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Warning signs of pregnancy problems

Most pregnancies and births happen without a hitch. Still, sometimes problems crop up that could be serious for moms and their babies. 

That's why you have routine prenatal visits. Checking in with your provider gives him or her the opportunity to spot any possible problems with your pregnancy and get you the care you need. 

But between those checkups, it's important for you to be able to spot the warning signs of pregnancy problems. Here's a look at the red flags you should watch for, plus three common pregnancy complications.

What to watch for 

Some discomforts during pregnancy are normal. But others aren't. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Family Physicians and other experts, you should contact your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Pain or cramps in your lower abdomen.
  • A sudden weight gain of 5 pounds or more in a week.
  • Pain or burning during urination.
  • Vaginal bleeding or a change in discharge, or a rush of fluid from the vagina.
  • Swelling or puffiness of your face or hands.
  • Very bad or frequent headaches.
  • Blurred vision, or spots before your eyes.
  • Severe or continued vomiting or diarrhea.
  • A change in your baby's movement after 28 weeks.

Premature labor 

Another serious complication to be on the lookout for is premature labor. Doctors define premature labor as labor that stars before 37 weeks of pregnancy. 

About 1 in 10 babies are born prematurely every year in the U.S. Babies born this early can have serious health problems at birth—and later in life.

Sometimes premature labor can strike without warning. But several things can raise your risk of early labor, including a premature birth in the past, a pregnancy with multiples (twins or more) and problems with your womb or cervix. 

Call your provider immediately if you have any of these warning signs:

  • A low, dull backache.
  • Pelvic pressure.
  • Contractions or cramps.
  • Blood-tinged discharge.

If you're in premature labor, your provider may be able to give you a treatment to stop it. 

Gestational diabetes

Between your fifth and sixth month of pregnancy, your doctor will check your blood glucose level. This test can find gestational diabetes. This type of diabetes happens during pregnancy. It usually goes away afterward.

Nearly 10% of pregnant women get this type of diabetes, says the American Diabetes Association.

You may be at risk for gestational diabetes if you:

  • Are overweight or obese.
  • Have a family history of diabetes.
  • Had it during a previous pregnancy, or delivered a baby over 9 pounds in the past. 

If gestational diabetes isn't kept under control, your baby can grow too big and will have an increased risk of developing diabetes later in life. There is also an increased risk of stillbirth when mothers have gestational diabetes. 

You'll likely need to track your blood sugar levels at home. And you might be able to control your blood sugar through diet and exercise. But some women need insulin or other medicines too.

High blood pressure

Pre-eclampsia is a disorder that involves chronic high blood pressure. And it can be serious. Warning signs include:

  • Rapid weight gain
  • Persistent headaches. 
  • Vision problems.  
  • Excessive swelling of the hands or face. (Or any swelling that doesn't go away after resting.)
  • Protein in the urine. 

Your blood pressure will be checked regularly throughout your pregnancy. And that can help uncover any blood pressure problems as soon as they come up.

More pregnancy news

On top of knowing what to watch for, you can take steps for having a healthy pregnancy by eating right and getting exercise. Check out these tips for having a healthy pregnancy

Additional sources: March of Dimes; Office on Women's Health

Reviewed 1/12/2023

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