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Your body changes so rapidly during pregnancy that it's hard to know whether a new ache or symptom is "normal," or if you should call your healthcare provider or even head to the emergency room. If you're unsure but worried something might be wrong, trust your instincts and get help.
When should I call my healthcare provider during pregnancy?
That really depends – some symptoms may be less urgent than others because of your health history and how far along you are in your pregnancy. Talk to your provider ahead of time at one of your regular prenatal visits so you know what to look for. If you have any of the following symptoms, call your provider for advice.
- Your baby is moving or kicking less than usual. You'll start to feel your baby move when you're about 16 weeks pregnant, and if the frequency of his movements slows down, it could signal a problem. Tell your provider right away if your baby seems quieter than normal. Also, ask your provider whether you should monitor your baby's activity by doing daily "kick counts." She can give you specific instructions on how to count and when to call.
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting. Keep in mind that it's normal to have a little spotting after sex or a vaginal exam.
- A change in vaginal discharge from milky white to watery, mucousy, or bloody – even if it's only pink or blood-tinged. If you're in your third trimester, know that after 37 weeks an increase in mucous discharge is normal and may indicate your body is preparing for labor.
- Pelvic pressure (a feeling that your baby is pushing down), lower back pain (especially if it's a new problem for you), menstrual-like cramping or stomach pain, or six or more contractions in an hour before 37 weeks (even if they don't hurt). If you start feeling these symptoms, drink some water and rest to see if they ease up or go away within an hour. If they don't, or if symptoms increase in intensity and last longer than an hour, call your provider.
- Painful or burning urination, feeling the urge to go again minutes after peeing, having little or no urination, and having urine that's cloudy, blood-tinged, or has a strong odor can be signs of a bladder infection.
- Chills or fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- Vomiting along with pain or fever
- Sudden vision changes or visual problems, such as double vision, blurring, dimming, flashing lights, auras, or "floaters" (spots in your field of vision). These can be signs of preeclampsia.
- Persistent or severe headache that doesn't go away when you rest or take acetaminophen, or any headache with blurred vision, slurred speech, or numbness
- Persistent swelling in your face or puffiness around your eyes, anything more than a little swelling in your hands, or severe and sudden swelling of your feet or ankles, particularly in the morning. (Swelling is a concern when you press your thumb into your skin, and an indentation remains for a few seconds.)
- Rapid weight gain
- Abdominal injury, such as from a fall or a car accident
- Persistent intense itching of your torso, arms, legs, palms, or soles, or a feeling of itchiness all over your body
- Persistent pain in your upper belly or shoulder, especially under the ribs on your right side
- COVID-19 exposure or symptoms. These may include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, and the loss of taste or smell.
- Flu exposure or symptoms. These may include fever, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, exhaustion, and body aches and chills. You may also have vomiting or diarrhea. To minimize your risk of the flu, get the flu shot as soon as it's available in the fall. The flu is very risky for pregnant women.
- Possible exposure to Zika virus. If you or your partner live in or have traveled to an area where Zika virus has been reported, tell your healthcare provider right away. It's important to be tested, even if you don't notice any signs of the disease. Most people don't have any symptoms of Zika, but when they do develop can include fever, rash, painful joints, pink eye (conjunctivitis), muscle pain, and headache.
- Exposure to a communicable disease, like chicken pox or rubella, if you're not immune or show signs of infection. Call your provider to discuss your symptoms before going to the office.
- Depression or severe anxiety. If you feel profoundly sad or hopeless, have panic attacks, feel unable to handle your daily responsibilities, or have thoughts of harming yourself, seek help immediately.
- Any other health problem that you'd ordinarily call your provider about, even if it isn't related to your pregnancy (like worsening asthma or a cold that gets worse rather than better). If you're near your due date, check out the signs of labor so you'll know what to look for and when to call.
When do I need emergency medical care during pregnancy?
Call 911, or go to the hospital immediately if you have any of these symptoms:
- Chest pain, rapid heartbeat, or heart palpitations
- Coughing up blood
- Fainting, frequent or sudden dizziness, confusion
- High fever even after taking acetaminophen
- Severe diarrhea that lasts more than 24 hours
- Severe or persistent stomach pain or tenderness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing