Normal Pregnancy Symptoms: Here’s What to Expect

Excited couple looking at positive pregnancy test.
Knowing what to expect as your body changes during pregnancy can help you relax and enjoy this exciting time.

Pregnancy is an exciting time in a woman’s life, but it can also be overwhelming as your body changes in new ways. As your first trimester gets underway, you might start wondering: Am I supposed to feel this way, or is something wrong?

Many pregnancy symptoms aren’t enjoyable, but I want to reassure you they are completely normal. Most women tend to start experiencing symptoms about 3-4 weeks after conception at a gestational age of 5-6 weeks.

To help you know what to expect, I’ve compiled this list of symptoms that typically accompany pregnancy.

Early Pregnancy Symptoms

The very first symptom anyone has of pregnancy is a missed period. It may seem obvious, but it really is the cardinal sign that you might be pregnant. As early as the first day of your missed period, it’s possible to find out if you’re pregnant with either a home pregnancy test or a blood test in your doctor’s office. 

Unfortunately, not every woman is lucky enough to have really regular periods, which makes this symptom less useful. If you are one of those women, think about other early pregnancy signs that might make you consider taking a pregnancy test.

Nausea and vomiting are among the most common symptoms for women in the first trimester of pregnancy. Over half of pregnant women will experience some nausea, and unfortunately, many also have some vomiting.

Food cravings.
Strange food cravings and aversions are one symptom that may last your entire pregnancy.

Pregnant women will typically start to experience nausea and/or vomiting before the 9th week of pregnancy. These symptoms may also be associated with food cravings or aversions. While strange food cravings may last throughout the entire pregnancy, fortunately most of the nausea and vomiting will be gone by the end of the first trimester.

No one knows exactly what triggers nausea and vomiting – it may be due to increased levels of the pregnancy hormone HCG. Some have suggested that a long time ago nausea and vomiting kept pregnant women from eating things that might have been dangerous to the early pregnancy.

Breast tenderness or achiness also appears very early in pregnancy. This happens due to fluid retention as well as an increase in size of the milk glands. The amount of fatty tissue increases due to increased levels of pregnancy hormones. The nipple and areola also become darker very soon after conception.

When patients call with worries about bleeding during early pregnancy, I frequently ask if they still notice breast tenderness since it can disappear if the pregnancy is no longer viable.

Fatigue and sleepiness is a common complaint in early pregnancy. Increased levels of pregnancy hormones – progesterone in particular – can make you sleepy. Studies have shown if you give men progesterone you can induce the same sedation as occurs in early pregnancy! Fortunately this symptom typically resolves after the first trimester.

Late Pregnancy Symptoms

Progesterone causes relaxation of smooth muscle in your body, which leads to many of the symptoms pregnant women experience.

Women often complain about urinating a lot during pregnancy. Early in pregnancy, progesterone relaxes the urinary tract. As pregnancy continues, your growing uterus puts pressure on your bladder, making it seem like you just can’t hold as much urine.

A sluggish GI tract causes bloating and constipation. This can be worsened when we ask you to take iron supplements to prevent anemia.

Progesterone also relaxes the muscle in your esophagus, allowing acid to reflux from the stomach into the lower esophagus causing heartburn. The growing uterus makes this symptom worse by increasing the pressure on the stomach.

About three-fourths of women will regularly feel short of breath during pregnancy due to the upward displacement of your diaphragm. Don’t worry though – you (and your baby) are getting enough oxygen!

Pregnant women are notorious for mood changes and emotional swings. They are caused by several different factors: physical stress from the pregnancy itself, fatigue, changes in metabolism, and hormonal ups and downs. 

Dizziness is a common symptom that worsens in the last trimester of pregnancy, as the uterus gets bigger and pushes more on the veins returning blood from your legs.

When you suddenly change position or stand up, there is less blood flowing to your brain, causing you to feel lightheaded and unsteady. I advise women to go slow and give your body enough time to adjust when standing or sitting up.

Increased skin pigmentation isn’t limited to your breasts. Other prominent changes include darkening of the line that runs from below your belly button to your pubic bone and dark splotches that appear on your forehead and cheeks.

Finally, a lot of pregnant women struggle with insomnia. This can continue throughout pregnancy and may be hard to solve. Decreasing your screen time immediately before bed and a warm night-time bath may help. Check with your OB provider if you can’t seem to develop a good sleeping routine.

The good news? Pregnancy and these symptoms only last for nine months – and many of these symptoms will end even sooner. Focus on the end result – I guarantee it will be worth it!

For more information about pregnancy, labor, and delivery, sign up to receive Your Pregnancy Matters email alerts when we publish new stories. Have a question or an idea for a story? yourpregnancymatters@utsouthwestern.edu us today! You can also make an appointment to see one of our specialists by calling 214-645-8300.

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