And It All Begins….
The morning sickness, fatigue, hormonal mood swings…you know, all the fun stuff!
For all the first time moms-to-be out there, the big decision to have a baby and grow your family comes with a side of questions that need to be answered… and fast! Aside from what to eat, where you plan to give birth, schooling options, baby proofing, and so much more, there is always that impending fear of the unknown, often times situated around what you as a mother will experience during pregnancy, what is to be expected, and what is normal. From the very first signs to the final days of growing and nurturing your precious bundle of joy before he or she is introduced into the world, it is always wise to be prepared for the changes your body will experience and the symptoms associated with a healthy pregnancy.
So, first things first. If you’re planning for your first child, it is completely normal to have concerns and questions about the health and well-being of yourself, as well as your baby. Thank goodness, right? Go ahead and heave that huge sigh of relief! It’s obvious that the more you know and plan for, the smoother and less stressful your pregnancy will be. Your growing baby is your future, and the future (i.e. the next nine months) doesn’t need to be full of daily surprises. So, let’s discuss everything you need to know – from signs to symptoms to risks involved with pregnancy, we’ll share everything about what you can expect (Yea!) and what you should be aware of (Yikes!).
Am I Pregnant? – The Million Dollar Question
Who hasn’t asked themselves this simple and yet oh-so complicated question before? Luckily, today, there are dozens of ways to answer this question, from a quick lunch with your own mother, who somehow always seems to know these things, to a simple over the counter pregnancy test that will give you resolution within 2 minutes. However, though mom will always think she knows best, neither of these methods are as comprehensive as a visit to your doctor. Doctors can run blood tests known as qualitative or quantitative human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) tests to determine if the hCG hormone is present in your bloodstream…and if it is, you are positively pregnant!
But many of us simply can’t wait, so if you choose to go the home pregnancy test route, make sure to read the instructions thoroughly, as some will promise results in as little as three days after your first missed period, where others may take up to ten days for accurate results. In some cases, these “home kits” have been known to produce negative results throughout the entirety of a pregnancy, so recognizing the early signs and visiting your physician is the only fail-safe way to be 100% positive!
I Feel…Different! – The Early Signs of Pregnancy
Even first time mommies are usually familiar with the usual signs of pregnancy, from missed periods or light spotting to the occasional cramping or unpleasant morning sickness stage. So much to look forward to, right? However, it’s important to remember that the early signs of pregnancy will vary greatly from woman to woman, with some never even showing a single sign until actually giving birth (Yes, you are truly the lucky ducks!).
So, what are the tell-tale signs to look for before peeing on the dreaded stick or high-tailing it to the doctor? Six to twelve days after conception, once the egg has firmly attached to your uterine walls, some women experience:
• Light Discharge
This happens while your body goes through the initial stages of change, and the vaginal walls begin to thicken. Another initial sign is tenderness in your breasts and growth, tingling, or darkening of the areolas. Although the above mentioned signs can closely mimic signs of your monthly cycle, only you know your body, so simply watch for anything unusual or overly pronounced when it comes to these signs in comparison to your typical period symptoms.
While a missed period is generally the first sign pointing to pregnancy, many women report an early onslaught of fatigue in the initial stages of pregnancy. So, if you’re craving catnaps like never before, you may want to take notice (and a nap, too, of course)! If you begin experiencing this kind of fatigue, be sure to get plenty of rest, begin a dedicated regimen of prenatal vitamins, and start thinking about your diet for the duration of your pregnancy.
And everyone’s favorite… the most recognized sign of pregnancy is always morning sickness, which despite its name can actually be experienced at any time throughout the day and does not affect every woman in the same way. Though nausea may never set in during your pregnancy, most women experience extreme food cravings and distastes. Some cravings can be very strange requests (like pickles and ice cream); whereas, the very thought of some foods that you previously loved can now make you literally cringe. But while all of these are strong, initial symptoms of pregnancy, it’s a great idea to check with you doctor before you start painting the baby’s room pink and assembling the bassinet!
Want to be 100% Sure? – How to Confirm Pregnancy
Us moms-to-be always want to be 100% sure before we let everyone know about our newest little blessings. So, once you have taken a home pregnancy test at least a week after your first missed period, you will most likely begin seeing some initial signs of pregnancy. The next step is to visit your doctor or gynecologist to take the hCG blood test and confirm how far along you may be and when you are expecting. Remember that home pregnancy tests can give both false-positives (though these are less likely) and false-negatives, so visiting your primary care physician is the only true means of confirming accurate test results.
Depending on how accurately you monitor your monthly cycle and whether or not it is regular could determine if you will need an ultrasound within your first trimester. Either trans-vaginal or trans-abdominal ultrasounds can show the gestational sac within 4-5 weeks of your last menstrual period, an embryo with a wee heartbeat by 6 to 7 weeks and will confirm the approximate age of your unborn child by measuring the CRL (crown rump length). This CRL is more accurate than menstrual dates to determine the age of your baby in the very early weeks. While not all expecting mothers will need an ultrasound within the first trimester, consulting with your doctor can help determine whether or not you will need to undergo this assessment this early…and get your first glimpse at your little peanut!
1 Month, 2 Months, 3 Months, Wow! – First Trimester Symptoms
Bring on the fun! Symptoms of your first trimester are usually closely associated with the early signs of pregnancy. Your first trimester can include:
• Swollen or tender breasts
• Mood swings
• Abdominal bloating
Any combination of these symptoms can be expected within the first three months of becoming pregnant. On top of these, a stronger sense of smell, the urge to urinate more frequently, breakouts, headaches bloating and changes in vision and libido are all common complaints of the first trimester.
If you experience any of these symptoms to an extreme, be sure to talk to your doctor during regular check-ups. Even if you’re not pregnant yet but are trying, you may want to consider changing your diet and incorporating a prenatal vitamin regiment if you haven’t already begun. Listen to your body’s ups and downs, and indulge yourself when it is safe for the baby. Enjoy long warm baths (not hot) or massages if you see fit, and make sure to stay as comfortable and stress free as possible. The first trimester is typically the worst for first time moms, so stay ahead of the game. Rest assured that the hardest months are almost behind you!
Am I Half-Way Yet? – Second Trimester Symptoms
By the time you reach your second trimester, the fun can officially begin! The pesky symptoms of your first trimester will begin to fade, leaving you more energized and ready to prepare for your coming bundle of joy.
Around weeks 18-22, your doctor will perform an ultrasound to determine the progress and sex of your baby, if you so choose. Boy or a girl? It’s an amazing moment! Unfortunately, you aren’t completely out of the woods yet, as changes are still taking place in your body, and your unborn child is rapidly growing at this point. You may notice significant changes such as the weight you are gaining and the cute baby bump you will start to develop. In this stage of pregnancy, things seem to escalate quickly. But don’t worry! While everything will progress normally, there are still a few things to expect during these next three months.
Although your breasts will hopefully start feeling less tender, they will continue to grow throughout the remainder of your pregnancy. Backaches (due to the added weight you are carrying up front) may begin becoming more prominent, and discharge and frequent urination will most likely stay with you until birth. Many women report gum bleeding, sensitivity, and even nosebleeds due to hormone changes, while pesky hair growth, heart burn, and constipation are common side effects of pregnancy as well. You may continue to notice headaches and skin changes throughout the second trimester, but hopefully they won’t prove as severe as the first three months.
Also, if your belly is growing quickly, stretch marks may begin to develop in this trimester (just take a deep breath), so find a recommended lotion specifically for pregnant women or with a strong vitamin E content to soften your skin and help prevent these marks. Your body will definitely thank you later on down the road!
And You’ve Made It! – Third Trimester Symptoms
By the third trimester, you will already feel like a pro at this pregnancy business. You will notice lingering effects from the past six months, such as:
• Frequent urination
• Swollen breasts
• Leg swelling
But by now you are most likely more than ready for your due date to come, so fatigue will be your number one enemy. Also, body aches and swollen extremities will reach their peaks during the third trimester, so take it easy, making yourself as comfortable as possible. Should you begin experiencing dreams and nightmares of an unhealthy birth or anything closely related, simply try relaxing yourself at night and falling asleep to sounds that will soothe both you and your baby.
The most newly added symptom that you will begin to notice the closer you get to giving birth will be false contractions, also known as Braxton-Hicks contractions. Remember to just breathe, and remind yourself of your due date. Real contractions get closer and closer to one another, so always count the seconds in between each contraction to determine whether or not you are truly experiencing an early labor. During these last three months, and throughout the duration of your pregnancy, talk to your doctor immediately if you are experiencing any intense dizzy spells, severe cramping, abdominal pain, spotting, bleeding, or any unusual weight gain or the lack there of, as these can be warning signs of more severe issues such as high blood pressure known as preeclampsia.
Your body is preparing for the birth of another little human, so naturally, there will be discomfort and differing feelings. But in the end, it will all be worth it!
Ouch! – The Spectrum of Symptom Intensity
To each her own! Every woman experiences each pregnancy differently. Whether you are giving birth to your first child or your fifth, there are a number of factors that will affect your pregnancy and the symptoms associated with those nine months. Diet and exercise leading up to pregnancy, as well as daily routines and remedies used throughout the trimesters can greatly affect the intensity of your symptoms. While some women will go their entire pregnancy without experiencing more than weight gain and swollen ankles, the intensity of symptoms for some women can be almost unbearable.
Although no one ever said being pregnant would be a walk in the park, it shouldn’t be miserable either. By the end of your first trimester, if you continue to experience extreme symptoms or if they return in the third trimester, it’s important to talk to your doctor, as these may be signs of early, detectable problems or complications that will later manifest in the birthing process. No matter what your symptom intensity level is, remember that no one knows your body better than you!
Knowing Is Half the Battle – Pregnancy Symptom Risks
Doing your homework is always the smart thing to do, right? Considering the range of symptoms that each woman will experience individually from pregnancy to pregnancy, it is a good idea to start a journal from the beginning, and monitor all the different transitions that your body goes through on a daily and weekly basis, including your pain tolerance. While being pregnant is no carefree vacation, extreme discomfort and continuous pain should raise concerns if persistent. Make sure to talk to you doctor before and during your pregnancy, and bring up any preexisting conditions such as diabetes, immune disorders, irregular blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney problems to see what he or she suggests.
Prolonged spotting and cramping may also be signs of complications, and early detection of irregularities is key to pinpointing issues before they become life changing problems. Each trimester will be different, so expect regular changes and new experiences. But be aware of irregularities such as sharp pain, blood clots, sickness, and infections, as these can weaken your immune systems and act as early warning signs. If you experience any unusual symptoms or experience prolonged discomfort, tell your doctor immediately. As our mothers always said, “Better safe than sorry!”
Just Breathe – Your Little Bundle of Joy Will Be Here Before You Know It
Pregnancy can be one of the happiest times of your life, including the day you give birth to your precious baby and watch your family begin to grow. While symptoms throughout the trimesters may, at times, make you want to curl up in a corner, cry, and scarf down some serious Haagen-Dazs, remember to talk to your doctor about what you can do to lessen these effects and create a strong, healthy living space for your unborn child.
Taking care of yourself must be your number one priority, as your health affects that of your baby as well. Remember to pay close attention to the spectrum and intensity of symptoms that you are experiencing to ensure that all is normal throughout your pregnancy. Also, maintaining an open and honest dialogue with your doctor is the key to a safe, sound, and healthy pregnancy. If you can, try keeping a journal of what you experience on a daily and weekly basis to gauge whether your symptoms are average or if there is something that needs further exploration.
When in doubt, always focus on your health, and remember not to stress out over the little things. You’ll have plenty of time to stress out when your child eats his or her first handful of dirt on the playground, so for now, just relax! Take deep breaths, and find your own little piece of heaven to enjoy. Congratulations, mommy-to-be! Cherish every second…because this is your time!
Here’s to creating tiny miracles !