What you need to know

  • There are many pregnancy symptoms you may not expect.
  • Doctor- or midwife-approved exercise can improve your mood, sleep, and energy levels when you’re pregnant, and even help with back pain.
  • Strengthening your pelvic floor while you’re pregnant can help your pelvic floor muscles recover more quickly after birth.
  • Stress and anxiety are both common in pregnancy, and it’s important to be aware of how you’re feeling and seek help if you need it. 
  • It’s safest not to drink alcohol while you’re pregnant.

Pregnancy symptoms

Most of us have heard about symptoms of early pregnancy, which include:

  • swollen, tender breasts
  • fatigue
  • slight bleeding or cramping
  • nausea with or without vomiting
  • food cravings or aversions
  • headaches
  • constipation
  • mood swings.

The further along you get in your pregnancy the more symptoms you have as your body adjusts to growing a baby. They include some great ones like:

  • vaginal discharge. Thanks to increased hormones and vaginal blood flow, most pregnant women will have a sticky, white, or pale-yellow discharge from early on in the first trimester and throughout their pregnancy
  • wanting to pee all the time, especially as the baby grows and presses more and more heavily on your bladder
  • lowered immunity, so you catch more colds. If you’re pregnant, it’s recommended you have a whooping cough booster and a seasonal flu shot to protect both you and your baby. Both vaccinations are safe and free to have during pregnancy. 
  • increased heartburn/indigestion as pregnancy hormones relax the valve between your stomach and oesophagus
  • changing tastes for food. This sometimes includes a metallic taste in your mouth
  • hair not falling out of your head as fast as it normally does
  • hair growing in weird places, including your breasts (around the nipples), on your stomach, on your chin and upper lip. Most of the time this hair falls out once you’ve given birth
  • lots of gas (farts)
  • changes in your skin – you may be really itchy, develop a dark line up the centre of your belly, develop dark patches on your face, or develop skin tags
  • have pain in the ligaments in and around your groin (called round ligament pain)
  • later in pregnancy you may experience false contractions – or Braxton Hicks – which prepare your mind and body for labour.

Luckily, most of these symptoms disappear after you’ve given birth!

While you're pregnant it's important to be aware of certain symptoms where you need to see your midwife or doctor immediately.

Read about danger signs during pregnancy

Ministry of Health

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The Government's principal advisor on health and disability: improving, promoting and protecting the health of New Zealanders.

Back pain and pregnancy

Another common symptom of pregnancy is back pain, as the ligaments and tendons in your pelvis relax and soften, preparing your body for labour.

It’s a good idea to avoid lifting heavy objects, and to bend your knees and keep your back straight when you’re lifting or picking something up off the floor. You might also want to try prenatal yoga or a water exercise class to gently strengthen the muscles so they better support your back.

In later pregnancy you may also experience sciatica – a persistent tingling or numbness in the sciatic nerve that runs from your lower back down the back of your legs. This is because your growing uterus is putting pressure on your sciatic nerve, and should pass after you’ve given birth.

Exercise and pregnancy

It might seem in the first trimester that even lifting your legs to get out of bed is too much, and trying to exercise after work – forget it. But once you’re through the crushing exhaustion of early pregnancy and into the second trimester, that tiredness often passes and leaves some capacity for you to do a bit of exercise.

Check with your midwife or doctor first, but if you have an uncomplicated pregnancy it’s usually safe to for you to do light to moderate exercise – walking or lifting light weights for example.

Exercise can improve your mood, sleep, and energy levels when you’re pregnant, and even help with back pain.

It may also help reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and gaining too much weight during pregnancy.

Read more about being active during pregnancy

Ministry of Health

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The Government's principal advisor on health and disability: improving, promoting and protecting the health of New Zealanders.

Pelvic floor care during pregnancy

It’s a great idea to exercise your pelvic floor muscles when you’re pregnant.

These muscles support your bladder, uterus (womb) and bowel, and they often get weaker in pregnancy and during birth because of the extreme pressure the baby and the birth put on them.

If you have weak pelvic floor muscles you might end up having trouble controlling wind, and you might wet your pants when you sneeze, cough, laugh or exercise.

Strong pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy can help your pelvic floor muscles recover quicker after birth. Stronger pelvic floor muscles can make sex better too.

Read more about pelvic floor care (in pictures)

Raising Children Network

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The Australian parenting website

Managing stress and anxiety during pregnancy

Stress and anxiety are both common in pregnancy, especially if the pregnancy wasn’t planned. Having a baby means there’s a lot to plan for, and that a lot will change.

A little bit of stress can help you get things done, but too much stress and anxiety isn’t good for you or for your unborn baby.

Exercise, meditation, practising mindfulness, or even half an hour in a comfortable, warm bath (hot baths are harmful to your baby) may all help ease your mind (and body).

If your anxiety starts impacting on your daily life and your relationships, you may have antenatal depression. Antenatal depression has the same symptoms as postnatal depression, and both:

  • involve serious negative emotional changes that last longer than two weeks
  • stop you from doing what you need or want to do day-to-day
  • are treated in the same way.

The only difference between them is the timing.

Dads can also experience depression at this time, especially if their partner is depressed. Depression in new fathers is often not recognised.  

If you are experiencing signs of antenatal depression or anxiety, it’s a good idea to seek help as early as possible. The sooner you start treatment, the sooner you’ll start to feel better.

Alcohol and pregnancy

Your best friend is getting married, and you’d really like to celebrate with them over a glass of wine. But you’re pregnant – what should you do?

It’s safest not to drink any alcohol while you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, because it could harm your unborn baby. When you’re pregnant, every time you drink alcohol, your pēpi is drinking alcohol too. All alcohol is carried in your bloodstream, through the placenta, to your baby. Your baby's body can’t break down alcohol like yours can.

Drinking while pregnant can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, or other serious health, learning, or emotional problems in your baby. The most serious of these is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). There is no cure for FASD and its effects last a lifetime. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t meet your friend for a drink – just have a non-alcoholic drink instead. You could choose a mocktail or non-alcoholic wine, for example, or meet them for a hot drink instead. 

Talk to your GP or midwife if you need support to stop drinking.