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YOUR IN-DEPTH GUIDE
TO THE FIRST TRIMESTER OF PREGNANCY

 
 
 
 
 
 

In our first trimester of pregnancy article, we cover:

  • How to confirm your pregnancy
  •  
     
     
    How to make sure baby is healthy
  •  
     
     
    What you should do in the first trimester
  •  
    What you shouldn't do in the first trimester

And everything else you may not have considered. Let's get started!

pregnant woman with list
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Pregnancy is divided into three trimesters of approximately three months each.

The first trimester is from the beginning of your pregnancy until week 13. It might not look like much is happening when you look at your stomach, but many dramatic changes are taking place as your baby grows.

Our guide will help you with what exactly is going on and what to expect in these early weeks. We’ll also fill you in with what you should be doing and what to avoid.

Many women miss most of the first trimester because they don’t even realize that they’re pregnant at first!

Whether you know or not, your body knows what to do and pregnancy hormones are preparing your body to nourish and protect your baby for the next nine months.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Confirm Your Pregnancy

The first thing to do is make sure that you definitely are pregnant.

Your healthcare provider will be able to calculate your due date for you, if you know when your last menstrual period was. Otherwise, it can be worked out from sonar.

This first sonar is known as a “dating scan.” It’s usually done around 12 weeks of pregnancy but can be done from 6 weeks. An ultrasound machine and probe are used to perform the scan. It’s done by your ob-gyn, a midwife or a radiographer.

If done after 10 weeks gestation, the dating scan is done via your abdomen. Some gel is placed on your tummy and the hand-held probe is moved across your skin. The picture shows up on a monitor.

If the scan is done before 10 weeks or if you are very overweight, a vaginal probe may be used. This is painless and does not cause any harm.

The only preparation needed for an ultrasound scan is to have a full bladder. This pushes the uterus up and makes it easier to see. The procedure only takes about 10 minutes.

The radiographer will measure the baby to determine its age, providing a reasonably accurate estimation of how far along you are in your pregnancy.

Remember that very few women give birth exactly on their estimated due date.

Think of it as a guide, not an exact date. At the scan you’ll be able to hear the heartbeat and see any movement the baby is making.

The radiographer will check for twins and also make sure that the baby is growing normally.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Early Pregnancy Symptoms

Most of the symptoms experienced in early pregnancy are due to changing hormonal levels. The following symptoms are common:

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    Nausea and vomiting: Feeling nauseous is one of the first signs that you’re pregnant. It doesn’t necessarily only occur in the morning, but at any time of the day. It usually begins at about 6 weeks of pregnancy. If you experience severe vomiting with it, speak to your doctor about safe anti-nausea medications. There are also several practical home remedies that many women have found effective, so try those first. Food aversions are common at this time and merely the smell of some foods may make you feel ill.
  • Sensitive breasts: Your breasts may increase in size and feel tingly or tender.
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    Emotional changes: Some women experience heightened emotions in early pregnancy (and throughout). You may feel more tearful than usual and even a little down some days. Other days you may feel full of energy and on a “high”. Blame the hormones, fasten your seatbelt and enjoy the ride!
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    Heartburn: When you’re pregnant, pregnancy hormones cause the muscles in the esophagus to relax more, resulting in stomach acids leaking upwards a little. This causes that burning sensation in your chest area, especially when you lie down or eat a big meal.  Your stomach takes longer to empty when you’re pregnant, too. There are many steps you can take to relieve this, including wearing loose fitting clothing and eating small, frequent meals.
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    Constipation: In early pregnancy, this is caused by the same hormones that cause you to have heartburn. The muscles of the intestines relax and become more sluggish than usual. On top of that, many women take some form of iron supplements when pregnant. One of the side effects of iron tablets is constipation. There are many simple measures you can take to relieve this, such as getting enough fluid and exercise, and eating foods like figs and prunes.
  • Headaches: Increased blood volume and pregnancy hormones can trigger headaches in some women. Stress and caffeine withdrawal can also be possible causes. Massages and cold cloths on the neck area can relieve them.
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    Weight gain: The baby is very tiny still, but your blood volume is increasing, and the placenta is growing. There’s no need to “eat for two”. Your diet should increase in quality, not quantity. The ideal weight gain for this trimester is around three pounds (2kg). If you’re experiencing nausea and vomiting you may even lose a little weight. Don’t worry unless it’s severe. The morning sickness will probably subside in your second trimester and you’ll start gaining weight then. For the time being, just try to eat small, frequent and very nutritious snacks or small meals. Some women experience increased appetite in the first trimester. Try not to take in extra calories but rather focus on eating highly nutritious foods.

The changes listed above are all normal and unless severe, are nothing to worry about.

However, if you experience any of the symptoms below you should contact your healthcare provider. The risk of miscarriage is highest in this trimester, so be aware of the following:

  • Any vaginal bleeding
  • Abdominal cramping or pain
  • Pain or burning when you pass urine. This could be a sign of a urinary tract infection.
  • Fever
  • Severe puffiness of the feet, face or hands. This could be a sign of pregnancy induced hypertension (high blood pressure) that needs to be treated immediately.
  • Vision difficulties
 

Important Things to do in the First Trimester

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    Begin taking a prenatal vitamin supplement. Studies have shown that when taken during the first trimester, these vitamins (particularly folic acid) reduce the risk of neural tube defects significantly. Safe choice prenatal vitamin (Amazon)
  • Choose a caregiver. Whether you pick an ob-gyn, midwife or GP, choose a practitioner and schedule your first visit. Your urine and blood will be checked to find out your blood type and to check for any infections. An ultrasound will probably be done to confirm your pregnancy and determine your due date.
  • Decide if you’re going to have any genetic testing done. There are blood screens that can be done to check for chromosomal abnormalities.
  • Check out your healthcare insurance options. Review your existing policy or sign up for a new one.
  • Set up a budget. Your monthly expenses are going to increase so you and your partner need to put measures in place to deal with this.
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    Check your diet. Try to cut down on caffeine and completely eliminate all alcohol. Read up on what constitutes a healthy diet in pregnancy and stock your pantry and fridge with those foods.
  • Set aside time for exercise. There are so many benefits for you and your baby if you exercise during pregnancy. All you need is to set aside 30 minutes a day for some activity that you enjoy. Most forms of exercise are safe, including sex!
  • Decide with your partner how and when you’re going to announce your pregnancy. Some people today announce it on social media. Some people prefer to wait until the end of this first trimester to make the announcement when the risk of miscarriage is low. Decide when and how you’re going to tell your employer. Know beforehand what your plans are about coming back to work after your baby is born. Make sure you know the maternity leave guidelines too.
  •  
    It’s safe to get a flu vaccination while you’re pregnant and doctors encourage you to get one. The CDC says that flu causes more severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are healthy but not expecting. The shot can even protect your baby from the flu after its born because your antibodies are passed on to your child.
  • Pay a visit to your dentist to make sure your teeth are strong and healthy. The physical changes in pregnancy can cause changes to your teeth and gums too and your dentist will be able to pick up any issues before they become problems.
  •  
    Ensure you stay well hydrated. Not only does good hydration help prevent preterm labor, but it also prevents kidney stones and constipation. You’re less likely to suffer from dizziness and headaches if your fluid levels are good. You can check your hydration by looking at your urine. If it’s clear or pale yellow, your hydration is good. If its dark yellow, you need to drink more water.
 
 
 

What You Should Not Do in the First Trimester

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    Don’t smoke. Please. We know that women who smoke when they’re pregnant have a higher risk of miscarrying. Babies born to moms who smoke have an increased risk of birth defects like cleft lip and palate and learning disabilities. They’re also more likely to be born prematurely or have low birth weight. The same goes for e-cigarettes. Although the smoke has fewer harmful substances, it still contains nicotine which can cause damage to your baby’s brain and lungs.
  •  
    Don’t drink alcohol. While a moderate intake of alcohol is fine when you’re not pregnant, there isn’t a safe amount that you can consume during pregnancy. It can be dangerous for the baby at all stages, even in the early days before you even know you’re pregnant. Consuming alcohol in the first three months can cause baby to have abnormal facial features, abnormal growth, and problems with the central nervous system. It can also lead to miscarriage and stillbirth. Alcohol consumption can cause FASDs (fetal alcohol spectrum disorders) which consist of mental and behavioral disabilities.
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    Don’t consume raw or undercooked meat or eggs. This can put you at risk of the diseases listeriosis and toxoplasmosis which can cause miscarriage and birth defects.
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    Don’t use saunas and hot tubs. When pregnant, your body overheats more easily and you are more likely to become dizzy, faint and dehydrated. These hot environments can cause your core temperature to rise which can be dangerous for your baby, especially in the first trimester. In fact, some studies have shown that you double the risk of miscarriage by using them.
  •  
    Don’t consume too much caffeine. While the odd cup of tea or coffee isn’t going to do any harm, remember that caffeine does cross the placental barrier. Having too much can increase your baby’s heart rate. It can be difficult to cut down because in the first trimester you will feel more tired than usual. Try to get more rest and sleep instead of trying to keep going on caffeine. Definitely stay away from energy drinks though.
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    Don’t clean out the cat litter. Admit it, this isn’t your favorite job anyway! You don’t need to avoid your cat or be afraid to pet it while you’re pregnant, however, you should ask someone else to clean out the tray. That’s because cat feces contains a lot of parasites. One of them, toxoplasma gondii, can cause miscarriage or stillbirth. If the baby is born with it, it can cause very serious health issues like mental retardation or poor vision.
  •  
    Avoid all medication that hasn’t been prescribed by your doctor. Medication which is safe when you’re not pregnant may not be safe for your baby. If you’re on chronic medication, you’ll need to continue with it but speak to your doctor who may change the dose or the type of medicine.

We hope this isn’t an overwhelming number of dos and don’ts for you. There’s no need to worry about too many things, just take care of yourself.

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Lynette Stewart

I'm currently working as a professional freelance proofreader and editor. I also work for a doctor as a nursing sister in a busy rural town in South Africa. I am qualified as a nursing sister (general, community health, and psychiatric) and midwife in 1989. After my training I worked mainly in the midwifery area. I worked in a hospital maternity department for a while and then later did private prenatal classes for groups of expectant mothers in their homes. I have a particular interest in nutrition and how it affects our health. LinkedIn

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