What To Expect: The 1st Trimester

YAY! You are pregnant! Whether you have been planning this for years or it was the shock of a lifetime, here you are. Congratulations, mama. You have so much to look forward to.

But the truth is, those first three months can be really REALLY hard. In my experience, the first three months of pregnancy and the first three months of parenthood were six of the worst months of my life.

Looking back, I think the common denominator in both of those seasons was this: a new normal.

When you first get pregnant, even if you had been hoping for it, there’s a really big weight of reality. You ARE pregnant… not just hoping to be. In nine months there WILL be a baby in your arms. The reality smacking you in the face can be really difficult.

Not to mention all the terrible symptoms of those crazy hormones overloading you all at once! Over the course of your pregnancy, all of those hormones level out and you also get used to them being there. As soon as you have your baby, those hormones will drop and the same insanity will happen all over again!

Really, your 1st trimester is eerily similar to your “4th” and the thing that causes all the problems is your precious new baby. But I promise: It gets better.

So, maybe this is your first pregnancy and you literally don’t know where to begin. Or maybe it’s your sixth baby and you just need a little refresher and some encouragement. I’m here for both situations! In this post I’ll cover these questions (scroll down to find the one you are looking for!):

  • When did I actually get pregnant? 
  • What symptoms can I expect?
  • What kind of diet & exercise regime should I be on?
  • What things should I avoid? 
  • When should I go to the doctor? What can I expect at my first appointment? 
  • What is happening with my baby? 
  • What should I be doing to prepare for my baby? 

Here is your ultimate guide on what and how to eat, what supplements you need to be taking, what is safe and what’s not, how you can expect to feel, what to expect from doctor’s visits, and how your babe is growing inside of you!

When did I actually get pregnant?

Let’s start with the basics.

Pregnancy is measured in weeks, but 3 of those weeks, you aren’t technically pregnant! 2 weeks there is no pregnancy at all. At about the 2nd week (10-17 days after the first day of your cycle) you ovulate and can become pregnant. At 3 weeks you could have a fertilized egg traveling down to your uterus (which is the beginning of LIFE, but your body does not know you are pregnant yet!), but it isn’t until the 4th week that that egg actually implants in your uterus and begins giving you pregnancy hormones!

So, if you had sex three days ago, I assure you that you can’t know if you are pregnant yet. Just be patient.

But if you ovulated 2-3 weeks ago and are expecting or missing your period, it’s very possible that your 1st trimester has already begun!

So, even though the 1st trimester is potentially the hardest part of the pregnancy, it is actually the shortest! You are only pregnant for 9 weeks in the 1st trimester, and by “week 12”, or 9 weeks after implantation, you should be feeling a heck of a lot better!

What symptoms can I expect in the 1st trimester?

4th week: You may or may not feel symptoms at this point. If you do, they are usually very similar to PMS symptoms. The first thing you should be looking for is a missed period.

5th week: Breasts begin to grow and tingle, and may be incredibly sensitive. A strange metallic taste is common in the early weeks as your body reacts to hormone changes. You may notice that you are very snappy, emotional and exhausted this week as well. Acid reflux may also begin now, or you may not have it at all!

6th week: Commonly, morning sickness begins about now (or all the time sickness!). You can also expect to feel new cramps, aches and pains – these are totally normal! You may notice a need to pee ALL THE TIME as the hormones multiply rapidly in your body and cause you to need more and more water. Sweatiness, fatigue, moodiness, more breast pain, and nausea are all very normal right now. 

7th week: You might have noticed by now that you’re extremely gassy and bloated. This is because the hormones from your pregnancy cause your digestive tract to slow waaaaay down so your body can soak up ALL your nutrients to give to the baby! Comforting, huh? As good as it is for the baby, it can be really bad for you! UTI’s are also really common right now. Talk about a pain in the butt! Make sure to eat good food, drink plenty of water, and it’s OK to take a gentle laxative if you are miserable.

8th week: This week, you may begin to have some crazy breakouts…. and not just on your face. Your pregnancy hormone levels are doubling every day! You may also notice that certain smells and tastes make you nauseous. Just listen to your body. You may begin to eat a very bland diet…. that’s OK! Just take your prenatal vitamins and drink lots of water. This too shall pass.

9th week: Have you been having some wacky dreams lately? Blame it on the baby. You can also expect nasal congestion (as well as LOTS and lots of mucus) and headaches around this time as your hormones continue to soar.

10th week: You might begin to feel even more aches and pains in your uterus and abdomen as things begin to grow and stretch. It’s really uncomfortable, but it doesn’t mean anything is wrong! Watch out for sharp pains – if it’s dull and uncomfortable, like really bad menstrual cramps, then it’s normal. If you have very sharp pains in one area for more than a few seconds, call your doctor. Right around now is when you may start to show a little bit… which means you may need to be going shopping for some looser clothes! Remember that your body is going to change rapidly over the next 6 months. Make sure to get clothing that will be able to accommodate your growing body for at least a few more months.

11th week: Good news! Your pregnancy hormone, HCG, has stopped rising! It will level out here soon and you will begin to feel a LOT better. This week you may notice increased vaginal discharge (you can expect this throughout your entire pregnancy), even more urgent needs to urinate ALL the time, and potentially that dark line down the center of your belly that you’ve been waiting for (jk, jk..). Though it may not start for a few weeks, you may also begin to experience leg and hip cramps from the relaxing of your body preparing for birth. You may also want to invest in a nursing bra… those knockers are about to get even bigger here soon!

12th week: You may feel like all your symptoms have kept stacking on top of each other… and that’s because they have. Every symptom in the past 12 weeks has likely not gone away, but kept getting worse. Good news, mama. From here on out, all of them are either going to become more leveled out OR totally disappear for you! Hooray! Your body has adjusted to the HCG levels in your body and you are going to start feeling really good.

What kind of diet & exercise regime should I be on in the 1st trimester?

Surprisingly, you don’t need to be gaining any weight in the first trimester. I think a lot of women are under the assumption that pregnancy = free range eating and limitless weight gain. Sorry sister… not so much!

In the first trimester, it’s okay to gain anywhere from 1-5 pounds, but it’s easiest for you if you do your best to avoid it. Besides bloating and constipation (which may add a few pounds of water/poop weight) you really don’t need to be gaining anything during this time. It’s also totally normal at that stage to lose some weight from morning sickness. Make sure to keep your OBGYN updated if you think you are losing too much weight.

Don’t add any more calories to your diet, stay active, and try to stick to these basic guidelines:

  • Drink lots and lots of water. You know those 8 glasses you’re supposed to drink? Make it more like 10-12.
  • Consider including lemon in your water. The acidity of lemon is great for protecting against UTI’s, which you are much more prone to now that you’re pregnant… whoopee, right?! Lemon is also full of vitamin C, and since your immune system is down now that you’re pregnant, you could use a lot more of that!
  • Go easy on the caffeine, but you don’t have to avoid it completely like you may have heard. You can have 200mg of caffeine every day of your pregnancy, which is about two nice sized cups of coffee or 6 cans of coca-cola (which we highly recommend you don’t drink in one day!!!). Basically, you can feel confident that a cup of coffee and/or 1-2 cans of soda in one day won’t harm your baby.
  • Continue with whatever fitness program you were doing before. If you could do it before pregnancy, you can do it now. However, it’s safest to not start doing anything new now that you know you are pregnant. If you don’t know how your body reacts, don’t try it right now. Walking, dancing and yoga are all very safe exercises to do if you weren’t active before but want to become more active for your baby.
  • Try to eat something small and nutritious every 2-3 hours. If you don’t have an appetite when you first wake up, but you’re hungry, try a glass of milk, tea, or coffee. Eating often will help you keep your weight down, help with morning sickness and acid reflux, and provide a constant stream of nutrients to your baby.
  • If you are extremely nauseous and can’t keep “nutritious” foods down, don’t feel guilty. Something is better than nothing. Try saltines, berries, plain granola bars, potatoes, bananas, low sugar cereals, applesauce, anything peppermint (tea/gum/candies), and high fat foods. Sugar will aggravate nausea, and fat should calm it down. And of course, refined and bland foods should be safe. The key to calming down morning sickness is to eat often. Remember, normally nausea is a sign that something is wrong – therefore, you don’t eat. In pregnancy, you get morning sickness because you NEED to eat! For more meal ideas and tips to deal with morning sickness, check out this post.

What things should I avoid in the 1st trimester?

There are two ways of looking at the 1st trimester.

Some say that we don’t need to be very careful, because for thousands of years women had no idea they were pregnant until their bump showed and the human race is still here. They argue that tiny fetuses are extremely tough and able to withstand anything.

Others say that the 1st trimester is the most fragile time and you must be extremely careful to avoid harming your unborn child.

I would say that both of these are realistic. 20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Hundreds of years ago, women probably had miscarriages and touted them as late periods (and this still happens today). But now that we can know so early about our pregnancies, we are more likely to know about those miscarriage and blame ourselves… when in reality miscarriage is a normal part of life.

Really, there isn’t a whole lot you can do to make sure that your child survives or not. But if you know early, which in this day and age you probably will, there is no reason to not take all possible precautions to ensure the safety of your baby.

However, there is no need to obsess over it. Your baby is tougher than you would expect for being the size of a pencil led. 80% of pregnancies succeed and that should be a huge comfort to you if you are feeling anxious. Here are some things you should be careful of:

  • Try your best to avoid alcohol in your 1st trimester. No amount is safe to a fetus in the first few months. But if you drank before you knew you were pregnant, try not to worry about it.
  • Don’t stress! Stress can actually inhibit implantation and cause pregnancy issues. Relax! Your baby will thank you for it.
  • Quit smoking stat! Seriously. Smoking is extremely dangerous for your baby. Get help if you need it. Ask friends/family for accountability. Don’t risk your baby’s life.
  • Check ALL over the counter medications to see if they are safe for pregnancy. Call your primary care physician and check up on all your prescription medications as well. Some common OTC meds that are not safe for pregnancy include: Bismuth subsalicylate (pepto-bismol), Phenylephrine, Pseudoephedrine, Guaifenesin (cough & cold), Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen.
  • Be careful about seafood. While there are definitely safe fish to eat during pregnancy, I ended up steering clear of it completely and taking Omega-3 supplements. High levels of mercury can end up in seafood, which is unsafe for your baby. Some seafood is absolutely not to be eaten while pregnant. Make sure you do your research before enjoying anything fishy.
  • Cat litter. Don’t touch it, don’t breathe it in, stay away from it. Gross parasites live in it that can cause lots of harm to your unborn child.

When should I go to the doctor? What can I expect at my first appointment?

Call your OBGYN as soon as you get a positive pregnancy test. You can expect to get your first prenatal appointment around 8 weeks. If you have any questionable health problems, they may recommend that you come in a little earlier. At this first prenatal appointment you can expect:

  • Urine Sample
  • Lab Work
  • Pap Smear/Cervical Check
  • Lots of questions
  • Sonogram (Every OBGYN does this differently – this may be at your 1st appointment, or it may be at a separate time)

What is happening with my baby during the 1st trimester?

2nd week: You ovulate and conceive your child. During this week, the fertilized egg makes it way down the fallopian tube to implant in your uterus.

3rd week: If everything is good to go, that little egg successfully implants and begins to send signals to your body to get things started! In a few days you will have enough HCG in your blood to have a positive blood test.

4th week: It is possible, but not likely, that you will be able to feel pregnancy symptoms at this time. But you probably have enough HCG to get a positive urine test now! Also… your baby’s heart will begin to beat this week!

5th week: Baby’s major organs are beginning to form. Little hands and feet are sticking out of the embryo right now and big things are happening. He’s about the size of a poppyseed.

6th week: Baby’s facial features are developing. He’s about the size of a pea.

7th week: Baby’s brain is developing at 100 cells per minute… just imagine! This is why you are so exhausted. Remember to take those vitamins! He’s about the size of a blueberry.

8th week: Baby is extremely active in there! His tail has disappeared and his arms and legs are getting longer and more prominent. If you hear the heartbeat, be prepared for it to be very fast. He’s about the size of a raspberry.

9th week: Your uterus has officially doubled in size! You may have noticed your belly swelling a little bit. Some of that is from bloating, but it may also have to do with that uterus getting bigger. Your baby has also officially graduated from “Embryo” to “Fetus” status! This means that he is no longer a little ball developing organs. All his organs are there and are fine tuning a little bit more. He is about the size of a cherry!

10th week: Your baby is growing fingernails and hair! He is also practicing swallowing and kicking – even though you can’t feel him yet! He’s about the size of a strawberry.

11th week: Your baby is growing his tooth buds right now, and is becoming increasingly active. He is about the size of a lime.

12th week: At 12 weeks, your baby is officially a fully developed human! Every single organ is fully developed, now it’s just about getting bigger and more mature. How amazing is that? He is only the size of a plum, yet has every single body part that you do.

What should I be doing to prepare for my baby during the 1st trimester?

  • Call your OBGYN as soon as you get your positive pregnancy test. If you are healthy and have no risks, you probably won’t be seen until about 8 weeks, but you will want to call asap to get your appointment scheduled. You can also use this call to ask any questions you have about early pregnancy.
  • Take a prenatal vitamin. It’s best to begin taking these before you know you’re pregnant, especially if you’ve had problems in the past with keeping a pregnancy. But as soon as you know, run to the drugstore and grab one! You can do your research later to pick the best fit for you, but almost all are good and have the basics you need to get that little one started growing right.
  • Begin a pregnancy journal. I did mine on Shutterfly! Any sort of scrapbook/journal is great, whether handwritten or online. Keep track of all the cravings and weird symptoms, memories, photos, parties, sonograms, maybe even write letters to your baby. You’ll be so thankful you recorded it all someday.
  • Review your life insurance policy & make a will. 
  • Plan a baby-moon. It’s best to take this little trip in your 2nd trimester, when you are feeling your best.
  • Begin working on your baby registry. It can be easy to go crazy and add every cute thing you see, but I would recommend making a thorough list of absolutely every item you need to be prepared for baby. Find your favorite of each item and register for that item ONLY. This will eliminate the chance of getting several of the same item, items you don’t really care for, or just a bunch of cute baby clothes and not enough of the necessities. See this thorough list for ideas.
  • Shop for stylish maternity clothes. Or, if you are on a tight budget, check out the “plus size” section in Walmart or Goodwill! Even just buying something a few sizes up, in the right style, can help you sail your way through the entire pregnancy. My favorite maternity essentials were: leggings, tunics, t-shirt dresses, uggs, flip-flops, and really big sweaters 🙂
  • Decide with your partner how you would like to announce your pregnancy. While, of course, it’s up to you, it is recommended to wait until after the first trimester to announce your pregnancy. After 12 weeks, the risk of marriage drops to almost nothing! While it’s up to you, 12-13 weeks is the ideal time to make your announcement.
  • Begin taking weekly “bump” pictures. While you don’t really have a “bump” at 6 weeks, it can still be really fun to take pictures just to see where you started at. It can be fun to compare them to the belly you will have at the end! These are a precious addition to your pregnancy journal/scrapbook as well.
  • Ask someone to do maternity photos and schedule them. The best time do them is about 30 weeks, when you look very pregnant but aren’t feeling so heavy and miserable that you’ll look exhausted and swollen.
  • Sign up for labor & breastfeeding classes. These are usually given at the hospital, as well as at many pregnancy centers. Do some research to find what works best for you.
  • Tell your boss that you are pregnant so you can plan for maternity leave.
  • Watch and read everything you can get your hands on about labor/breastfeeding/parenting/pregnancy. The more you know, the easier all of this will be.

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