It may not seem that way on the outside, but a lot is going on behind the scenes during the first trimester. The surge of pregnancy hormones, namely estrogen and progesterone, can have a ripple effect throughout your body.
Some signs and symptoms of early pregnancy are more common than others, and they can vary from person to person, even from pregnancy to pregnancy. Learning what to expect during pregnancy helps you better understand what’s ahead, so you can take the best care of yourself for the full nine months.
What to Expect
Here’s a rundown of what to expect during your first trimester, which covers week 1 through week 13 of pregnancy. (This and your estimated due date are based on when you got your last period; ask your ob-gyn if you’re unsure how far along you are.)
Morning sickness: Nausea and vomiting are hallmarks of the first trimester, affecting about 70% of pregnant women. In fact, besides missing your period, feeling sick to your stomach could be one of the very first signs you’re pregnant. Morning sickness can start as soon as week 6—and don’t let the name fool you, because it can strike at any time of day. And while this symptom can be unpleasant, it usually doesn’t harm you or your baby.
To cope with morning sickness, eat frequent, small meals to avoid an empty stomach and drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Foods and drinks containing ginger are also common morning sickness remedies. You’ll soon learn which foods and smells make your nausea worse, so you can steer clear of those.
For most women, morning sickness goes away by the second trimester—but in rare cases, it can last for months. If your morning sickness is so severe you can’t keep anything down, don’t hesitate to contact your ob-gyn, who may prescribe treatment.
Fatigue: You may be surprised to feel completely wiped out these first few weeks. This is your body’s way of dealing with the extraordinary physical and emotional changes of pregnancy. Head to bed early, rest as often as you can, and don’t push yourself too hard (the chores can wait!). Eating a healthy diet and exercising may help you feel more energized.
Headaches: Headaches in pregnancy are common, especially during the first trimester. Like many aspects of pregnancy, headaches are thought to be caused by pregnancy hormones and an increase in blood volume. If you’re cutting back on your caffeine intake, that could be another culprit. Try to avoid or reduce common headache triggers, such as stress or eye strain. You may find relief from yoga, massage, and other forms of relaxation. Check with your doctor before taking any pain medication or herbal supplements, as some are not safe during pregnancy.
Acne: All those extra hormones can do a number on your skin, causing acne even if you weren’t prone to it before. Wash your face twice a day and consult with your ob-gyn about which over-the-counter acne medications are safe to use during pregnancy.
Breast pain: Do your boobs feel tender or swollen? For many women, pregnancy breast pain is like what usually happens before your period, but multiplied. On top of that, your breasts will start growing and changing to prepare for breastfeeding. The areolas, the skin surrounding your nipples, may start to darken in color. You may start to see little bumps (like goosebumps) appear around your nipples, too.
Any discomfort should subside once your body adjusts to the new levels of pregnancy hormones. Be prepared to go up a bra cup size or more. You may feel more comfortable wearing a supportive sports bra or maternity bra.
Food cravings: Talk about a strange dynamic—one moment you can’t stand the sight of food, and the next moment you’re ravenously hungry for ice cream or Indian takeout. Welcome to a typical day in early pregnancy. This, too, is due to changes in your hormones. It’s OK to give into your pregnancy cravings in moderation, as long as your overall diet is healthy and balanced.
Tummy troubles: Pregnancy can introduce a host of digestive issues, from gas and bloating to constipation and heartburn (also known as acid reflux). Once again, changing hormone levels are largely to blame here. Your growing uterus also puts pressure on other organs in your lower abdomen, such as the intestines and rectum, which can make things out of whack.
To ward off heartburn, eat small meals and avoid likely triggers such as spicy, fried, or citrus foods. Eating a diet high in fiber—think fruits, veggies, and whole grains—can ease constipation (although fiber can also make you gassy, so that’s a tradeoff). Staying active and drinking plenty of water will help keep things moving too.
Frequent urination: In the first trimester, you may find yourself heading to the bathroom more often than usual. That’s because the amount of blood and other body fluids increases during pregnancy. Your uterus also puts more pressure on your bladder as it grows. There’s not a whole lot you can do about this, other than noting the nearest restroom at all times.
Weight changes: The scale may shift a few pounds in either direction during the first trimester, depending on your appetite and level of morning sickness. This is all within the range of normal; what matters more is that you gain weight steadily in your second and third trimesters. Not sure how many pounds you should put on during pregnancy? Your ob-gyn can recommend a healthy range based on your pre-pregnancy weight and other factors.
Your mental and emotional health: Pregnancy comes with its emotional ups and downs. Even if you are over-the-moon excited about growing your family, you may also be stressed about the pending changes to your finances, home, lifestyle, even your relationships. Will you be good parents? How will you find childcare if and when you return to work? The questions can feel never-ending!
These mood swings are normal, and you should find a safe space to talk about them. This could be with your partner, your mom, your best friend, or a health care professional. If the stress of pregnancy gets to be too much, or if you have a history of anxiety or depression, tell your ob-gyn so you can get the help you need.
Stages and Changes
Pregnancy is a time of enormous change, both inside and out. While some aspects of pregnancy can be uncomfortable, they are usually manageable—and keep in mind, they won’t last forever.
Pay attention to how you feel and call your ob-gyn if you are worried about any of your first trimester signs and symptoms. No question is too small or too strange, and you don’t have to wait until your next visit to seek help. Your ob-gyn practice is there to support you throughout your prenatal care.
Curious about what’s coming next, mama? Learn what to expect in the second trimester of pregnancy.
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