Even normal, healthy pregnancies come along with a myriad of side effects and symptoms. But it can be hard to distinguish what’s a normal part of pregnancy, what’s outside the norm but still harmless, and what signals a possible problem. Let’s explore signs to call your doctor or midwife when pregnant.
Not All Possible Problems Result in Trouble
Before we dive into a list of symptoms that could signal trouble, let’s take a moment for a reminder that these things don’t always mean that something is seriously wrong. It’s important to know what symptoms to take seriously so that you can handle them appropriately, though they won’t necessarily result in harm to you or your baby. Whatever you’re experiencing, keep calm and know that most pregnancies result in healthy babies. Keeping this in perspective can your mind and allow you to move through potential problems with minimal worry.
An Overview: Signs to Call Your Doctor When Pregnant
We’ll explore all of these a little deeper, but here’s a quick overview of reasons you’d need to call your doctor or midwife:
- Painful cramping
- Severe diarrhea
- Severe vomiting
- High fever
- Pain when urinating
- Trouble urinating
- Severe headache
- Sudden swelling of hands/face
A Deeper Look: Signs To Call Your Doctor When Pregnant
Some spotting, especially during the first trimester, is not uncommon, and does not usually signal a problem. What’s the difference between spotting and bleeding, though? For the purposes of accurately describing symptoms, healthcare providers usually describe bleeding as being as heavy as, or heavier than, a menstrual period (1). It may not be a sign that anything is wrong, but is less common and can signal a problem. Any type of notable bleeding during pregnancy is a valid reason to call to your doctor or midwife.
Read more about bleeding during pregnancy, and how to describe your symptoms to your caregiver, in our blog post Bleeding and Cramping During Early Pregnancy.
Abdominal discomfort is, again, not uncommon during pregnancy. As your baby grows, your body is stretched and pulled in ways that aren’t always comfortable. You may notice cramping that feels like menstrual cramping. Or you may feel a pulling or dull ache on the sides of your lower abdomen. This is likely stretching of the round ligaments, bands of tissue that support your uterus (2). Signs to call your doctor while pregnant include feeling:
- Sharp pain
- Pain that isn’t relieved by resting or changing position
- Pain that doesn’t go away
- (Especially in early pregnancy) sharp pain on one side.
Severe Diarrhea or Severe Vomiting
Vomiting and diarrhea are both “gifts” of the hormone swings of pregnancy, and many women will experience one or both of them. Vomiting and diarrhea aren’t harmful to your baby but you have to be careful not to get dehydrated (3). Call your doctor if:
- Diarrhea persists for more than 24 hours or keeps returning (1)
- Vomiting makes you unable to keep any food or fluids down for more than 24 hours. (2)
Learn more about nausea and vomiting in pregnancy: Morning Sickness vs Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Signs of Dehydration
Another sign to call your doctor when pregnant is if you’re showing any signs of dehydration, which could be caused by severe diarrhea or vomiting. Signs of dehydration include:
- Dark-colored urine or small amounts of urine
- Being unable to urinate
- Inability to keep down liquids
- Feeling faint or dizzy when you stand up
- A racing heart (4)
A fever is typically a sign that your body is fighting some kind of viral or bacterial infection. An infection doesn’t necessarily lead to any serious risks. But, your body temperature being high for a prolonged period of time can be harmful to your baby, especially in the first trimester (5). A temperature of 102 degrees or higher while pregnant is a sign to call your doctor. In the meantime, choose natural methods of cooling your body, like a lukewarm shower and drinking plenty of fluids; consult your caregiver for guidance before taking any medications.
Severe Dizziness or Dizziness With Fainting
Dizziness is not actually uncommon during pregnancy, and can be caused by things like changes in circulation, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, and dehydration (3). For occasional or mild dizziness, you should just hydrate, change positions slowly, avoid overheating, etc. (And mention it to your doctor at your next visit.) However, it becomes a sign to call the doctor if you’re experiencing:
- Frequent or severe dizziness
- Have fainted or had a blackout
- Dizziness accompanied by swelling in the legs (3).
Painful Urination or Trouble Urinating
A common complaint of pregnancy is the need to hit the bathroom all the time, especially as the baby grows and puts pressure on the bladder. While a need to pee frequently while pregnant isn’t a sign to call the doctor, it is a problem if you feel like you need to but are unable to go, if you feel a burning or pain with urination, or if there is blood in your urine. These may be symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) or other problem, and they warrant a call to your caregiver.
As with most things in this list, headaches are not necessarily a problem, and in fact are a common pregnancy complaint. Many women experience headaches, especially women who were prone to headaches with their periods. (3) However, a severe headache, or one that won’t go away, could signal a problem like pre-eclampsia. If you are pregnant and experiencing pain beyond what you’d consider a normal headache or have long lasting headaches, it’s a sign to call your doctor or midwife.
Learn more: Headaches During Pregnancy: Is It Normal?
Sudden Swelling of Hands or Face
Again, swelling is a normal symptom of pregnancy. Seventy-five percent of pregnant women report swollen fingers, ankles, and feet, so these alone are not signs to call your doctor (1). Additionally, your face may look rounder or fuller because of the weight you gain during pregnancy and water retention.
However, if you have a rapid, drastic weight gain — like ten pounds in five days — or you notice sudden swelling, it could signal pre-eclampsia (which causes water retention) (1). This is a serious condition, and you should contact your doctor or midwife right away.
Calling the Doctor About Symptoms
Make sure you track your symptoms so that you can communicate clearly and effectively with your healthcare provider. Be prepared to tell the person on the phone the following information:
- Your name and birthdate
- Due date and/or date of last menstrual period
- Your symptoms, in detail, as well as how long you’ve been experiencing them.
- Name of your doctor or midwife
- Contact number where they can call you back
- Name of the pharmacy you use in case they need to prescribe medication.
Having all of these things ready when you call will help make the process smoother. If you have additional questions about pregnancy symptoms, Tommy’s (a nonprofit dedicated to making pregnancy safer for everyone) has a great interactive page where you can click on different pregnancy symptoms to learn more about them.
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1. Glade, B.C., Schuler, J. (2011). Your Pregnancy Week by Week, 7th edition. First Da Capo Press
2. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Your Pregnancy and Childbirth Month to Month, 5th edition
3. Barratt, J., Cross, C., Steel, S., & Biswas, C. (2016). The pregnancy encyclopedia: All your questions answered. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
4. Morning Sickness: Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy. (n.d.). Retrieved August 8, 2020, from https://www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/pregnancy/morning-sickness-nausea-and-vomiting-of-pregnancy.
5. Simkin, P. (2010). Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn, 4th edition. Meadowbrook Press.