Pregnancy is one of the most exciting and complicated life events you will ever experience. It involves planning, anticipation, self-care, and changes to your normal routine. Being educated about the first stage of pregnancy can help you recognize the signs that you are pregnant and make informed lifestyle choices. At Center for Women’s Health in Oxford, NC, our OB/GYNs support women throughout their pregnancies.
What Are the Stages of Pregnancy?
Pregnancies are divided into three stages called trimesters. During each stage, your baby will develop in specific ways and your body will experience various changes. Week 1 actually begins with your last period. Therefore, you are considered pregnant before you actually conceive. The three trimesters are:
- First trimester – conception to week 12
- Second trimester – week 13 to week 27
- Third trimester – week 28 to the delivery
An Overview of the First Trimester
The first trimester is an important time because most women learn that they are pregnant during this stage. Hormonal changes in your body will cause you to experience your first symptoms, such as a missed period, cramping, and nausea. Meanwhile, your baby will begin to develop its nervous system and internal organs. Early in the first trimester is a good time to see an OB/GYN. They can give you an official pregnancy test, monitor your progress, and advise certain lifestyle choices that will benefit your health and the health of your baby.
Signs of Pregnancy in the First Trimester
When you are pregnant, your body goes through various hormonal changes, the most significant of which are an increase in estrogen and progesterone. These changes have a big impact on how your body feels.
Constipation, Cramping, Nausea, and Discomfort
When you are pregnant, you might experience cramps and an upset stomach. You might also have trouble using the toilet. Some of the cramping is due to the fact that during the first trimester, your uterus stretches. Most of the discomfort you experience when you first become pregnant is due to hormonal changes.
Throughout your first trimester, you may experience significant fatigue. For some women, the constant desire to rest and take naps continues through the second and third trimesters. This symptom is mostly caused by progesterone.
Having a strong desire for certain kinds of foods and experiencing aversions to others is a symptom that begins at the end of the first trimester. A few women begin to crave things that are not food, such as dirt or wood shavings. This condition is called pica, and you should see a doctor if you think you have it.
During the first trimester, you will probably notice physical changes, notably in the breasts. Breast swelling and tenderness is common, as are protruding nipples that darken in color. You may also notice white, milky vaginal discharge. Both weight gain and weight loss are possible at this time.
The hormonal fluctuations that occur while you are pregnant can cause significant mood swings. You might feel ecstatic one moment and crushed the next. It is important to be patient with yourself during this time. Notify your OB/GYN if your emotional symptoms are severe or if you think you might have depression.
A Missed Period
Perhaps the most telling sign that you are pregnant is a missed period. However, monitoring your period is not a sure way to know if you are pregnant or not. Stress and other factors can lead you to stop menstruating, while some pregnant women mistake implantation bleeding for a period.
While it can be confused with a period, implantation bleeding is actually a sign that you are pregnant. Around week four, the fertilized egg implants itself into your uterus. This can cause a little discomfort and spotting that is generally pink or light brown.
Other Signs You Might Be Pregnant
Some other changes you might notice during the first trimester include:
- Frequent urination
- Shortness of breath
- Aversion to certain smells
- High blood pressure
What Should You Do If You Think You Are Pregnant?
Take an At-Home Test
An over-the-counter test can help you determine if you may be pregnant. When you miss your period, your body will start producing human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). An at-home test can detect hCG approximately eight days after your missed period. Therefore, you should wait eight days before you take one.
Make an Appointment With an OB/GYN
If you get a positive result from an over-the-counter test, see an OB/GYN for a blood test. Getting tested by a medical professional can determine for certain if you are pregnant, and sometimes earlier than an at-home test.
Being Pregnant vs Having PMS
It is important to note that many of the symptoms of being pregnant are the same issues women experience when they have premenstrual syndrome (PMS). These shared symptoms include:
- Swollen, tender breasts
- Mood swings
- Food cravings
Some of these symptoms have slight distinctions in either case. For example, while food cravings can occur in either condition, food aversions are more common with pregnant women. Similarly, while being pregnant and PMS can both cause swollen breasts, darker nipples and the appearance of blue veins are an indication that you are pregnant.
Your Baby’s Development in the First Trimester
After the egg is fertilized, it begins to develop a blastocyst, which contains the beginnings of internal organs. This occurs between weeks one and four.
After Week Four
Around the fourth week, the fertilized egg implants itself in the uterus where it develops into an embryo. This is the time when you might notice some spotting. The approximate length of the embryo at this time is 1/25th of an inch. It has the beginnings of a nervous system and a heart as well as buds that will become arms and legs.
Weeks Four Through Eight
Major developments occur during this time. Your baby’s organs become more formed and the heart begins to beat. The sex organs, fingers, toes and umbilical cord appear. Your baby’s facial features will also start to form. After eight weeks, the embryo has become a fetus and is about one inch long.
Weeks Eight Through Twelve
By the end of the first trimester, your baby has a nervous system that can trigger muscle movements, such as making a fist. The sex organs make it possible to determine gender. The approximate size of the fetus at the end of this period is three inches.
How Can an OB/GYN Help in the First Trimester?
By Determining If You Are Pregnant
While noticing your symptoms at home and taking an over-the-counter test can give you an indication of whether you are pregnant, an OB/GYN can let you know for sure.
By Monitoring Your Pregnancy
As you progress through the first trimester and beyond, an OB/GYN can do monthly check-ups to ensure that you and your developing baby are healthy. These prenatal checkups can include ultrasounds and other tests. They are important for spotting complications early when potential problems can be treated most effectively. For many women, prenatal checkups reduce the risk of miscarriage.
By Making You More Comfortable
Your OB/GYN can help treat the symptoms that might be making you feel less than your best while you are pregnant. He or she can prescribe medications and lifestyle changes to address cramping, mood swings, fatigue, heartburn, back pain and other issues.
By Giving You Advice
During the first trimester and afterwards, your OB/GYN can make certain recommendations that will help you and your developing baby stay healthy. These recommendations can pertain to your dietary choices, your exercise routine, your medications, etc.
Examples of the kind of advice an OB/GYN is likely to give include avoiding sushi, exercising moderately, limiting your intake of caffeine, keeping your weight at a healthy level, discontinuing tobacco use, avoiding alcohol and taking supplements like folic acid. They might also suggest that you go to the dentist, because some studies point to a connection between gum disease and complications while you are pregnant.
By Giving Special Attention to Women Who Have a High Risk of Complications
Certain conditions can make some women more likely than others to have complications while they are pregnant. Some of these conditions include:
- High blood pressure
Additionally, an OG/GYN will provide extra support to women over age 35 who are pregnant.
Beyond the First Trimester
Your baby will keep developing and your body will continue to change during the second and third trimesters. Here are some things you can expect:
For Your Baby
During the second trimester, your baby will develop skin, hair, eyelashes, fingernails and toenails. He or she gains the ability to hear and develops a regular sleep cycle. In the case of girl fetuses, the eggs develop in the ovaries. Your baby will be more active in the second trimester, causing you to feel kicks and other movements. By the end of 24 weeks, most developing babies are about 12 inches long and weigh 1.5 lbs.
In the third trimester, your baby’s activity increases, however, it lessens towards the end when there is less space in the uterus for movement. The organs gain the ability to function on their own, and the baby’s body stores more fat and important minerals. Before the delivery, your baby might turn so that its head is facing down. Most newborns are between six and nine pounds when they are born. They are typically between 19 and 21 inches long.
For many women, the second trimester is actually more comfortable than the first because symptoms such as nausea and fatigue tend to subside. Changes you might notice include a growing baby bump, stretch marks, darker nipples, a line leading from your navel to your pubic hair and dark patches on your face. You might experience swollen feet and ankles. Some women develop itchy areas on their abdomen, hands or feet. Your hands might feel numb at times. You might also have pain in your abdomen, back, thighs or groin.
In the third trimester, you will experience even more changes as the baby grows and the due date approaches. The pressure on your internal organs can cause difficulty breathing and frequent urination. Heartburn and difficulty sleeping are common. Swelling may continue, and your belly button may protrude. You might also experience contractions. When you are close to delivering, your cervix will soften to allow it to open in childbirth.
The First Stage of Pregnancy Is an Important Time
Many things change during the first trimester. Your baby begins to develop, and your body starts telling you that a baby is on the way. During this time, you will likely experience great fluctuations in physical sensations and emotions. Your OB/GYN is there to help you have the healthiest and most comfortable pregnancy possible.
Contact the Center for Women’s Health in Oxford, NC if you are pregnant, think you might be pregnant, or would like to conceive. We can provide expert medical care throughout the trimesters and after the birth of your baby.