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Women’s Health Expert Explains Why the Surprising Pregnancy Symptoms Occur 

— May 4, 2023

Also amongst the most-discussed symptoms were congestion and flu-like symptoms, insomnia, bleeding gums, and sudden changes in taste.

A women’s health expert has explained why the most unexpected pregnancy symptoms occur – including vivid dreams, congestion, insomnia and changes in taste.

This follows a recent rise in interest around symptoms, with Google searches for ‘uncommon pregnancy symptoms’ seeing a 350% rise in America over the last 12 months, whilst TikToks  tagged #pregnancysymptoms have accumulated a whopping 703 million views so far.

The experts at Flo Health, who also created the Due Date Calculator, have analyzed data behind the most-viewed TikToks to identify which of the unexpected symptoms users are most intrigued by – and go on to reveal why they occur.

And the findings show that the most-discussed symptom was vivid dreams, which were mentioned in 22% of the TikToks. Creators also touched on the content of these dreams, explaining they dreamt of things like baby animals and running water in ‘high-definition’.

According to Claudia Pastides (MBBS), Director of Medical Accuracy at Flo Health,  it’s normal to experience intense dreams, 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 an 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.

Altered smell was mentioned in 16% of the analyzed uploads, whilst rounding out the top three surprising symptoms was pelvic pain, also referenced in 16% of the videos.

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.”

Top 10 most-discussed surprising pregnancy symptoms, according to TikTok

  1. Vivid dreams
  2. Heightened smell
  3. Pelvic pain
  4. Bigger nipples
  5. Bleeding gums
  6. Congestion
  7. Hot flushes
  8. Tearfulness
  9. Insomnia
  10. Changes in taste

Rounding out the top five symptoms were bigger or darker nipples (16% of TikToks) and bleeding gums (14%) – also known as pregnancy gingivitis.

Healthy, beautiful smile; image by Liz20151222, CC BY-SA 4.0, no changes, via Wikimedia Commons.
Image by Liz20151222, CC BY-SA 4.0, no changes, via Wikimedia Commons.

According to a review paper on the physiologic changes of pregnancy, darker parts of the body – including the nipples – are likely to darken further due to hyperpigmentation. Expectant mothers may also get tender breasts, erect nipples, and more visible veins.

And while bleeding gums may be unsettling at first, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) explains that pregnant women can experience an increased inflammatory response to issues like plaque, which makes 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.

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].

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.”

Sources: TikTok, Google Trends [350% increase in ‘uncommon pregnancy symptoms’], The National Sleep Foundation, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and ScienceDirect (physiologic changes of pregnancy).

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