Pregnancy: What They Never Told You

Last Editorial Review: 2/1/2005

New aches and pains, severe allergies, and other lesser-known symptoms happen to many pregnant women.

By Gina Shaw
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

Sure, you've heard about morning sickness. You've probably heard the horror stories about how first trimester morning sickness sometimes becomes all-through-the-pregnancy-all-day-long sickness. And you might even be excited about the prospect of a new bra size. (Hmm, could you really go from a 32A to a 34C?)

But what about all those other symptoms of pregnancy, the ones you weren't prepared for? We've talked to moms and moms-to-be who've been through it, and a midwife who's been through it with them, and persuaded them to tell all.

Here are a few lesser-known tales about what you can expect when you're expecting.

New Pains in New Places

Many pregnant women notice pains in parts of their bodies they previously paid little attention to. Ro Harvey, the Michigan mother of three sons, reports the "joyful discovery of my sciatic nerve" during her pregnancies. "My middle son parked his baby butt on my sciatic nerve during the fifth month and never left until the day he was born. Well, except for during the times he was performing acrobatic feats inside my uterus," Harvey says. "I'd lie in bed watching his head peak at my belly button, then his back, then his feet.  I'd get a hard pinch on the sciatic as his head passed, and then a dull ache when he settled back in position.  No one warned me that babies seem to have an instinct for what the absolute most uncomfortable position in the world is!"

You may also find yourself waking up at night with restless leg syndrome, like Jessica Miller, a first-time mom in central New Jersey who's now 35 weeks pregnant. "I had no idea that this condition even existed until someone else in a pregnancy group said she had it," Jessica says. "It's a tingling, numb feeling and extreme feeling of restlessness in the legs. I only get it at night; sometimes it happens while I'm lying on the couch. My legs just crawl and I feel like I have to move them. Once I'm up and walking, it's fine."

If you have allergies, pregnancy can aggravate them to an unbearable degree. Pennsylvanian Dawn Beck had mild allergies to cats before she got pregnant. Now 18 weeks along with her first child, she reports, "I seem to be severely allergic to cats, dogs, pretty much anything with hair!" In fact, she recently had to give her beloved dog a temporary new home with her mother-in-law because she couldn't breathe. "This has come on quite suddenly, and as time goes on it keeps getting worse," she says. "I hope it goes away after the pregnancy so I can get my dog back!"

"An empty bladder does not exist when you're pregnant!" Harvey declares. "I wasn't warned about the bladder jabs. I'd go to the bathroom, feel that joyous sense of relief, and continue on about my work. About 10 minutes after I'd left the bathroom I'd feel a foot, or an elbow, impacting on my supposedly empty bladder with the force of a stampede. Maxi-pads became my best friends."

All of these symptoms are likely to be that much more frustrating since you're going to be exhausted much of the time. "The books all tell you about fatigue, but I think all women are surprised by just how bad it can get," says Lynn Himmelreich, CNM, MPH, a midwife in the obstetrics and gynecology department at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. "Women come in and tell me, 'I was exercising up until I found out I was pregnant, and now I'm so exhausted I just can't do it.'" You may be beat, but even a little exercise can go a long way toward alleviating that exhaustion, and sometimes other symptoms as well. "Believe it or not, it really does energize you once you get up and do it."

Not all surprising pregnancy symptoms are physical. Carrie Hutton, a new mom from Arlington, Va., whose son is now four months old, describes what some call "pregnancy amnesia." "For some reason, no matter how competent you were in your pre-pregnancy life, you no can no longer connect the dots.  You're lucky you can still remember your name, address, and phone number!" she says.

I'm Feeling Nothing!

What if you're expecting the whole Pregnancy Platter of Symptoms -- morning sickness, swollen and tender breasts, the works -- and they fail to show up? In most cases, just consider yourself lucky and go about your business. "I get more questions from people who don't get the symptoms that the books mention than those who do," says Himmelreich. "They're concerned that it means something's wrong."

Is something wrong? Not usually. "There are plenty of pregnancies in which the woman doesn't have morning sickness or sore breasts. That's normal," Himmelreich says. (Just don't brag about it too much to the woman in the next office who can't keep a saltine down.) When you should be concerned: if pregnancy symptoms you've had suddenly disappear. "It's not usually a problem if you don't have tender breasts, for example, but it's more concerning if you had those symptoms at first and then suddenly at seven or eight weeks, they stopped," Himmelreich says.

And not all pregnancy surprises are negative. "The one thing that surprised me most was that I loved my pregnant body," Hutton says. "Although over time I became awkward, achy, and tired, I loved the way I looked while pregnant.  I loved my round breasts and belly, so full of life. My skin and hair have never looked better.  When I was pregnant, I felt beautiful. I had never noticed how beautiful pregnant women were before."

Originally published Feb. 24, 2003.

Medically updated Feb. 1, 2005.

SOURCES: Lynn Himmelreich, CNM, MPH, midwife, University of Iowa, Iowa City. Ro Harvey, Northville, Mich. Jessica Miller, Old Bridge, N.J. Dawn Beck, Folcroft, Pa. Carrie Hutton, Arlington, Va.

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