Danger Signs of Pregnancy
By OBGYN Dr. Kenosha Gleaton
It’s expected for pregnancy to cause new sensations and symptoms. A large percentage of symptoms during pregnancy are normal and expected, even if they are uncomfortable to manage.  However, it’s important to be aware of urgent maternal warning signs in case there is something more troubling going on. You should always speak to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns or questions about symptoms you experience during pregnancy. Let’s talk a bit about what symptoms are normal and what symptoms are considered danger signs of pregnancy.
Normal Pregnancy Symptoms
Pregnancy leads to a lot of changes in the body, both physically and physiologically. When someone becomes pregnant, there is a noticeable increase in hormones very early on. When a fertilized egg implants itself in the uterus, the body will begin to produce human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) to help sustain the pregnancy.  There will also be a rise in estrogen and progesterone levels during pregnancy to support fetal health, blood flow, organ development, and more.  On the flip side, these hormones are also thought to be the primary cause of many pregnancy symptoms. 
Morning sickness is a normal pregnancy symptom that can actually arise at any time of the day, despite the name. Morning sickness can differ from person to person, but is generally described as feelings of nausea throughout the day and vomiting once or twice a day.  Some people will feel nauseous without actually getting sick, while others may only get sick every so often. Morning sickness often starts around the 8th to 9th week of pregnancy and often subsides after the first trimester ends, however, some people may have bouts of nausea and vomiting throughout their entire pregnancy. 
There are some cases in which sudden or extreme sickness is a warning sign, but we’ll talk more about this later. For example, there is a more severe type of morning sickness known as hyperemesis gravidarum that should warrant a visit to your provider.  If you’re able to keep some food and liquid down, aren’t noticing any weight loss, and aren’t showing signs of dehydration, you may be experiencing normal morning sickness! [1,4,5] Fortunately there are some foods, anti-nausea supplements, and medications that can help- learn more about managing nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
A Missed Period
A missed menstrual period is perhaps the most well-known and often the earliest symptom of pregnancy.  After a fertilized egg implants in the uterus, the body will produce hormones that protect the embryo and the body will not shed the uterine lining the way it typically does at the start of a menstrual cycle. [2-3] This means that you will not experience your typical period, and you will ideally not experience any heavy bleeding again until your postpartum period.  It is possible for some people to experience a small amount of spotting early on in pregnancy. This may be implantation bleeding and typically isn’t a cause for concern. However, any vaginal bleeding that arises during pregnancy should be reported to your provider. 
Breast Tenderness and Nipple Changes
Another symptom that is tied to hormonal changes is breast tenderness.  As the body prepares for growing a fetus and milk production, it’s common for the breasts to feel achy, tender, and full. Many people will also notice a change in their nipples or areolas, such as a change in color or sensitivity. 
Feeling extra sleepy is a common pregnancy symptom, especially during early pregnancy. High levels of progesterone are to blame for this symptom.  Fatigue tends to resolve after the first trimester but can come back during the third trimester when pregnancy tends to make sleeping more difficult. Boost your energy with caffeine-free hydration & energy packets!
Skin Changes, GI Symptoms, and More
There are plenty of other symptoms that are normal and common during pregnancy, including increased urination, constipation, shortness of breath, mood swings, skin changes, and many more.  Your body is going through a big change, and it’s expected that you will notice some effects during the process. However, don’t let this stop you from seeking out medical attention if you do have concerns or questions about anything you’re experiencing.
Danger Signs of Pregnancy
Now that we’ve covered some of the normal symptoms of pregnancy, let’s talk more about what symptoms could be indicative of a potential complication. 
Worsening or Consistent Headache
Headaches are common occurrences that can be caused by dehydration, loud noises, lack of sleep, and more. Minor headaches every so often may not be a sign of an underlying problem, however, a headache that won’t go away or gets worse over time may be cause for concern. If your headache is very severe, doesn’t go away with acetaminophen or another provider-approved medication, water, and other remedies, starts very suddenly, throbs, or induces dizziness or blurred vision, you should seek out medical attention. 
Many pregnant people will experience shortness of breath, especially when talking for long periods of time or moving around. This is often due to the diaphragm being pushed upwards and may not always be a sign that something is wrong.  However, if your throat or chest feel tight, feel as though you can’t breathe deeply enough to fill your lungs with air, or are having trouble breathing while lying or sitting still, you should speak to your provider. 
Chest Pain or Rapid Heart Beat
Chest pain can be scary, and it should be taken seriously. If you do notice a change in your heart beat or you experience chest pain, speak to a healthcare provider. Chest pain can feel like pressure or tightness, and can sometimes travel to the back, neck, or arm. 
Extreme Fatigue, Dizziness, or Confusion
As mentioned already, fatigue is a common pregnancy symptom that may be caused by hormone changes.  Fatigue can make you feel sluggish, sleepy, and a little foggy, but should not be accompanied by any confusion, weakness, or dizziness. If you do feel dizzy, lightheaded, confused, or very weak, you should speak to a healthcare provider. 
Vision changes may be indicative of an underlying issue. If you notice your vision is blurry, you have blind spots, you’re seeing flashes of light, or have other vision changes, you should seek out a medical professional. 
Severe Nausea or Sickness
As we already discussed, morning sickness is common during pregnancy and can actually impact you at any time of the day. Morning sickness usually appears around 8-9 weeks of pregnancy, but may appear earlier or later for some people.  You should visit a healthcare provider if you’re noticing the following [4,5]:
- Unable to drink for more than 8 hours or eat for more than 24 hours
- Nausea or vomiting occurs out of nowhere
- Unable to keep water or other fluids in your stomach
- Nausea and vomiting are accompanied by dry mouth, headache, confusion, fever, and dizziness.
- Onset of nausea and vomiting later on in pregnancy
As always, you should speak to a provider if you’re at all concerned about any symptoms you’re experiencing. It’s better to be safe and get peace of mind!
Vaginal Bleeding or Fluid
If you ever notice any vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking from the vagina during pregnancy, you should alert a healthcare provider.  Noticeable changes to your vaginal discharge should be discussed as well, including a bad odor, color, or consistency.
Pregnancy swelling in the feet and legs is a common symptom that is often experienced in the second and third trimesters.  Swelling may be uncomfortable, but should be manageable with over-the-counter cooling creams, compresses, compression socks, etc. If you notice the following, you should speak to a healthcare provider :
- Swelling accompanied by pain, tenderness, or warmth
- Pain when flexing, standing, or walking
- Swelling is not going down with over-the-counter treatment
- Swelling in the arms, hands, and face
- Difficulty bending fingers, wearing rings, or opening the eyes all the way
Speak to a provider if you have a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher. 
Thoughts of Harming Yourself or Your Baby
Unfortunately, mental health struggles are sometimes overlooked during pregnancy. Depression, anxiety, and other conditions can manifest in different ways and sometimes go unnoticed. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you are struggling with your mental health while pregnant or during the postpartum period. If you notice you are feeling very worried all the time, feel out of control, very sad, hopeless, or have thoughts about harming yourself or your baby, you should speak to your provider. 
Changes in Fetal Movement
Fetal movement can be felt during the second trimester. According to the CDC, there is no specific number of movements that is considered normal during pregnancy, however a noticeable change in movement is important.  If you feel that your baby has stopped moving or is moving less than they were before, seek out a medical professional.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of symptoms, but does cover many of the important urgent warning signs that you should be aware of. If you ever have any concerns or questions about your symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek out a medical professional.
Complications don’t end when pregnancy does. Learn about postpartum complications and warning signs here.
How to Prevent Pregnancy Complications
Living a healthy lifestyle before, during, and after pregnancy can lower your risk of complications.  This includes maintaining a healthy weight, supporting mental health, avoiding tobacco and illicit drugs, limiting or avoiding alcohol, and getting regular healthcare.  Be sure to attend all prenatal care appointments and follow your provider’s recommendations for sleep, diet, and healthy exercise during pregnancy. If you have any underlying conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart conditions, etc. speak with your provider about healthy management before and during pregnancy. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to prevent all pregnancy or postpartum complications from occurring, but prioritizing your overall health and knowing the warning signs can improve your chances of a positive outcome. 
Support Healthy Outcomes With Natalist
It’s common to experience mental, physical, and physiological changes during pregnancy that can cause a number of uncomfortable or unusual symptoms. You should never be afraid or ashamed to reach out to a provider if you feel as though something is wrong. Nourishing your body with adequate levels of water, vitamins, and minerals is one great way to support positive outcomes. Support a healthy pregnancy by supporting hydration levels, eating a balanced diet, and taking your prenatal vitamins. Get pregnancy-safe supplements and self-care products on the Natalist website.
- Morgan, J. Normal Pregnancy Symptoms: Here’s What to Expect. UT Southwestern Medical Center. January 2017. https://utswmed.org/medblog/normal-pregnancy-symptoms/
- Kumar P, Magon N. Hormones in pregnancy. Niger Med J. 2012;53(4):179-183. doi:10.4103/0300-1652.107549
- Pascual ZN, Langaker MD. Physiology, Pregnancy. [Updated 2023 May 16]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559304/
- Jennings LK, Mahdy H. Hyperemesis Gravidarum. [Updated 2023 Jul 31]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532917/
- Urgent Maternal Warning Signs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/hearher/maternal-warning-signs/index.html
- Jeanmonod R, Skelly CL, Agresti D. Vaginal Bleeding. [Updated 2023 Feb 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470230/
- Changes During Pregnancy. ACOG. PFSI 026. Accessed October 2023. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/infographics/changes-during-pregnancy
- Pregnancy Complications. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. February 8 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-complications.html