Warning Signs During Pregnancy

by Robin Elise Weiss, Ph.D. Health Professional

When you’re pregnant, you want everything to go perfectly. You hope for a smooth pregnancy with no problems. One of the things that often frustrates pregnant women is that they don’t know when something is problematic or a normal symptom of pregnancy.

Annoying pregnancy symptoms

It’s true — some of the symptoms of pregnancy that we may normally complain about to our doctors are really just normal, everyday pregnancy annoyances. A great example is back pain. As the uterus grows, it’s normal for there to be a strain on the back. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly common part of pregnancy. While you should mention this during your prenatal visits, it’s something that most women will experience. Unless it is rhythmic, excruciating, or more than a dull ache, it’s usually not a problem.

Other common pregnancy symptoms that might be concerning in a non-pregnant person include:

  • Heartburn that happens frequently

  • Increase in vaginal discharge (no foul odor or green colors)

  • Extreme fatigue or sleepiness

  • Insomnia

  • Nausea, with or without vomiting

These types of pregnancy symptoms are often normal. However, this can lead you to think that any pain is normal and that you should just live with it until your next prenatal appointment, but that’s not true. In some cases, getting immediate medical care can be life-saving for you or your baby.

When to call your doctor immediately

You should call your doctor or midwife if you have any of the following signs or symptoms:

These are not issues that should wait for your next regular appointment. They are potentially life-threatening to you or your baby.

One thing that is important to understand is that your practitioner is working for you, and they do so around the clock. Even if your doctor or midwife is not on call, someone else is. They are expecting calls and visits to the hospital on their shifts. Don’t ever worry that you are bothering them.

What to say when you call your doctor

When you call your doctor or midwife, it is important that you give them some basic information:

  • Your name

  • Your due date (and how many weeks pregnant you are)

  • Your problem

  • Your doctor/midwife’s name (if they aren't the one who answers)

You should impress upon whoever answers that this is potentially an emergency. Do not leave a message on a machine. If someone says they will call you back, ask for a timeframe. If it is more than a few minutes, reiterate that this is an emergency. If you are not called back, call again. And if you have trouble getting ahold of someone, it may be time to go to the emergency room for care.

Calling about non-emergency issues

Sometimes you have issues that come up that are urgent but not quite emergencies. Most practitioners have nurses who run call lines during the day. You can call and leave your question with the nurses, and they will have someone return your call the same day. This is a great way to ask questions about:

  • Rashes

  • Minor aches and pains

  • Questions about medications, including over-the-counter medications

  • Insurance questions

  • Things that worry you enough to lose sleep but aren’t emergencies

Calling during office hours allows the staff a chance to see you in the office if they feel a visit is necessary, which can prevent an emergency room visit in some cases. Getting your questions answered quickly can help you feel better and sleep better. It also reduces the likelihood that you’ll wind up having to call after office hours or on the weekends.

When to wait for your next visit

You also may have questions during pregnancy that aren't urgent but you still want to discuss with your doctor or midwife. These might be questions about:

  • Policies at their practice or at the hospital

  • Options for childbirth classes

  • Recommendations for doulas

  • Information on fetal development or testing at future appointments

  • Your birth plan

These types of questions are best addressed face-to-face and in a setting where you can have time for some discussion. In fact, some of these questions might be discussions that last for more than one appointment.

When in doubt, call your doctor or midwife. They can walk you through the maze of options for your care to ensure you get the help you need.

Robin Elise Weiss, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Robin Elise Weiss, Ph.D.

Robin Elise Weiss, Ph.D., LCCE, CLC, AdvCD(DONA) is a childbirth educator, doula, founder of Childbirth.org, and the award-winning pregnancy and parenting author of “The Complete Illustrated Guide to Pregnancy” and more than 10 other books. Between her nine children, teaching childbirth classes, and attending births for more than two decades, she has built up an impressive and practical knowledge base. You can follow Robin on Twitter @RobinPregnancy, Instagram @Robineliseweiss, and Facebook @childbirthtrainings.