Pregnancy can be an exciting yet daunting time for expectant mothers, as it carries many physical and psychological side effects. And whilst many symptoms associated with pregnancy are to be expected - such as morning sickness, a growing bump, and fatigue - some are surprises, as they’re not often spoken about or explained.
Claudia Pastides (MBBS), Director of Medical Accuracy at Flo Health, has provided expert insight into the least talked-about pregnancy symptoms and why they occur.
The expert advice follows an analysis of the top-viewed TikToks tagged #pregnancysymptoms, used to name the most surprising side effects according to creators. The results were as follows:
1. Vivid dreams
2. Heightened smell
3. Pelvic pain
4. Darker skin
5. Bleeding gums
7. Hot flushes
10. Changes in taste
Many expectant mothers will expect some form of sleep disruption whilst pregnant, but the TikTok analysis reveals that creators were most surprised by how their dreams changed. As mentioned in a fifth (22%) of the analyzed uploads, creators were shocked by the intensity and vividness of these dreams and the content - which included baby animals and running water.
According to Claudia, experiencing intense dreams isn’t a cause for concern, as she says: “Although it’s an unexpected symptom for many, it’s often normal to have particularly vivid and more frequent dreams when pregnant.
“Dreaming occurs during the REM stage of the sleep cycle, and typically we experience four or five episodes of dreaming a night. However, pregnant women may frequently wake up throughout the night and are more likely to remember their dreams, as their REM stage is repeatedly interrupted.”
Based on the TikTok data, the second-most discussed symptom was heightened smell, where mild odors become strong, and pleasant smells become suddenly unappealing.
Despite pregnant women often saying they experience increased sensitivity to smells, this phenomenon - termed hyperosmia - has not been confirmed by research. However, one possible reason behind changes in smell is changing hormone levels.
As discussed in 16% of the TikToks, pelvic pain was identified as one of the most unexpected pregnancy symptoms.
Speaking on the often-concerning side effect, Claudia says: “referred to as ‘lightning crotch’ throughout the TikToks, people often describe it as a sudden sharp vaginal or pelvic pain. It’s most prevalent in the third trimester, which could be due to increased pressure on the pelvic nerves as your baby grows bigger.
Also included in the top five symptoms were darker skin (mentioned in 16% of TikToks), which expectant mothers were surprised by fairly early on in pregnancy.
According to a review paper on the physiologic changes of pregnancy, darker parts of the body are likely to darken further due to hyperpigmentation. Expectant mothers may also get tender breasts and more visible veins.
And while bleeding gums may be unsettling initially, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) explains that pregnant women can experience an increased inflammatory response to issues like plaque, making bleeding and swelling more likely.
Most commonly experienced in the third trimester, those who have previously had gingivitis are more prone to it during pregnancy, whilst rinsing with saltwater works to ease irritation.
One of the least-expected symptoms that expectant mothers were particularly surprised by was congestion, as many felt they had a cold throughout their pregnancy. Attributed to an inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the nose caused by higher hormone levels, congestion during pregnancy is thought to affect at least one mum-to-be in five.
More commonly associated with menopause and menstrual periods, many of the expectant mothers on TikTok reported being surprised by hot flushes. Also, due to hormonal changes and an increase in blood supply to the skin, these hot flashes and increased sweat production - particularly during the night - aren’t cause for concern.
Although being overly emotional whilst pregnant is often talked about, the majority of TikTok creators were still surprised to discover that they were more tearful than usual - with many saying they were particularly unemotional prior to pregnancy and so didn’t anticipate being affected by that common symptom.
Expectant mothers may find that an increase in hormones results in random outbursts of tears and excessive joy, as well as feeling angry or annoyed. According to the NHS, some mood changes are normal in pregnancy - including feeling tired and irritable - but it’s wise to seek help if you notice extended periods of feeling low or hopeless.
Meanwhile, vivid dreaming wasn’t the only type of sleep disruption that expectant mothers experience, with one in 10 TikToks mentioning insomnia - largely due to hormone changes, pregnancy discomfort and increased stress, according to the Sleep Foundation.
Changes in taste
Rounding out the top ten most talked-about pregnancy symptoms was changes in taste, with many creators saying they were surprised to discover they now craved a food that they hated before falling pregnant - such as pickles, toothpaste and ice.
Likely caused by changing hormones, it’s normal that expectant mothers find they now hate a food they normally love, or enjoy a food they normally dislike. Many also reported getting a metallic taste in their mouth throughout pregnancy, particularly during the first trimester.
When it comes to which type of symptoms expectant mothers were talking about, sensations proved the most surprising (nausea, itchiness, pressure), followed by health issues (acne, acid reflux, congestion) and sleep disruptions (insomnia, vivid dreams).
Commenting on the Flo Health findings, Claudia Pastides added: “Pregnancy can be a time full of unexpected surprises, and TikTok trends like this provide a space for expectant mothers to share their experiences with others.
“However, it’s important to remember that TikTok shouldn’t be used as a source for medical advice and any unexpected pregnancy symptoms should be discussed with your doctor.”
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