So you’ve peed on the stick and it’s positive! Congratulations!!
Everyone’s journey into pregnancy looks different. For some, it may be quick or unexpected, met with shock or surprise. For some, it may have been long and arduous following many months or years of fertility issues or IVF cycles. For others, the road may have been rocky or unpredictable, following the heartache and grief of losing a baby. Despite how longed for or planned a baby may (or may not) be, the emotional and physical changes that occur during the first trimester can be overwhelming, and bring up emotional hurdles that were not expected. On top of that, the initial feelings of first discovering you are pregnant can sometimes be overshadowed by some rather rubbish first trimester symptoms.
You may not feel like the perfect glowing image of pregnancy you once imagined you would, or like one of those celebrity mums on the covers of magazines – Let’s face it, life doesn’t feel so glamorous when you’ve spent all morning with your head over the toilet! BUT, don’t panic…this too shall pass….
Here’s my one-stop guide for surviving your first trimester…
Despite what you may think, the first trimester is often the most challenging. Whilst you may feel like you should be brimming with excitement, and celebrating with confetti cannons, this is often not the reality! With at least 1 in 10 mums experiencing feelings of stress and anxiety during pregnancy, there is no shame in not feeling ‘all the feels’ right now.
The hormonal and physiological changes that occur when we’re pregnant are incredible, but it’s no wonder they can knock us for six. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG), Estrogen, and Progesterone are the chief pregnancy hormones. With sudden and dramatic changes, our hormones have a lot to answer for, however, they are vital for a successful pregnancy.
Breast Changes – aside from being ‘late’ and missing a period, one of the earliest signs of pregnancy is sore boobs. A surge in estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin even at this early stage is preparing your body to produce milk and encouraging the development of glandular tissue in the breasts. This rise in hormones causes the breasts to retain more fluids, become larger, feel heavy, sore, and more tender or sensitive than usual. Some women experience breast tenderness even before they have missed their period. You may also notice that the areola (the darker area surrounding the nipple) becomes darker. This hyperpigmentation can occur in women of any skin tone, but is more common in women with darker complexions, and helps your baby to find the nipple more easily for feeding.
Tips: Treat yourself to a comfortable, well-fitted bra that provides firm support. You don’t have to say goodbye to your sexy lacy bras forever, but giving your breasts the support they need will help make life more comfortable for you at this time. Avoiding the underwire can help feel less constrictive and allows for continual breast changes throughout pregnancy. If sleeping without a bra at night is uncomfortable, invest in a good quality sleep bra. If all else fails, try standing under a warm shower to help ease the discomfort from swollen sore boobs. Heat helps to relax the surrounding muscles and eases tension. Breast soreness normally eases as the pregnancy progresses.
Morning sickness (whoever called it that?!) – is very common in early pregnancy, with sources suggesting as many as 85% of women experience it during the first few weeks. Rising levels of hCG are normally responsible for pregnancy-related sickness and vomiting. Unfortunately despite what the name may suggest, ‘morning’ sickness is not just limited to the morning, however does tend to be worse upon waking. It can occur at any time of the day (or night), however is usually made worse by having low blood sugars and an empty stomach. When our stomach is empty the acid has nothing to act on but our stomach lining, which then heightens the nausea. It is typically worse in the morning when we’ve gone many hours overnight without eating until we get up in the morning. By this point our stomach is empty and our blood sugars are in our boots. This leaves us feeling pretty yuk, and in that perpetuating cycle of not wanting to eat because we feel sick.
Tips: It may feel counter-productive, but trust me, eating something is normally always better. Try to eat something rich in protein before bed at night, as this will take longer for your body to digest. If you are awake in the night to pee, try to eat something then too. Hopefully, this will help maintain your blood sugars and keep them a little more stable to stop that desperate hunger in the morning. Eat something plain before getting out of bed in the morning, and don’t go more than a couple of hours throughout the day without having something in your system. Become a ‘grazer’. You may not feel able to eat 3 big meals a day, and that’s ok. Our digestive system slows down during pregnancy, due to increased progesterone levels, which normally leaves us unable to handle large quantities of food at a time. Eating little and often is the way to go. Become a snacker. Keep snacks everywhere – in your purse, your work bag, the car, at your desk…that way you will never be caught short when hunger strikes! Eat what you can. At this stage don’t worry too much about what you’re eating. Be kind to yourself. Figure out what you CAN eat, and go with that. There is no right or wrong. What works for one person, might not work for another.
“What spells relief to one may spell P-U-K-E to another” – Heidi Murkoff
For most people, nausea and vomiting will subside somewhere between 10-20 weeks (although for some it can persist throughout the pregnancy). There will be plenty of time once you’re feeling better to focus on what you’re eating and making healthy choices. But for now, do what you can. Be safe in the knowledge that your baby will take from you what it needs. Even if you are not able to keep much down, it is important to continually sip water to keep yourself hydrated. If you’re struggling, or water really doesn’t seem appealing, try to fool your body into accepting fluids in other ways. For example, try eating foods with high water content such as watermelon and cucumbers.
Get plenty of rest. Being tired can make nausea worse. If the idea of hauling yourself out of bed to go to work is only compounding the feeling of nausea, then don’t do it. Take a sick day if you need to. Start taking care of yourself and putting yourself first for a change – your body is working on overdrive. Your baby is growing faster now than at any other time in the pregnancy. Give yourself a well-deserved break.
Being sick is unpleasant, but it will not harm your baby. Some women find it helpful to keep a mini essentials bag with them. Pack a toothbrush, toothpaste, a packet of mints, some tissues, and a paper bag in case the worst happens in public!
A small percentage of people will develop a severe form of nausea and vomiting, known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), which can be a debilitating and serious condition. If you are concerned, speak to your GP or health care professional. You can find more information here https://www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk/
Constipation & Bloating – Our good friend progesterone is responsible for this too, and causes our digestion to slow down so that our body can extract extra nutrients from the foods that we eat as it passes through our body to nourish our growing baby. The downside to this is that it may leave us feeling bloated and nauseous, and can cause constipation due to the slow transit.
Tips: Add lots of fruits and vegetables to your diet. Eat a ‘rainbow’ of foods to ensure you are getting a variety of nutrients in your diet. Adding foods such as apples, plums, prunes, sweet potato, lentils, flaxseeds, and whole grains will add extra fiber and help to keep your bowels moving. Stay hydrated. Aim for at least 1-2 liters of water a day during pregnancy to keep yourself regular. Some people find that warm drinks, especially in the morning, help to move things along, and avoid icy cold drinks, as this can have the opposite effect.
Heightened Sense of Smell & Taste – In early pregnancy, you might discover real aversions to certain foods, or smells. You may find your usual morning cuppa, your coffee on the way to work, or your tuna salad at your desk is enough to turn your stomach and have you running for the nearest loo! Rising levels of hCG and estrogen in pregnancy are the reason we develop a heightened sense of smell which influences our food preferences (or aversions). Some research suggests that this is a protective bodily mechanism against potentially harmful elements in certain foods.
Tips: Try to position yourself next to a door or a window, or keep the window open while you are in your car. Avoid strong-smelling perfumes, room sprays, and plug-ins. Keep the fresh air flowing! If this is not possible, try sniffing some fresh scents. Carry essential oils with you in your purse and inhale if you feel queasy. Citrus smells often work well, as do minty ones such as spearmint or peppermint.
Tiredness – Varying degrees of tiredness is very normal, and is all down to increasing levels of progesterone which has a sedative effect. Extra progesterone also increases our basal body temperature making us feel sleepy and lethargic. It is normal to experience tiredness, exhaustion, and even fatigue. Although it may not seem like much is going on from the outside, on the inside your body is undergoing some of the biggest changes it is ever likely to experience. Your body is working 24/7 to support the pregnancy which uses a great deal of your body’s resources. In addition, physical and emotional changes all contribute to a lack of energy.
Tips: Prioritise sleep! If you feel tired, you need to rest. This may mean adapting your routines slightly to accommodate going to bed earlier or getting up later, or taking a nap in the day if possible. Carve time into your day, where you can rest with your feet up, or take a relaxing bath. Feeling tired, won’t harm your baby, however, it can make everything else feel more difficult. Feeling exhausted all the time (as well as fluctuating hormone levels) can play havoc with our emotions. One minute we can feel on top of the world, and the next we’re sobbing into our pregnancy pillow. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. This may be from friends or family to help out with older children, from your partner to help with day to day chores, or even discussing with your boss about adjusting work hours or duties.
Leaving the house and getting some fresh air or exercise may not feel like something you’re particularly motivated to do during the early weeks of pregnancy, however incorporating 20-30 minutes of gentle exercise into your daily routine can actually make you feel more energized. This can be as simple as walking to the shop, walking the dog, or spending a few minutes each day doing some yoga on your mat at home. You’ll be surprised what a difference a little fresh air and exercise can do for your physical and emotional health.
Headaches – Can be hormonal, but can also be caused by dehydration. Make sure you are drinking at least 1-2 liters of water daily. Sip throughout the day, or use a straw if downing lots of water is making you feel sick.
Tips: As with most pregnancy symptoms, eating, hydrating, resting or sleeping can all help. If none of these tips are working, you can take paracetamol if you need to.
Constant Peeing – Again, fluctuating hormones are partly responsible for our frequent trips to the bathroom, as well as increased blood flow to our pelvic area. Our kidneys are working harder to process all of the extra fluid, which unfortunately means we have to pee more often.
Tips: Try and avoid liquids in the last few hours before going to bed, to avoid having to wake up in the night for a wee (or at least minimize the chances).
Pregnancy Supplements – During pregnancy 400 micrograms of folic acid every day until the 12 weeks is recommended. Folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects and problems in baby’s development in the early weeks of pregnancy. It is also recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women take 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day, which helps keep bones, teeth, and muscles healthy.
Tips: If you’re unable to eat much at this time, try to take a pregnancy multivitamin to cover your bases. Most pregnancy multivitamins will include the above recommendations as standard. If swallowing tablets is a no-go at the moment, try either taking them at night time before bed or blitzing them up into a smoothie as an easy way to get lots of fruits and veg and nutrients into your day.
Decide when you are comfortable telling people that you are expecting. Many parents-to-be will wait until after the first trimester to announce the news to loved ones. There are many factors that contribute to this decision. After the 12th week of pregnancy, the risk of miscarriage falls to around 5%, therefore it is understandable why many people wait until the risk of miscarriage drops before telling people. Some people like to wait until after their first ultrasound scan, or after hearing their baby’s heartbeat for the first time. Everyone’s reasons are personal, and your decision should ultimately be made by what makes you feel most comfortable, but given the enormous changes occurring within your body, sometimes telling a close friend or family member can help, especially if you are feeling anxious. As we’ve discussed the physical symptoms of early pregnancy can be tough, and can sometimes feel all-consuming. Letting someone know what you are going through can help ease the burden.
Tips: Switch off from social media as it often paints an unrealistic picture of pregnancy and motherhood. Regardless of how you’re feeling, it can be hard not to compare yourself to others, which can add to the complexity of emotions you may already be going through at this time.
I know this might seem like a lot to take on board, particularly when the first trimester has already got a hold of you. It can feel like these weeks go on forever, but as I promised at the start, “this too shall pass”. Hopefully, you’ll see light at the end of the tunnel soon, and once you emerge into your second trimester it won’t be long until you feel the little signs of life stir within, and all this will be a distant memory.
Article written by Sarah Smith, www.thebirthcircle.co.uk
Sarah is a Registered Midwife, Childbirth Educator & Trainer, Blogger + proud Mum based in Devon, UK. With over a decade of experience both in the UK and the USA, she has welcomed countless babies earthside, and supported hundreds of women and families through the transformational process of childbirth and on in to parenthood.
She is passionate about sharing knowledge and empowering women and their partners to make informed decisions about their care, and to help them feel positive and excited about their upcoming experience.
Her passion for Midwifery started from a young age. Having always been fascinated by pregnancy and birth, and the body’s inner wisdom and ability to create and nurture life, the decision to become a Midwife was a natural progression. She began her training at the University of Nottingham and has worked in various locations, including London and Los Angeles. Her experience has spanned a wide variety of maternity care settings both in the private and public sector, from the home to the operating theatre, and everything in between.
10 years after qualifying as a Midwife, Sarah developed ‘The Birth Circle’ blog as she wanted to create a safe space to share positive, inspiring and empowering birth stories, to celebrate the amazing and intricate work of our bodies and babies, and the life-altering transformations that we go through as we evolve in to parents. She also wanted to create a platform to explore the lesser known and discussed issues surrounding pregnancy, birth and parenthood, and a place to share her own musings as a woman, mother and Midwife.
Sarah currently works as a community and hospital based Midwife within her local NHS trust, and in her spare time teaches ‘The Real Birth Workshop’ parent education classes to expectant parents, and trains other birth professionals to do the same. She also volunteers with her local Baby Bank Network to help support local families.
You can reach Sarah on FB and Insta @TheBirthCircleUK
If you are interested in booking antenatal classes/workshops with her or just want to say hi, you can email Sarah@thebirthcircle.co.uk or you can reach out through the ‘contacts’ page on her website.
Make sure you grab a copy of my FREE guide 5 Steps To Increase Your Fertile Cervical Mucus & my FREE Self-Care Mini Course. You can access either one by clicking on the title. These are packed full of information that you can begin implementing today to put yourself one step closer to getting pregnant, naturally.
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