Just when you think you’ve heard it all, 18 women open your eyes to even more glorious side effects of pregnancy.
Well before you even start trying to conceive, you have an idea of what the laundry list of common pregnancy symptoms are, like: Your former coworker was eating two bagels a day to get through morning sickness. Your cousin’s feet ballooned up and she could only wear flip flops. Your neighbor was blessed with gorgeous Pantene-commercial hair.
So once it’s your turn, you think you’ve heard it all. But no matter how much you read, talk to your doctor, or ask your friends who’ve been there, there are some side effects that everyone seems to keep to themselves. What gives?!
Well, we can blame these lovely symptoms on the hormonal roller coaster that brings unexpected emotional and physical changes. Some of these are textbook, and others set off a ton of surprising reactions that would have been nice to have a head’s up about.
Since your best friend either failed to mention it, or TBH, she just didn’t go through it since everyone’s experience is different, here are 18 personal pregnancy symptoms that totally caught these expecting moms off guard.
1. Lightning crotch pains
“When [lightning pain] happened, I thought something was very wrong. It was so intense that I remember my knees buckling and losing my balance. Then, I immediately called my OB to see if I needed to go to the hospital.” — Melanie B., Charlotte, NC
Pro tip: Lightning pain feels like a shooting pain in the pelvic area and can occur especially when you’re moving or feeling the baby move. It’s caused by the pressure and position of the baby as they descend into the birth canal to get ready for delivery. Some moms have found that staying active, swimming, and even wearing a supportive tank top can help.
2. Internal hemorrhoids
“I had never experienced [hemorrhoids] before, so I wasn’t sure what it was at first, so I checked it out on [a pregnancy app] and sure enough that’s what it was! I went to my OB; he gave me a cream, but it didn’t work, and then, we discovered they were internal so, there wasn’t much I could do about them. I got them at about 6 1/2 months, and I am 5 weeks postpartum, and I still have them. It’s a sharp pain, so it comes about a lot when I’m driving or sleeping. That was a hard thing to get used to but, just had to deal!” — Sara S., Mint Hill, NC
Pro tip: Try over-the-counter topical treatments, like hydrocortisone or hemorrhoid cream, to reduce inflammation and feel more comfortable. You can also take 10- to 15-minute sitz baths or use a cold compress for relief.
“Toward the end of my pregnancy, I peed my pants when I laughed, sneezed, etc. It was because my son was sitting on my bladder. I thought my water broke one time. Thankfully, I was home and checked — just pee! And one time, I was driving home and had to pee so bad. Made it in the house and couldn't get to the bathroom in time. Peed my pants right in front of my husband. He was nice enough not to say a damn thing.” — Stephanie T., St. Louis, MO
Pro tip: If you’re struggling from incontinence or other pelvic floor–related issues during and after pregnancy, you might do well to see a pelvic floor physical therapist who can work with you one-on-one to come up with a game plan for strengthening these key muscles that are affected by pregnancy and childbirth.
“I had [discharge] so bad in the beginning, and then at the end, I had to change my underwear twice a day.” —Kathy P., Chicago, IL
Pro tip: Normal hormonal shifts that occur during pregnancy can contribute to this uptick in discharge. Plus, as the cervix and vaginal wall get softer, the body bumps up the production of discharge to help keep infections at bay. Your best bet for staying dry: stock up on slim pantyliners.
5. Food allergies and sensitivities
“It’s just weird how your body reacts during pregnancy. About halfway through my second pregnancy, I started getting allergic reactions to raw carrots, un-toasted nuts, and avocado. To this day — 3 1/2 years later — I still can’t eat them. But literally nothing had changed other than me being pregnant.” — Mandy C., Germantown, MD
Pro tip: Hormonal shifts may be the culprit behind food sensitivities and aversions. Specifically, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) — the hormone that is identified in pregnancy tests —levels off at around week 11 of pregnancy. Until then, hCG is to blame for nausea, cravings, and food aversions, but fluctuating hormones will continue to affect how your body reacts to food.
6. Third-trimester puking
“I was surprised by throwing up NOT because of morning sickness, but because of where my daughter was positioned in the third trimester. She'd just push food back up — without warning. It was so disgusting. My doctor said there was nothing I could do.” — Lauren W., Stamford, CT
Pro tip: The doc said it first: There’s nothing you can do.
7. Super smell power
“I had a heightened sense of smell. I could smell things I had never smelled before! Like people’s perfume, B.O., and food smells were so prominent. And I had aversions to certain kinds of food smells, like garlic, onions, and meat, which all made me want to vomit. I also couldn’t stand the smell of my husband unless he had just showered!” — Briana H., Boston, MA
Pro tip: You might experience a heightened sense of smell, or hyperosmia, during pregnancy due to fluctuating hcG levels.
8. Farts galore
“I had major flatulence! It started within the first trimester. Apparently, when your body produces the prenatal hormone relaxin, it relaxes your ligaments and apparently your belly too.” — Sia A., Destin, FL
Pro tip: Not only is the hormone relaxin responsible for the increased gas, but so is the hormone progesterone, which relaxes muscles, including those of your intestine. That means your digestion slows and leads to flatulence, as well as burping and bloating. Try moving for at least 30 minutes a day — like a brisk walk — to speed up digestion and curb gas.
9. Horrible heartburn and constant congestion
“I wish I had known about the heartburn. I had to sleep sitting up for most of my pregnancy. It truly felt like fire in my chest — just awful. The second I gave birth, it completely disappeared. I also had such bad congestion. I couldn’t breathe out of my nose! Especially when trying to sleep. Apparently this is common — pregnancy rhinitis — but I had no idea. The trick I found was sleeping with Breathe Right strips. Pregnancy is wild!” — Janine C., Maplewood, NJ
Pro tip: Changes in how your esophageal muscles move, how your stomach empties, and your stomach’s position contribute to heartburn issues throughout pregnancy.Avoiding the foods that seem to trigger heartburn can help, as can eating smaller meals more frequently and trying to avoid drinking while you’re eating. (You can drink between meals.)
10. A new normal
“I wish I had known that there is no ‘normal’ way to feel when you are pregnant. I had seen the movies and read some articles about early pregnancy, and none of them match up with what I was experiencing. My first trimester, I had no nausea or vomiting. Instead, I had extreme hunger and gained 30 pounds.
I was not ‘glowing.’ My hair became oily and gross and fell out. I had horrible acne and my skin became so sensitive, I could barely stand to be touched. Everyone said how excited I'd feel. I'd already had three miscarriages, so all I felt was fear and dread. I thought there was something wrong with me. I wish I had known that there is a huge range of ways women experience pregnancy — even from baby to baby — and that it doesn't mean there is anything wrong.” — Lisa D., Santa Rosa, CA
Pro tip: Hollywood’s depiction of pregnant women is not real. It’s OK — and totally normal — if you don’t feel like a glowing, Goop-approved goddess.
11. Up all night
“I was prepared for body changes, but the insomnia was unexpected. I was so tired but could not sleep. I stayed up all night, thinking, worrying, planning, nesting, all of it.” — BriSha J., Baltimore, MD
Pro tip: Relax by putting screens away at least an hour before bedtime, as the blue light from your devices will mess with your body’s circadian rhythm. You might also want to take a soothing bath. Just be mindful not to make it too hot, as soaking in water that’s too steamy can be harmful for your developing little one.
12. PUPPP rash (say what?)
“Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy [is] a horrible, horrible, extremely itchy rash that they don't know the cause of or any cure for other than delivery. Which only sometimes works. In my case, it lasted six weeks after delivery. I wanted to claw my skin off!” — Jeny M., Chicago, IL
Pro tip: While the exact cause of PUPPP rash is unknown, experts hypothesize that the stretching of your skin during pregnancy might be the cause. Baking soda or oatmeal baths can relieve the itching associated with the rash.
13. Mother’s mask
“Melasma [is] skin discoloration on the face around the cheeks, nose, and forehead. I noticed it during my second trimester. I bought a skin cream with SPF and stayed out of the sun.” — Christina C., Riverdale, NJ
Pro tip: For most women, melasma goes away after giving birth, but you can talk to your healthcare professional about creams or topical steroids that can lighten the skin.
14. Charley horses
“I got charley horses in my legs. I woke up screaming. Like bloody murder. It was so painful! And I was so scared when it first happened, around 5 months, because I have a history with deep vein thrombosis (DVT). But I called my doctor who sent me into the ER, and I found out that it was leg cramps, caused by dehydration and a magnesium deficiency. And this is an old wives’ tale, but a friend told me to put a bar of soap under my bed, and I stopped getting them!” — Dima C., Chicago, IL
Pro tip: Hell, we say put that bar of soap under your bed, and drink up. (Water, that is.)
15. Mommy thumb
“I had a really bad pain in my hands and arms at the end of my pregnancy; it was called ‘mommy thumb’ [or De Quervain's tenosynovitis]. I Googled it and asked my doctor about it when it didn't go away after my son was born. I ended up having to get a cortisone injection to end the pain.” — Patty B., Fair Lawn, NJ
Pro tip: Mommy thumb is caused by fluid retention during pregnancy and often exacerbated after birth by repetitive hand movements associated with caring for your infant and breastfeeding. If it persists, you could talk to your doctor about a steroid injection to reduce inflammation, followed by splinting which gives the inflamed tendon time to heal.
16. Restless legs syndrome (RLS)
“I think it started about second trimester. It’s like your legs feel like they have to move, and the more you fight it, the worse it gets, until they literally jump out of bed. It makes sleeping so hard. They say staying hydrated helps, but nothing really helped other than giving birth. I still get it every now and then, but it was all the time when I was pregnant, and I had never had it before!” — Aubrey D., Springfield, IL
Pro tip: Although RLS usually resolves after giving birth, you can ease the condition by getting on a more regular sleep schedule, doing low-impact exercise daily, and massaging or stretching your leg muscles in the evening.
17. Separated before birth
“I was surprised by the feeling of my pelvic bone literally splitting apart for at least two months before delivering. It’s called symphysis pubis dysfunction. And the whole ‘all ligaments stretch thing.’ You hear about the hips but literally everything starts separating.” — Billie S., Los Angeles, CA
Pro tip: This is normal, but speak to your doc about it if you’re in chronic pain. Physical therapy and hydrotherapy (or exercising in a pool) can help.
18. Hair, hair, and more hair
“I drank more than a gallon of water daily, and I’m not a big drinker of anything ever. But I was thirsty all the time — it was insane! Oh, and that facial hair that sprouted, too. That was some BS!” — Colleen K., Elmhurst, IL
Pro tip: Hirsutism, or excessive hair growth on your face or body, is definitely common among pregnant women, thanks to sudden hormonal fluctuations. For a chemical-free solution, head to the nearest threading or sugaring salon, and do not pass go.
While your best friend may have experienced an itchy rash, and your sister-in-law contended with a bad bout of fatigue, every woman’s pregnancy experience is sure to be uniquely her own. That said, you never know what your own pregnancy will bring.
Thankfully, the one thing that is true for expectant mothers across the board is that they’re all bound to encounter eyebrow-raising symptoms at one time or another. So, no matter which combo of quirky physical, mental, or emotional side effects you face, you can lean on your village of moms (and healthcare providers) to help see you through.
Maressa Brown is a journalist who has covered health, lifestyle, and astrology for more than a decade for various publications including The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Parents.com, Shape, Horoscope.com, Woman's World, Better Homes & Gardens, and Women's Health.