worrying pregnancy symptoms

Worrying pregnancy symptoms

From headaches to abdominal pain we go through some common but worrying pregnancy symptoms. Here’s our guide to the symptoms to look out for and what may cause concern when you’re pregnant.

“Is this normal?” is possibly one of the most frequently asked questions by first-time mums. So what is normal and when should you be concerned about your symptoms?

While pregnancy brings with it many irritating, minor ailments that you just have to grin and bear, sometimes your body may be alerting you to more urgent issues.

Vaginal bleeding

About 20% of mums-to-be will experience bleeding in the first trimester. Very light, painless bleeding or spotting is not unusual in the early stages of pregnancy and is unlikely to cause any harm to your baby. Bleeding can be due to a number of different factors in the early stages of pregnancy. One reason is breakthrough bleeding, which happens when pregnancy hormones mask your usual menstrual cycle but your cycle behaves as it always has until your body adjusts to being pregnant. This bleeding may occur in line with your usual period and so may happen more than once. Another cause may be an implantation bleed, which can happen when the fertilised egg implants in your uterus. Hormonal changes in your cervix can often be the reason for slight bleeding after sex. Because bleeding can be symptomatic of more serious situations, such as an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, placental abruption or premature labour, if you bleed at any stage during pregnancy it is important to contact your doctor or midwife.


Headaches are a common and unpleasant symptom of pregnancy. Changes in hormones can bring on headaches in the first trimester. Dietary changes can often be the cause too. If you were once a big coffee drinker for example, and are now trying to reduce your caffeine intake, you may suffer temporarily from withdrawal headaches. Dehydration is another cause. Upping your daily water intake will help to relieve headaches. Hormonal changes can wreak havoc on migraine sufferers in pregnancy. In the second half of pregnancy, a very bad headache lasting for more than a few hours, accompanied by any other symptoms such as problems with your sight or swelling anywhere in your body could indicate pre-eclampsia, which requires immediate medical attention.

Feeling light-headed

Maybe you got up from a sitting position too quickly or you’re simply hungry? Feeling dizzy can also indicate that you have low blood pressure, which is common in pregnancy. It is not uncommon to feel dizzy during pregnancy, however if you faint check in with your doctor. Your baby is well cushioned by the amniotic fluid, but in cases where a mum has Rhesus Negative blood, an injection of Anti-D may be required after a faint.

Upper abdominal pain

A pain in your stomach can indicate heartburn, or severe indigestion, a stomach bug or food poisoning. Heartburn and indigestion can be treated with over-thecounter remedies recommended by your pharmacist. If you think you have a stomach bug or food poisoning, contact your doctor or hospital immediately.

Trust your gut

With so many changes occurring in your body, it can be difficult to know whether your symptoms are normal or something to worry about. If you’re just not feeling right, trust your judgment and call your doctor or midwife to put your mind at ease.

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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.


Ask Tracey

Midwife Tracey Donegan answers your questions about pregnancy and birth

Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

Your first scan is known as your dating scan and is routine in all hospitals. Most mums will have this scan at their booking visit, which can be anywhere between 12-18 weeks. The earlier the scan the more accurate it will be. If you have experienced recurrent miscarriages some hospitals will scan you earlier. Contact your antenatal clinic for more information. In Ireland, most women will have two scans in a healthy pregnancy – a dating scan and an anomaly scan at around 20 weeks. However, some units provide a dating scan only. Private scans are also available in most cities and many parents use these services for additional reassurance and to find out the sex of their baby.