14 Reasons to Call the Doctor During Pregnancy

pregnant woman at prenatal visit
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Pregnancy can be a time of lots of questions, especially when it comes to your and your baby's health. Knowing what's safe and what's not – and when symptoms necessitate a call to your doctor – is important. Here's a primer on when you should pick up the phone.
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When Should You Call The Doctor?

Few women pass through pregnancy without an anxious moment (or more) along the way. Fortunately, most go on to have normal pregnancies and healthy babies. While women with special health conditions or a history of premature labor, or those who are carrying multiples, need to pay special heed when anything unusual occurs, most women can relax and let nature take its course.

So when should you try to manage your own pregnancy health ... and when should you reach out to your doctor? The following are the most common concerns among pregnant women, with information about why you probably don't need to worry—and when you should. Keep in mind that these are only guidelines; call your doctor if you have questions or concerns specific to your pregnancy.

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gpointstudio/Shutterstock

Bleeding and Spotting

Bleeding during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, is fairly common. In fact, approximately 25 percent of women experience some spotting or heavier bleeding in the first 13 or so weeks; of those, more than half go on to have perfectly healthy babies.

Although bleeding – especially when accompanied by cramping – can be one sign of miscarriage, it often has other causes. The most common has to do with implantation of the egg in the lining of the uterus, says Daniel Landers, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Benign cervical polyps, which are fairly common whether you're pregnant or not, may also be to blame. Another potential cause is cervical bleeding, which can occur after intercourse in pregnant women with tender tissues. Finally, bleeding can occur when the mucus plug that seals the cervix is lost in early labor.

If you experience any bleeding, no matter when it happens, you need to pick up the phone and dial your doctor immediately. Be sure to have your temperature handy and be ready to outline exactly how you feel when you call.

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Severe Headache

Can't seem to shake a headache? If you find you're suffering from a severe and persistent headache – especially if it is accompanied by fainting, dizziness, and/or blurred vision – you should call your doctor. Find a comfortable spot to sit down if you're feeling faint, and have someone sit with you while you chat on the phone or wait for your doctor to return your call. Try drinking a bit of water (dehydration is often the cause of these symptoms) and lying on your left side. During the third trimester, headaches might signal preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure. 

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Anetlanda/Shutterstock

Frequent and Painful Urination

Although frequent urination is a common complaint during pregnancy, burning and pain upon emptying your bladder is not. This symptom is the telltale sign of a bladder infection – a common occurrence for many women, and especially uncomfortable during pregnancy. Be sure to contact your doctor right away if you have these symptoms to help prevent complications (which can include preterm labor and low birth weight babies). If vaginal wetness persists or seems excessive; your doctor will want to be sure you're not leaking amniotic fluid, which is a concern before the 37th week because such leakage could trigger labor or lead to infection in the uterus.

COLLATERAL/Shutterstock
COLLATERAL/Shutterstock

Moderate or Severe Pelvic Pain

Many moms-to-be experience a certain amount of pelvic pressure during pregnancy. However, severe and persistent pain (not just a twinge or ache) can be concerning. If stretching, drinking water, or rest don't alleviate pain quickly, pick of the phone and dial your doctor (especially if the pain is accompanied by a fever).

    Incessant Vomiting

    Are you experiencing nausea that goes beyond typical morning sickness? Vomiting more than once a day, especially when accompanied with fever and pain, necessitate dialing your doctor's office. You could be experiencing a severe form of morning sickness, which can be alleviated by prescription medication. Although typical nausea poses no real harm to you or your baby, the inability to keep any food down is a problem your doctor will need to help you overcome.

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    Shutterstock

    Chills or High Fever

    Running a fever is never fun, but during pregnancy, it can pose an additional health hazard to your baby. Your little one's growth and development depends on your body maintaining a steady and healthy temperature (around 98.6 degrees to 103 degrees Fahrenheit). Early in pregnancy, disruption of this temperature can wreak havoc on your system and lead to a miscarriage. Later in your pregnancy, a higher temperature won't affect your baby too much. However, it may be a sign of infection or another issue that your doctor should know about.

    LightField Studios/Shutterstock
    LightField Studios/Shutterstock

    Steady or Heavy Vaginal Discharge of Thin Fluid

    Are you in the downward stretch of your pregnancy? If so, a discharge could mean that your bag of waters has broken, in which case a trip to the hospital is in your immediate future. But if you experience a rush of liquid prior to your 37th week of pregnancy, you should call your doctor immediately. This could be assign of preterm later.

    Also note that if your vaginal discharge is accompanied by burning, itching or a foul smell; you could have an infection.

      Sudden Swelling of the Feet, Hands, or Face

      Most swelling during pregnancy is normal, since hormonal changes cause pregnant women to retain excess fluid in their tissues, and blood volume increases by 30 to 50 percent. 

      But if you swell abruptly in your second or third trimester, or if your hands and face swell considerably, it may be a sign of more than just normal water retention. Preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, is a serious pregnancy complication that requires an immediate visit with your doctor. (Another possible sign of preeclampsia that you should share with your doctor is sudden bouts of blurry vision.)

      sydaproductions/shutterstock.com
      sydaproductions/shutterstock.com

      Lack of Fetal Movement

      Later in pregnancy, you'll begin to track your baby's movements by doing fetal kick counts. Most doctors recommend checking in with your growing baby a few times a day and looking for 10 movements within 10 minutes. If you try a count and don't feel any movement, drink a glass of fruit juice (the natural sugars boost baby's blood sugar and can get her moving), then lie on your left side in a quiet room for half an hour. If after a second try you don't feel any movement – or if two hours pass without 10 movements – be sure to ring your health care practitioner.

      Rocketclips, Inc./shutterstock.com
      Rocketclips, Inc./shutterstock.com

      Other Worrisome Symptoms

      Call your doctor within a day if you experience:

      • Moderate, persistent headache
      • Any vaginal spotting or bleeding that lasts more than a day

      Tell your doctor at your next prenatal checkup if you experience:

      • Slight spotting that goes away within a day
      • Occasional twinges or pulling sensations in your abdominal area
      • Occasional mild headaches

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