While pregnancy is one of life’s most joyful events, the first trimester can be overwhelming for first-time mothers. The first three months are marked by an invisible but amazing transformation within your body and the baby, too.
The baby develops rapidly during the first trimester, which lasts from fertilization to the 13th week. The fetus begins to develop a brain, spinal cord and other organs. Even the baby’s heart begins to beat during this time.
Dr. Mejebi Mayor, Physician Executive at Royam Medical and Consultative Services who holds a MD degree in Obstetrics and Gynecology, further elaborates that, “the first trimester of pregnancy refers to the first 13 weeks of gestation, which is the time of organogenesis or when the baby is being formed. Therefore, it is essential to avoid any medication that can affect the baby’s development during this period. If you are already on certain medications that might harm your baby, check with your provider to switch to a safer alternative, if possible.
However, the best time to make the required changes to your medication is before conception. You must also make sure that you are taking folic acid in the right dosage from before the onset of pregnancy, to help reduce the risk of spinal congenital problems later.”
The rapid hormonal changes that go along with pregnancy also trigger a lot of changes in the mother’s body.
Knowing the physical changes that one goes through during the first trimester can help you face the months ahead with confidence.
If you’re concerned about anything during your pregnancy, always seek medical advice or talk to your midwife or general practitioner.
Here are some of the changes you can expect during the first trimester of pregnancy.
1. Nausea (with or without Vomiting)
Most pregnant women suffer from nausea in the first trimester. Although it is commonly known as “morning sickness”, one can experience it at any time of the day. The high levels of progesterone in the body due to hormonal changes slows down your digestive system. This in turn contributes to nausea.
Even though morning sickness during the first trimester is something no woman wishes to experience, it can be a good sign. A 2016 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reports that nausea and vomiting during pregnancy is associated with a lower risk of miscarriage.
To combat morning sickness, eat several small meals during the day, avoid spicy and greasy foods, and drink plenty of fluids. For most women, the nausea subsides during the second trimester.
Morning sickness does not usually cause any problems for the unborn baby. However, if vomiting is severe and interferes with your day-to-day activities, you must see your doctor.
“Nausea and vomiting are early signs of pregnancy, and can be a result of hormonal changes during the early days of the pregnancy. Some natural home remedies to relieve nausea include dry crackers and toast, some ginger ale or ginger roots.
If your nausea is particularly severe, your healthcare provider may even prescribe some appropriate medication to help you stay healthy. The least you can do is to keep yourself hydrated by sipping on water and electrolyte drinks throughout the day. If you suspect any signs of dehydration or generally feel unwell, consult your doctor at the earliest,” says Dr. Mayor.
2. Fatigue or Tiredness
In the early months of pregnancy, expectant mothers often experience fatigue or tiredness. This is mainly due to increasing levels of the hormone progesterone.
Also, the nausea and vomiting you may experience during the first trimester can deplete your energy reserves.
At the same time, your body needs extra energy to support the uterus that has begun to grow day by day.
Extreme fatigue during early pregnancy is not a good sign. A 2004 study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing reports that fatigue during pregnancy predicts caesarean deliveries.
By managing fatigue, you can reduce your chance of a caesarean delivery. To fight fatigue, sleep and rest as much as you can. A healthy diet and regular exercise will also help boost your energy level.
3. Tender and Swollen Breasts
Soon after conceiving, your body goes through a lot of hormonal changes, which can make your breasts sensitive or sore. Also, your breasts may become larger and heavier.
In fact, breast tenderness is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. It usually starts around 4 to 6 weeks and lasts through the first trimester.
The breast tenderness is likely to reduce after a few weeks, as your body adjusts to the hormonal changes.
However, your breasts will continue to undergo other changes during the later stages of pregnancy, culminating with the production of colostrum, the precursor to breast milk.
4. Food Aversions and Cravings
During early pregnancy, it’s common to have highly specific food cravings, and you may become totally uninterested in some foods. You may also have an aversion to certain smells and tastes that you once liked.
Food aversions as well as cravings are possibly caused by the ongoing hormonal changes in the body. The hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) doubles every few days during your first trimester. The rapid increase of this hormone in the body causes food aversions. Plus, the digestion process slows down during pregnancy, so some formerly appealing foods become intolerable.
Some common pregnancy food aversions include meat, eggs, milk, onions, garlic, spicy foods, and tea and coffee. You can always consult your doctor for other alternatives for food aversions to make sure your body is getting all the necessary nutrients.
Heartburn is another of the most commonly reported complaints among pregnant women. It usually starts during the first trimester and tends to worsen during the second and third trimesters.
The increased production of progesterone, the hormone that relaxes muscles in preparation for labor and birth, is the main reason behind heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux. Progesterone causes the valve at the top of the stomach to relax and allow stomach acid to flow into your esophagus, causing heartburn.
To prevent heartburn, eat small, frequent meals and avoid fried or spicy foods, citrus fruits and chocolate. Also, avoid lying down after eating and don’t eat too close to bedtime, so that your body has time to digest the food.
As high levels of progesterone produced during pregnancy slows the movement of food through your digestive system, it can lead to constipation.
Also, the iron supplements that your doctor may have prescribed can add to the problem.
To prevent or relieve constipation, include plenty of fiber in your diet and drink lots of water along with fresh vegetable or fruit juice. Doing regular physical activity also helps a lot.
7. Increased Urination
During early pregnancy, another common concern is increased urination. You may need to visit the bathroom more often than usual.
The amount of blood in your body increases during pregnancy, which causes your kidneys to process extra fluid that ends up in your bladder.
Unfortunately, the frequent need to urinate isn’t limited to just the first trimester. As your pregnancy progresses, the developing baby may put pressure on your bladder, increasing your need to urinate more often.
Tips to stay healthy during the first trimester
- Take prenatal vitamins as directed by your doctor.
- Exercise regularly. Walking is one of the best exercises you can do during pregnancy. Avoid strenuous exercise or strength training that could cause an injury to your abdominal area.
- Make sure to work out your pelvic floor muscles by doing Kegel exercises. It helps you develop the ability to control your pelvic floor muscles for pregnancy and childbirth.
- Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, low-fat forms of protein and fiber.
- Avoid raw fish or smoked seafood, raw sprouts and unpasteurized milk or other dairy products.
- Drink lots of water to make sure your body is properly hydrated.
- Steer clear of alcohol, caffeine, smoking and illegal drugs.