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Understanding the First Trimester: A Comprehensive Guide

What is the first trimester

We go out seeking answers in two cases. When we are trying to stay prepared for something new or have found ourselves in the middle of unfamiliar territory. This means one of these two options is true for you: 

  1. You are planning your pregnancy OR 
  2. You have just found out that you are pregnant.

If you are the former, then well done! Informed parenthood is one of the biggest favours you will do to your body, mind and your baby. If you are the latter, then heartiest congratulations, for this is going to be the most memorable transformation in your life. You are beyond excited but have like 100 odd questions too! 

So what next? Well, let us take baby steps towards understanding your pregnancy journey, starting with the first trimester. 

What is the First Trimester?

This phase is a time for change or metamorphosis. Both you and your baby will go through major changes while still being invisible to the world outside. The entire pregnancy usually lasts 9 months for a full term. This is further divided into 3 terms of 3 months each called trimesters. Each trimester comes with its own set of benefits and challenges which help shape the baby’s growth inside the mother’s womb.

In the first trimester, also referred to as early pregnancy, the baby goes from being a fertilized egg to an ovum of almost 6 cm in length. This is the onset of pregnancy and lasts from week 1 till the end of week 13 which is roughly the first three months. The first day is counted as the first day of your last period and the last day is 12 weeks from this date. This rule of thumb applies to most pregnancies since the pregnant woman will not know the actual date of conception. 

What happens to a Woman’s Body during the First Trimester?

You are making a new life in your womb. Your body is changing to make space for its growth. In order to do this, the body will undergo certain changes.

  • One of the many changes in the first trimester will be nausea or morning sickness, which can occur throughout the day. For some women it is extreme, for others, it doesn’t happen at all.  
  • Some women experience unique food cravings while others experience aversion or loss of appetite
  • Apart from this, women notice changes in their breasts. So if your breasts feel tender or heavier and larger, that is totally normal in the first trimester. 
  • Another change will be in your uterus which hosts the embryo. The bigger it grows, the more pressure it puts on your urinary bladder, leading to the onset of frequent urination. 
  • Your emotions will also experience sudden changes. This will be due to the hormonal changes in your body that will make you moody, irritable or tired in the first trimester. This is also normal, which is why doctors encourage dialogue and counselling at this stage to help cope with the changes.

How do you Stay Healthy during the First Trimester?

During the first trimester, the baby develops a heartbeat and the brain, stomach and intestines start developing, while their limbs start to grow. If you are a smoker or drinker, this would be a good time to quit because it will impact the basic development of the foetus.  

Apart from this, the diet in this stage is also vital. A balanced diet during pregnancy will ensure the building blocks of the foetus are strong and effective. 

  • Eat a variety of nutritious foods to meet your baby’s nutritional needs.
  • Focus on the intake of nutrients like folic acid, iodine, iron, vitamins, etc.
  • If you are not able to eat properly due to morning sickness, then take supplements.    

Make sure you get regular medical check-ups. This whole trimester, it is essential to track the development and growth of the foetus. Make sure you focus on the following: 

  • Antenatal checks in 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy depending upon your baby’s development.
  • USG scan at around 12 weeks will show the baby’s heartbeat, show if you’re having twins and give an overview of what to expect in the days ahead. 
  • Urine tests to ensure no UTIs exist, as untreated UTIs trigger pre-term labour.
  • Blood tests monitor iron levels, and blood sugar (gestational diabetes), and check for other infections which may affect the pregnancy. 
  • Make sure your immunization is up to date. It is necessary that the mother is vaccinated so that the baby in the womb is also safe, during the pregnancy.

What Precautions should be taken in case of a High-Risk Pregnancy?

Pregnancy is a delicate state of affairs as it involves carefully incubating a baby cell by cell. So every pregnancy has risks, however, some involve complications at the onset itself which can be termed high-risk cases. Either way, the following should be avoided:

  • Rigorous Exercise: You might be a pro at the gym or a major athlete, but this is a time for you to be a bit careful at every step. Strenuous workouts including strength training should be avoided as it might lead to an injury to your abdomen that might trigger additional complications. Take light exercising, brisk walking and yoga into consideration. Time to be a little more mindful of your changing body. 
  • Caffeine & Alcohol: So you’re the life of a party and can’t start the day without a strong caffeine kick? Time to change some habits then. Stick to no more than one cup of coffee or tea in a day. And avoid alcohol at all costs, the same goes for smoking and recreational drugs. These impair the healthy development of the child in your womb and are often the cause of most congenital deformities. 
  • Food groups to avoid: Raw or smoked seafood, especially sushi and fish with high mercury content like snapper, mackerel, etc. must be avoided. Also avoid raw sprouts, processed meat, unpasteurized milk and other dairy products that might trigger nausea. 
  • Cat Litter: When you’re expecting it is advisable that someone else tends to your pet cat. This is because proximity to cat faces can cause an infection called toxoplasmosis. If contracted in the early stages of pregnancy, it can cause serious health risks to the foetus.

What are the common Symptoms of the First Trimester?

No two pregnancies are ever the same, however, some symptoms may be common to all. These include:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Unannounced morning sickness
  • Leg cramps along with frequent urination
  • Heartburn or acid reflux
  • Headaches
  • Drastic weight gain & fatigue
  • Aversion to or craving for some foods
  • Constipation
  • Lower back pain and pelvic pain

To manage all of the above, make sure you are having your multivitamins and calcium supplements regularly while eating a healthy diet. Don’t become immobile, gradually pace your body with the changes and stay physically active while taking care of the baby growing inside you. It is important to understand that miscarriages are highest during the first trimester. So watch out for the following symptoms where you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Painful urination
  • Sudden fever or chills 
  • Puffiness of hands and legs

In Conclusion

This is a very delicate stage of pregnancy with the highest risk of miscarriage. Also, it is riskier for women who are above the age of 35, have weight issues (over or under), carry multiple pregnancies at a time or have a life-threatening condition like cancer or HIV. It is recommended that you reach out to an OBGYN who is hands-on and has a proven track record of providing compassionate care. At the Department of Mother & Child Care at the CK Birla Hospital, we have a team of renowned OBGYNs who deliver along the global standards of healthcare services and ensure a calm and safe environment for the mother and her baby at all times. In case you need to consult a pulmonologist, reach out to us, or book a direct appointment with gynecologist at the CK Birla Hospital.

FAQs about First Trimester

Q1. How long is the First Trimester?

The first trimester in a normal full-length pregnancy of 9 months is the first 3 months from the time of fertilization of the egg. Unlike IVF, this cannot be determined in normal pregnancies hence the countdown starts from the first day of your last period. This is one of the trickiest times for the pregnancy as in most cases pregnancies are not detected in the very first week. Some women don’t even know they were pregnant as the pregnancy is naturally terminated before it was realized. 

Q2. Is it normal to have Cramps in your First Trimester?

Yes, it is very normal to have cramps. To begin with, all the blood circulation is concentrated in your stomach so this is bound to give leg cramps. Secondly, the body frequently urinates and often you can get cramps because the body is not well hydrated. 

Q3. What to Avoid in the First Trimester?

Time to sober up and quit alcohol, smoking and any kind of recreational drugs. It is advisable to even limit caffeine intake and avoid foods rich in mercury. Also, be mindful of your exercise regime. Avoid stressful workouts and opt for simpler alternatives that help your body in this phase.

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