The first trimester of your pregnancy can be a tricky time. On one hand, you have the surprise, excitement and, perhaps, shock of finding out that you are having a baby and, on the other, it can all feel very abstract and, sometimes, even scary.
Most women have few or no outward physical signs of pregnancy until they reach their second trimester. Yet, it is during your first trimester that your body is working the hardest and changing the most to ensure your developing baby is safe and nurtured.
During these first 12 weeks of pregnancy, your baby undergoes incredible changes and developments, going from being a little ball of cells to developing a heartbeat and looking a bit like a tadpole at around 6 weeks, to becoming the size of a plum, with formed body parts and internal organs by week 12.
To provide an optimal environment for your baby to live and grow until they are born, your hormones need to work overtime and it is these hormonal changes that can cause you to feel sick and tired and experience heightened emotions.
Possible symptoms of early pregnancy
For some women, it is the symptoms that they experience in the early weeks that give away they are pregnant. Whilst some of these symptoms are typically associated with the first trimester, others may stick around until your baby is born.
Nausea and sickness
Up to 80% of women experience some nausea or vomiting during their pregnancy and, although some can suffer until their babies are born, most women’s symptoms disappear by week 12-16. Symptoms can range from mild nausea that comes and goes to a constant and debilitating feeling of sickness.
We know that about 30% of pregnant women need to take time off work due to sickness. It can be really hard to ‘plough on’ with your day-to-day when you are feeling nauseous and unwell. This is why having a toolkit of nausea remedies, like our Sick Of It toolkit, can improve your quality of life.
How to cope with nausea:
- “Eat little and often” is something that you’ll hear a lot and here’s the logic behind it: an empty stomach, as well as a very full one, can make your sickness worse. Therefore, ‘grazing’ through the day can really help keep symptoms at bay.
- Although dry foods are usually advised and can really help to alleviate those waves of nausea, you must be careful as eating a lot of bread, pasta and biscuits can actually increase bloating, worsen constipation and make you feel worse. Rye bread, rice/corn/lentil cakes, sugar-free cereal bars and nuts are good substitutes.
- If you can predict when you may feel nauseous, eating something bland just before could help stave off those feelings.
- Drinking peppermint tea and/or using peppermint essential oil can have a soothing effect, relaxing the gastric muscles and reducing cramping.
- Ginger and lemon are known to be effective natural remedies for relieving nausea and you can make delicious combinations with them by mixing them in hot water, adding them to teas and smoothies or having them in biscuits or with other foods. Alternatively, using essential oils of ginger and lemon is handy and just as beneficial.
- Tiredness and lack of sleep can make nausea feel worse, so rest as much as you need and can. Always listen to your body.
Occasionally, some women may be so ill that they become severely dehydrated and need hospitalisation – this extreme form of sickness in pregnancy is known as hyperemesis gravidarium and requires medical assessment and medication.
Increased need to pass urine
During your first trimester, increased blood-flow to your pelvic organs results in your kidneys producing more urine. This, coupled with the fact that, although still small, your womb is very close to your bladder, means that you will need the toilet a lot more!
Thankfully, this tends to settle in your second trimester. Until then, wearing loose clothing and emptying your bladder regularly will help you feel more comfortable.
Sensitive and tender breasts are one of the first symptoms of pregnancy for many women. Many changes take place inside and outside of your breasts, as they prepare to produce milk and feed your baby. Using supportive vests or non-wired bras made of soft, natural fibres can help reduce discomfort.
You can feel unusually tired from very early on in your pregnancy. Soaring levels of the hormone progesterone can make you feel like all you want to do is sleep. But let’s not forget the demands of creating a whole new organ (the placenta) and a little human being! Throw into the equation changes to your metabolism, as well as to your blood volume and circulation, among many other ‘adjustments’, and it’s no surprise you’re left feeling rather worn out.
It is really important to rest as much as you can during this time. So, adjust your bedtime, squeeze in nap times and take time off work, if you need to. Ensure you remain well hydrated and keep your blood sugars stable by grazing on healthy and nutritious foods. Get help with older children and house chores wherever possible. And, last but not least, do some gentle exercise, ideally in nature – a brisk walk, gentle jog or a yoga class can help lift your mood and, also, improve your sleep.
Bloating and constipation
The hormone progesterone, essential in keeping your pregnancy safe during the first trimester, is in great part responsible for feelings of bloating and constipation.
Progesterone relaxes smooth muscle, causing your digestive system to slow down. This affects your ‘immediate’ digestion – leaving you feeling ‘full’ and more prone to ‘belching’ – and also your bowels, which take considerably longer to move digested food along it – resulting in increased gas, constipation and bloating.
Eating fibre-rich foods, drinking plenty of water, doing gentle exercise and reducing your consumption of ‘gassy’ foods can all help alleviate these symptoms.
Your first trimester is a time of excitement and, also, of huge changes which pose great demands on your body and can cause many challenging symptoms. Above are some of the most common of these symptoms, as well as tips to help you cope with them.