A normal pregnancy — one that lasts about 280 days, give or take — can feel decidedly abnormal for first-time expecting parents. For moms-to-be, growing a new person can be a dizzying ride of hormones, aches, pains, and strange sensations. For expectant fathers who witness their partner’s experience, pregnancy can be filled with sympathetic anxiety. For both, the 40 weeks can be filled with high stakes questions: Is bleeding normal during pregnancy? Is weight gain normal? What about those weird cravings?
“Pregnancy can affect the body from head to toe,” says Dr. Rochelle L. Arbuah-Aning, an OB-GYN at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. She notes changes particularly occur in breasts, skin, vagina, and weight. “These changes are due to pregnancy hormones, specifically an increase in estrogen and progesterone.”
Happily, the majority of pregnancies will come to term without incident. And those weird changes in body and mood? They’re usually just part of the normal process of pregnancy. Here are some seemingly scary issues that can be totally normal.
Some Bleeding Is Normal During Pregnancy
People are conditioned to freak out about blood. But pregnancy changes can cause normal bleeding throughout pregnancy.
The first normal bleeding is called implantation bleeding. It’s one of the first symptoms of pregnancy, occurring when the embryo implants in the uterus. It can look like spotting, ranging in color from orange, or bright red to rust. Implantation bleeding can also present as a consistent but light flow.
“In the first trimester, bleeding can also be caused by a subchorionic hemorrhage,” says Arbuah-Aning. “This is a common finding on first-trimester ultrasound. Although it is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, most women go on to have normal, healthy pregnancies.”
Finally, women might expect some bleeding after sex or pelvic examinations. This bleeding occurs because the cervix has an increased blood supply during pregnancy. And while these forms of bleeding may be normal, Arbuah-Aning does warn, “If you have any bleeding during pregnancy, you should notify your OB provider as soon as possible.”
Skin Changes Are Normal During Pregnancy
“The most common changes include acne, spider veins, darkening of areolas, and dark line down the center of the belly called the linea nigra,” says Arbuah-Aning.
While startling and perhaps annoying, none of these changes are a cause for alarm. As is the case in other stages of a person’s life, pregnancy skin changes are related to hormonal shifts. And some of the changes will yield post-birth benefits. That’s particularly true for the darkening of nipples, which will help newborns zero in on their target when breastfeeding.
Vaginal Discharge Is Normal During Pregnancy
Discharge known as leukorrhea is normal during pregnancy and is meant to help protect the womb from external infections. In appearance it is slightly milky and thin. The amount will increase towards the end of the third trimester.
The best way to determine if the discharge is normal is by using your senses. “Vaginal discharge that is associated with foul odor, abnormal color, or itching and irritation warrants evaluation by your provider,” Arbuah-Aning says.
Some Pain Is Normal During Pregnancy
Growing a new life is hard work. And like most hard work, it can cause some aches and pains in muscles and ligaments. One ligament in particular is notorious for causing discomfort.
“Round ligament pain is common in pregnancy, particularly during the 2nd trimester,” Arbuah-Aning says, noting that the pain is usually located in the lower back, groin, and pelvis and often worsens with prolonged activity. “A maternity support belt can provide relief, as well as warm compresses and Tylenol as needed.”
Expectant moms can also expect some muscle cramping during pregnancy. These cramps can be alleviated through light stretching, yoga, or increased hydration.
Mood Swings Are Normal During Pregnancy
Again, thanks to hormones, some shifts in mood are expected during pregnancy. There might be more tears. There may be moments of seemingly irrational anger. There can be moments of overwhelming sexual desire. And there can be wild fluctuations between all of these.
The problem comes when the mood turns dark. “The constellation of symptoms such as decreased concentration, decreased interest in doing things, decreased appetite, inability to sleep or excessive sleep, or suicidal thoughts could be signs of antepartum depression and you should notify your OB provider as soon as possible,” Arbuah-Aning says.