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Pregnancy health

Pregnancy health

During pregnancy, your body undergoes a number of changes as your baby develops inside your womb. Some of these changes can be early signs of pregnancy. There are also a number of conditions that are more common during pregnancy; however most aren't serious and tend to be temporary.

This information was published by Bupa's health information team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been peer reviewed by Bupa doctors. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.

Common symptoms of pregnancy

There are a number of signs that you may notice early on in your pregnancy. Here are some of the most common signs.

  • Missed period. You may notice that you miss a period about two weeks after you conceived. This is typically one of the first signs of pregnancy.
  • Sore breasts. Your breasts will start to change as your body begins to make tissue for producing and storing milk. They may be more tender and swollen than usual and your nipples may be larger and darker.
  • Tiredness. In early pregnancy your body is undergoing lots of changes and this takes its toll on your energy levels.
  • Needing to urinate more often. This is due to the hormones your body produces during pregnancy. As your pregnancy progresses you will need to urinate more often because your growing baby presses on your bladder. It's important that you don't reduce the amount of fluid you drink.
  • Morning sickness. Many women feel sick, and some are sick in early pregnancy. This is called 'morning sickness' but it can happen any time of the day.
Pregnancy-related conditions

There are a number of health problems that are more common during pregnancy and you may be more likely to experience these as your pregnancy progresses. These conditions can cause various symptoms, but they aren't usually serious and are usually easily treated.

Here is a list of the most common health problems of pregnancy, to help you know what to expect.

Iron-deficiency anaemia

It's normal to feel tired during pregnancy as your baby grows bigger and heavier. But if you feel extremely tired, dizzy or weak this may mean that you have anaemia. If you're worried about this, mention it to your midwife or GP. He or she may give you advice on improving your diet so that you include iron, or prescribe iron supplements.

Nausea and sickness

The cause of nausea not known, but some research suggests it may be related to high levels of pregnancy hormones. There are things you can do to try and reduce the nausea and sickness: get plenty of rest, eat little and often, and avoid smells and tastes that make you feel sick. Ginger biscuits or ginger tea help some women feel better.You should see your GP or midwife if you can't keep any food or fluid down.

Urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections are among the most common health problems during pregnancy. If you have a urinary tract infection during your pregnancy, you will need early treatment. If it's left untreated, it may lead to premature labour. You may not have any symptoms, so your midwife will ask for urine samples to test at your routine appointments. If you do have any symptoms (such as pain or burning when you urinate), it's important that you get advice from your GP or midwife.

Urinary incontinence

Lying across the bottom of your pelvis is an important muscle called the pelvic floor, and one of its jobs is to support your bladder. During pregnancy your pelvic floor relaxes slightly. This can lead to stress incontinence where the bladder leaks a small amount of urine when you cough, sneeze, laugh, jump or run. You will be encouraged by your midwife to do pelvic floor exercises both during and after pregnancy to strengthen this muscle and reduce the risk of stress incontinence. Your midwife can give you more information on these exercises.

Piles (haemorrhoids)

Piles, or haemorrhoids, are found around your anus. They frequently appear in pregnant women, particularly if you have a low-fibre diet. Piles can be painful and itchy. Increasing the amount of fibre in your diet can help, but your GP may recommend haemorrhoid cream.

Constipation

Increasing hormone levels mean that your bowels don't work as well as they normally would to push the food through your body during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Your digestive system absorbs more water from the food and this makes your faeces harder and more difficult to pass. You should make sure you are drinking enough fluids and eating plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and high-fibre foods. If you're concerned about constipation, talk to your GP or midwife as mild laxatives and fibre supplements can help.

Heartburn

Pregnancy hormones have a relaxing effect on the muscle at the end of your oesophagus (the pipe that goes from your mouth to your stomach). It's also thought that pressure from your growing womb and reduced bowel motility can cause heartburn in pregnancy (acid from your stomach passes back up into your oesophagus). Heartburn is very common, and usually gets more severe as the pregnancy goes on.

Eating little and often, avoiding spicy fried foods, and sleeping propped up a little in bed can help with this. Ask your GP, midwife or pharmacist to recommend an antacid if necessary.

Varicose veins

These are swollen veins which are usually found in the legs but occasionally appear around the vulva (the area around the opening to your vagina). They are swollen superficial veins (veins that lie just under your skin) that look lumpy and dark blue or purple through your skin. Varicose veins are thought to occur if your vein walls are weak. This may happen during pregnancy because you have more blood in your body, more pressure in your leg veins due to the growing womb, and higher hormone levels which relax the muscular walls of your blood vessels.

Varicose veins are very common during pregnancy. Compression stockings may help with the symptoms of varicose veins in your legs, including night cramps, numbness, tingling and aching.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

The carpal tunnel is a channel in the palm side of the wrist. A nerve passes through this channel, from your forearm to your hand. This nerve can become squashed (compressed) causing you to have tingling, burning, numbness and pain in your fingers and thumbs, and sometimes it can affect how you use your hands. It's quite common during pregnancy, and it usually goes away shortly after your baby is born.

Bleeding gums

Pregnancy hormones make your gums much more likely to bleed. It's important that you keep your teeth and gums healthy - make sure you clean your teeth twice a day. You should make an appointment to see your dentist if you have bleeding gums. If left untreated, gum problems can lead to periodontal disease and tooth loss.

Changes to your body

There are a number of other changes to your body that you may notice during your pregnancy. These are a natural part of pregnancy and tend to be temporary.

Stretch marks

During pregnancy your skin stretches as your baby grows and for most women, this causes stretch marks. To start with, they appear as red lines, usually on your tummy, hips and thighs. After your baby is born they will tend to fade and become silvery in colour. There are many creams available that claim to prevent and reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Simply massaging your skin daily may help some people, but it's unclear whether any particular ingredients bring special benefits.

Weight gain

You will put on weight during your pregnancy - the exact amount varies from woman to woman. Your midwife will weigh you at your first appointment. Unless you're very overweight or very underweight, your midwife probably won't weigh you again because it doesn't necessarily give any useful information about the developing baby.

If you're concerned about your weight gain, talk to your midwife or GP. He or she will be able to tell you whether it is too much or too little.

The weight you gain during pregnancy is not the same as 'getting fat'. The extra weight is made up of:

  • the developing baby, placenta and amniotic fluid
  • the growth of your womb and breasts
  • the increased blood in your circulation

Swelling in your ankles, feet and hands

This is called oedema. It happens because your body retains more fluid and also carries more blood when you are pregnant. However, if it's severe it will be monitored by your midwife to make sure you aren't developing a condition called pre-eclampsia.

How do I know if something is wrong?

You should always attend your antenatal appointments, which may be with a midwife, GP or obstetrician. This gives you the chance to talk about how you are feeling and it helps whoever is looking after you to pick up any problems. Throughout your antenatal care you will have regular checks, including:

  • blood pressure monitoring
  • urine samples
  • blood tests

If you are worried about any of your symptoms or if you think something is wrong, you should see your midwife or GP as soon as possible.

Further Information
Source
  • The Pregnancy Book 2009. Department of Health.www.dh.gov.uk, published 29 October 2009
  • Arulkumaran S, Symonds I, Fowlie A. Oxford handbook of obstetrics and gynaecology. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2004
  • Matthews A, Dowswell T, Haas D, et al. Interventions for nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 9. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007575.pub2
  • Your pregnancy. Emma's Diary.www.emmasdiary.co.uk, accessed 7 February 2012
  • Antenatal care: routine care for the healthy pregnant woman. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), March 2008.www.nice.org.uk
  • Anaemia – iron deficiency – management. Prodigy.www.prodigy.clarity.co.uk, published February 2008
  • Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary. 63rd ed. London: British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain; 2012
  • Urinary tract infection (lower) – women – management. Prodigy.www.prodigy.clarity.co.uk, published October 2009
  • Antenatal care – uncomplicated pregnancy – management. Prodigy.www.prodigy.clarity.co.uk, published March 2011
  • Dyspepsia – pregnancy-associated – management. Prodigy.www.prodigy.clarity.co.uk, published May 2008
  • Varicose veins – management. Prodigy.www.prodigy.clarity.co.uk, published October 2008
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (standard or coxibs) – prescribing issues – management.
  • Prodigy.www.prodigy.clarity.co.uk, published June 2008
  • Kanakaris N, Roberts C, Giannoudis P. Pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain: an update. BMC Med 2011; 9:15. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-15
  • Mitchell D, Esler D. Pelvic instability – painful pelvic girdle in pregnancy. Aust Fam Physician 2009; 38(6):409–10.www.racgp.org.au
  • Pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain. Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health.http://acpwh.csp.org.uk, published 2011
  • Pennick V, Young G. Interventions for preventing and treating pelvic and back pain in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 2. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001139.pub2.
  • Postnatal pelvic girdle pain/symphysis pubis dysfunction. Pelvic Instability Network Scotland.www.pelvicinstability.org.uk, accessed 20 March 2012
  • McGrail A, Metland D. Expecting. 1st ed. London: Virago Press; 2004:90
  • Weight management before, during and after pregnancy. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), July 2010.www.nice.org.uk
  • Food Standards Agency. McCance and Widdowson's the composition of foods. 6th ed. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry; 2002
  • Sleeping well. Royal College of Psychiatrists.www.rcpsych.ac.uk, published June 2011
  • Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in pregnancy. UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS).www.uktis.org, published October 2008
  • Air travel and pregnancy. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.www.rcog.org.uk, published December 2008

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