There are certain symptoms we all assume will accompany pregnancy, such as nausea, swollen feet and tender breasts. Personally, my sense of smell became so keen that I could have replaced one of those drug-sniffing dogs at the airport. One day, I swore that I could smell rotting pine, though my husband reminded me that our San Francisco apartment wasn’t near any forests. The following day, however, our neighbors dragged their three-month-old Christmas tree out their front door. Like I said, rotting pine!
Never doubt a pregnant woman when she tells you she smells something amiss.
But what about those less common and strange changes to our body that no one wants to discuss? The ones so bizarre that you’re convinced you’ll end up in a book of medical mysteries, only to have your doctor laugh and tell you, “that’s perfectly normal.”
I’m talking about things like “vag ants” (yes, you read that correctly: vag — as in, you guessed it, vagina — ants) and excessive labia swelling. Let’s dig into some of those types of pregnancy symptoms, shall we? These are all real things that happened to my friends and fellow moms on social media, and I spoke with experts who provided more information amount these pregnancy-related medical maladies.
A few months into her first pregnancy, Leigh noticed a trail of ants heading to her clothing hamper. “I assumed there was a food stain on some of the clothes,” Leigh said. “I washed the laundry, cleaned up the ants and forgot about it until the same thing happened the next day. And the day after that.”
On that third day, she decided to investigate further and found the ants were indeed attracted to something specific in the hamper: her underwear.
The ants were after the crotch of her dirty underwear.
“During pregnancy, vaginal pH is typically between 3.8 and 4.0. For reference, the two days a month a woman is most fertile, pH is about 7.0,” explained Peter Rizk, OB/GYN and fertility expert for Fairhaven Health. “Changes like this can create changes in odor, which can be attractive to animals.”
Dr. Rizk says seeing ants isn’t necessarily a symptom to worry about. “A change in odor is totally fine unless it’s accompanied by a thick white discharge, itching and the odor becomes stronger,” he said. “Symptoms like this could be a yeast or bacterial vaginosis (BV) infection.”
For the remainder of her pregnancy, Leigh put her dirty underwear in sealed plastic bags until she could wash them. And she happily noted that her second and third pregnancy were both vag ant-free.
Ever hear of vulva varicosities? Neither had Meera. So, when she awoke one morning to find one side of her labia majora had swollen to the size of a small lemon, she panicked. It turns out she wasn’t smuggling fruit down there, her doctor explained she had developed a varicose vein on her vulva.
“Think of a vaginal varicose vein like a hemorrhoid, but on the labia or even inside the vagina,” Rizk told Scary Mommy. “While common, they are just as awful as hemorrhoids, usually causing itching, swelling, and overall discomfort.”
“It felt very strange when I was walking,” Meera explained. “But the itching was the worst. There were times I was in public and had to itch myself or I’d go insane. I learned that if I sort of rubbed my legs together it gave me relief, and according to my husband I looked like a heavily pregnant cricket.”
Rizk assured us that, while uncomfortable, vulva varicosities usually go away after childbirth thanks to decreased pressure in the area.
No one would be calm if they woke up to a blood-soaked pillowcase, but that sight was especially scary to Alecia, who was pregnant after a trio of heartbreaking miscarriages.
“I looked like one of those boxers with blood pouring out of my nostrils like a waterfall,” she said. “I couldn’t believe someone could lose that much blood and still be alive, I really thought I was dying.”
She wasn’t dying — it was just a routine pregnancy symptom.
“Nosebleeds are significantly more common in pregnant women due to the greatly increased blood volume,” said Felice Gersh, M.D. OB/GYN and founder/director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine.
And why, exactly, is it common for a healthy, pregnant women to look like she just went a few rounds in the ring with Rocky?
According to Gersh, that increase of blood can create a higher pressure in the vessels and increased swelling of the nasal passages, which leads to more fragility of the nasal blood vessels.
Alecia had to carry an entire box of tissues with her at all times, as the nose bleeds were happening a few times a week and would last around 20-30 minutes. One day she was at work and didn’t notice her nose had started bleeding until she saw it all over the paperwork she had on her desk. Luckily, the papers were able to be re-printed and the nose bleeds stopped early in her second trimester.
“It is reasonable to get blood tests to ensure there is no anemia developing or that there are low platelets present,” Gersh cautioned. So be sure to let your doctor know if you experience excessive nose bleeds.
Zoe has had freckles and moles on her body since childhood. She has them frequently checked by her doctor and they have never been a bother. Until she got pregnant, that is.
“I thought I had a wasp stuck in my shirt that was stinging me repeatedly,” Zoe began. “Luckily, I was at home because I ripped my shirt off. There was no bee, but a mole on my stomach felt like it was being shocked repeatedly if anything touched it.”
Even though Zoe has multiple moles, it was only one that was sensitized. She was panicked and went to see her doctor.
“After she examined it — and all of my other moles — and saw nothing amiss, she told me not to worry,” Zoe said. “She just suggested I cover it to decrease sensitivity.”
“Moles often enlarge and grow darker during pregnancy as a consequence of pregnancy hormone effects,” Gersh explained. “Still, melanoma can occur during pregnancy and all suspicious moles need a medical evaluation.”
Zoe was cleared of melanoma, but she did spend a few months of her pregnancy with a gauze patch taped over her wasp-sting mole.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll never again hear that phrase “ants in your pants” without thinking of poor Leigh and her magical discharge.
Becky Vieira been wearing mom jeans since 2016. She writes for a variety of parenting outlets, and can often be found oversharing intimate details of her life on Instagram. She's immensely proud of the time she thought to pee in one of her son's diapers while stuck in her car, as opposed to her pants.
Becky's debut book about the real realities of the first year of motherhood will be published by Union Square & Co. in May 2023. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, son, dog, three cats and a partridge in a pear tree.