace your fluids intravenously and help your body regain strength. One source of comfort: Your baby can grow sufficiently even if you’re not able to gain weight. The placenta will pull the nutrients it needs from your body so that baby has the best possible chance of thriving (not great for your health, but at least you can have some peace of mind on baby’s account).

Cosmetic catastrophes
For some of us, the so-called “pregnancy glow” looks more like a splotchy complexion and limp hair. It’s also totally normal to see an increase in acne during pregnancy—it’s nothing but a hormonal reaction. Purify with baby-safe cleansers and creams (no harsh chemicals right now), and buy an extra stick of concealer. This too shall pass, and baby’s worth it.

On the flip side, your belly might be feeling tight and dry as it stretches to accommodate your expanding uterus. While stretch marks are largely genetic and unavoidable for some, daily tummy rubs with a lotion or body butter will help ease the squeeze.

Your hair might be going through the wringer as well. Some moms-to-be report curly hair going limp and once-neutral tresses turning brassy. Again, hormones. Your hair will (probably) return to normal eventually, but it does take years for the hair to fully cycle through and be replaced by new growth. Luckily, taking prenatal vitamins means you’re also likely to experience a fuller, faster-growing coif and strong nails.

The flow down below
It’s not something anyone wants to talk about, but vaginal discharge increases during pregnancy for just about everyone. You’ll go through plenty of panty liners, but it’s nothing to worry about. In fact, body fluids experience a rise in general when you’re expecting. More blood volume, more water retention, even more mucus.

Among the many funky fluid situations you’ll encounter, urine leakage deserves its own special mention. When you’re pregnant, you have to pee. All the time. In the beginning, it’s hormones pulling the trigger. Later on, it’s a bulging belly pressing on your bladder 24/7. At least you’ll get used to waking up in the night to use the bathroom, so waking up with baby will be nothing new, right? You might have some leakage during the daytime, too. (Kegel exercises are your friend, mama.) But hey, you’re already wearing panty liners anyway.

The real concern sets in if you begin to lose amniotic fluid, especially before you’re full-term. If you notice a trickle of clear fluid escaping your body, or if your water breaks in a gush of the same, call your practitioner ASAP. Losing fluid preterm could endanger your baby and signal the onset of labor.

Feeling the swell
Circulation is being restricted, water is being retained, and conditions are perfect for cankles and sausage feet. And if it’s summer? Even worse. This swelling is normal, though unpleasant—taking a few minutes to put your feet up now and then will do wonders. Also, flip-flops.

Swelling gets scary when it appears on your face or around your eyes, at any point during pregnancy. Sudden or severe swelling of the extremities is also something to watch out for. Any of these could be a sign of preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous condition that affects a relatively small number of pregnant women. Contact your doctor right away if these symptoms sound familiar.

Aches and pains
Pregnancy comes with all sorts of unwanted aches: headaches (the tension variety), stomachaches, backaches. Hips are also apt to ache as the joints loosen and expand to make room for baby. As your belly gets bigger, you’re likely to feel some pain in your back and lower belly as your posture changes and your body strains to support the extra weight. Below-the-belly round ligament pain can be sharp and painful at times, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong. Talk with your doctor about any pain and discomfort you’re experiencing, and discuss the best options for pain management. Resting, getting mild exercise and wearing a support band can all help to lessen these symptoms. If needed, your doc may recommend taking some kind of pain reliever, but make sure you have her go-ahead before popping any pills.

Preterm contractions
It’s important to note the differences between Braxton Hicks contractions (also known as false labor) and real, progressive contractions. True labor features contractions that come in regular intervals, with increasing frequency and severity; Braxton Hicks contractions can feel slightly uncomfortable but are not normally painful—and they pop up only sporadically. Either type feels like cramping: There’s a tightening sensation as your uterus literally contracts, squeezing inward.

When you do start to have regular contractions (hopefully somewhere close to 40 weeks), you’ll find that they arrive consistently, growing closer together as you clock the beginning of one contraction to the next. You’ll also feel pressure in your pelvic area as baby pushes down toward the exit. Although you may not need to head to the hospital immediately (it will depend on how quickly your labor advances), do contact your health care provider, so she knows baby is on the way!

The bottom line is this: You will experience lots of wacky symptoms, head to toe. Keep your doctor abreast of the changes, and keep your cool until you know you have something to worry about.