If you are like many pregnant mamas, the joy and excitement of a positive pregnancy test is quickly met with some seriously uncomfortable, and, sometimes, even debilitating symptoms. You never knew you could be the happiest you’ve ever been while being the sickest you’ve ever been, did you?
I’m not going to sugar coat it for you, the first trimester can be rough. Most agree it is the most difficult trimester because you feel so yucky all while trying to keep your pregnancy under wraps. This is because mamas commonly wait to announce their pregnancy until week 12 when the risk of miscarriage drops off significantly.
In this article, we’re going to look at the most common first trimester symptoms and learn ways to cope. Hopefully with the tips in this first trimester survival guide, you’ll be able to focus more on the joy of the life growing inside you, and less on the exhaustion and effort to keep your meal down.
9 First Trimester Symptoms and How to Handle Them
Pregnancy symptoms usually start between weeks 4 and 6 of pregnancy. This is because the pregnancy hormone hCG, along with surges in other hormones in your body are the culprit behind most pregnancy symptoms. By week 4, hCG levels are elevated enough in your urine to be picked up on a home pregnancy test, giving you your big fat positive. And very soon after, making you feel a little less than great.
1. Morning sickness
Ah, the most well-known of all pregnancy symptoms, morning sickness. Which, as you’ve probably found out by now, doesn’t necessarily just strike in the morning. Mamas can experience nausea in the morning, throughout the day, or in the evenings.
Officially, morning sickness is referred to as Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy and affects an estimated 70-80% of pregnant women to some extent (source). It typically hits its peak between weeks 8-10 and diminishes completely by the end of the first trimester. Though it will linger through the second trimester for an unlucky subset, or even for their entire pregnancies.
You may be at higher risk for experiencing morning sickness if:
- You are carrying multiples
- You are carrying a girl
- This isn’t your first pregnancy
- You have a personal history of motion sickness
- You have a history of migraines
Tips for managing the nausea:
- Take a probiotic: researchers have found a link between severe pregnancy nausea (Hyperemesis Gravidarum) and the presence of ‘bad’ gut bacteria. Because probiotics help to replenish your gut with good bacteria, they can be an effective defense against nausea. You can incorporate it into your diet with yogurt, kefir, or fermented foods, or take a daily prenatal probiotic supplement.
- Eat frequent, smaller meals: Usually, pregnancy nausea is more pronounced when your stomach is totally empty or too full. This is why many mamas experience nausea first thing in the morning or between meal times. By making an effort to always have something in your stomach, it can help keep nausea at bay. Keep easy to grab snacks in your car, purse, and at your desk to help.
- Up your protein intake: One of the best ways to survive first trimester nausea is to increase your protein intake. During the first trimester of pregnancy, your body needs about 80 grams of protein per day. That’s a lot for anyone! Make sure to eat more high-protein foods and supplement your protein intake with a prenatal collagen supplement.
- Ideally, combine protein, fats, and carbs in every meal: By balancing your micronutrients (having all three in every meal), you can help keep your blood sugar more stable and hopefully keep first-trimester morning sickness to a minimum.
- Choose bland food options: Foods that are fatty, greasy or spicy can make morning sickness much worse. Try to opt for blander foods that can be digested easily. Bananas with nut butter, oatmeal, crackers, plain chicken, applesauce, eggs, and rice tend to sit more easily.
- Ginger: Ginger is a safe and effective herbal supplement that many women find helpful for quelling pregnancy nausea. You can try ginger teas, adding ginger to smoothies, or even chewing on fresh ginger.
- Acupressure bands: Acupressure bands, also known as seasick bands, are bands you wear on your wrist that put pressure on a specific spot that’s known to decrease nausea. Here’s another type of acupressure band that some find to work well, too. For some women these make a huge difference and are definitely worth a try if you’re struggling with morning sickness.
- Aromatherapy: For some, inhaling certain essential oils or scents help to ward off nausea. Some recommended essential oils to try are ginger, spearmint, lemon, or cardamom but it’s best to work with a qualified aromatherapist because not all oils may be safe for pregnancy.
- Take your prenatal vitamins with food: Prenatal vitamins can aggravate your system if taken on an empty stomach, especially if you’re already queasy during the first trimester. Try taking your prenatal after a snack or at the end of the day instead of first thing in the morning.
- Try chewing gum: Because peppermint and spearmint are known to help an upset stomach, chewing strong mint gum can help prevent nausea between meals. You can even find oil-pulling oils that contain mint, if you’d like to give that a try.
- Discuss symptom management with your provider: In some cases, pregnancy nausea and vomiting needs more than an at-home remedy for your ability to function. Discuss options with your provider and share your symptoms so that she can determine if what you are experiencing is considered normal or not. Hyperemesis gravidarum is a far more serious condition than the morning sickness most women experience.
2. First trimester fatigue
Feeling like you need a nap to make it through the day? Ready for bed by 7pm?
The first trimester comes with some serious sleepiness, and let me tell you, it is real. Fatigue during the first trimester happens because of the surging hormones, increased blood production, lower blood pressure, and physical changes occurring in your body. In other words, growing a baby is tiring you out!
The best way to handle fatigue during the first trimester is to listen to your body and sleep and rest as much as possible. However, we know that this isn’t always possible or realistic. Whether it’s the demands of work, other children, household tasks, or life in general, it can be hard to kick up your feet every day and get to bed early.
Here are some tips to help with fatigue:
- Go to bed earlier: Having an earlier bedtime helps you clock more hours at night. I promise that you won’t be going to bed at 7pm your entire pregnancy. This does pass.
- Adjust your schedule: Cut back on extracurricular activities or unnecessary commitments in your life to allow yourself more time to relax and rest.
- Eat as healthy as your stomach will allow: Getting a wide range of nutrients will help your energy levels.
- Keep exercising and get fresh air: Add some brisk aerobic activity to your day. Getting out for a brisk 15-20-minute walk can actually increase your energy level when you’re feeling a slump.
3. Breast soreness and tenderness
One of the earliest detectable pregnancy symptoms is breast soreness and tenderness. For some, this is the first clue they are pregnant. This symptom occurs because your body immediately starts preparing for milk production. (Thanks, body!)
You can expect your breasts to grow by as much as two whole cup sizes by the end of pregnancy. Additionally, you may notice a darkening of the areola and nipple, larger nipples and areolas, more pronounced nipples, and visible veins along your breasts.
All of these preparations for breastfeeding can result in very sensitive and sore breasts, even as early as the first trimester. The best way to handle the discomfort throughout the day is with a larger, more supportive bra. I recommend investing in some nursing sports bras or quality nursing bras now because you can wear them during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. You may also find sleeping in a regular sports bra or sleeping bra helpful.
4. Increased sense of smell
One of the more surprising early pregnancy symptoms, is an increased sense of smell. Do you suddenly feel like you have a super sense? I know that I did! While it can make the smell of fresh flowers on your table even more delightful, more often this increased sense of smell plays a role in making nausea so much worse.
While there’s not a whole lot you can do to may this symptom disappear, making an effort to avoid strong smells and switching to unscented laundry detergent and personal care products may help. This is a smart idea anyway since you’ll want to avoid synthetic fragrances during pregnancy — they can disrupt your and your baby’s hormones.
5. Increased urination
Nope, it’s not your imagination. You are taking far more trips to the bathroom since becoming pregnant.
Increased urination during pregnancy tends to affect women most in the first trimester and third trimester, but for different reasons. Later in pregnancy, your baby will put pressure on your bladder causing an urge to pee more often, but right now in the first trimester it’s due to hormones and an expanding uterus.
The pregnancy hormone hCG signals for your body to increase blood flow to your kidneys. It does this to make them more effective at removing waste from your body as your baby begins to grow. And even though your baby is still teeny tiny during the first trimester, your uterus is expanding quite rapidly. This increased size in your uterus presses on your bladder, especially during weeks 10-13.
Tips for managing increased urination:
- Try a belly band or support belt: During the first trimester, a belly support band can help lift your belly and uterus up off of your bladder. This decreases the pressure on your bladder and may result in less bathroom trips
- Empty your bladder completely when you go: When you use the bathroom, make sure you are emptying your bladder completely. Lean forward and then to each side after you think you are finished peeing to ensure it totally empties.
- Reach your daily water intake before 5pm: Reducing your fluid intake before bed can help with extra bathroom trips affecting your sleep. But this doesn’t mean skipping out on hydration. Think of your water intake as an upside-down pyramid with your highest intake at the start of the day.
- Reduce your caffeine intake: Caffeine should be limited or avoided during pregnancy anyway, but an added benefit is less of a need to pee. Because caffeine is a diuretic, it makes you have to use the bathroom more often. Just another reason not to drink it during pregnancy!
6. Constipation and bloating
Constipation and bloating is all too common during the first trimester. In fact, what some women may think is the start of their baby bump, is actually just… bloat. These pesky and uncomfortable symptoms occur because of an increase in the hormone progesterone. This hormone is responsible for slowing down the muscles in your intestines which causes trapped gas, and hardened stools.
Tips to manage constipation and bloating in the first trimester:
- Drink plenty of water: Staying well-hydrated is important during pregnancy and is key to keeping your digestive track moving and preventing constipation. If you’re not a big water fan, other great ways to hydrate include coconut water and organic bone broth.
- Up your fiber intake: Fiber can help you stay more regular and reduce gas. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and high fiber cereals can help you hit your daily requirement.
- Take probiotics: The right probiotics can help you stay regular during pregnancy, despite all the hormonal changes causing constipation and bloating. Biomeology’s prenatal probiotics were designed specifically for pregnancy.
- Try hot tea: Ginger tea and peppermint tea, which are both good for nausea, can also help ease constipation and gas.
- Talk to your provider about a stool softener: If things are really uncomfortable, talk to your provider about an OTC stool softener or fiber supplement to get things moving
- Find out if your prenatal could be the culprit: Iron is known for causing constipation. If your prenatal has high levels of iron in it (20mg or more), you may be able to switch to one without iron until later in pregnancy unless your blood work shows low iron.
7. Food aversions and cravings
We’ve all heard the stereotype of pregnant women eating pickles and ice cream, but it’s actually rooted in some truth. Researchers don’t know why pregnancy cravings and aversions happen, but they do know they are real. In fact, it’s estimated that 50-90% of all pregnant women experience a specific food craving during pregnancy.
Food cravings and aversions seem to ramp up throughout the first trimester, peak in the second trimester, and gradually decrease as your pregnancy progresses. Many studies have looked at the most common cravings, and the foods that makes the list almost every time? Carbs, sweets, and fruit.
When it comes to cravings and aversions during the first trimester my first piece of advice is to give yourself grace. You are probably dealing with a lot during the first trimester, physically and emotionally. If all you want to eat (and can stomach) are PB&Js, it’s going to be okay. Just make them as healthy as possible. It’s important to eat what and when you can, as long as you’re trying your best to eat well.
Indulge in some of your pregnancy cravings, and do your best to keep the less healthy ones within reason. For example, a smoothie could take the place of a milkshake, and organic tortilla chips could replace conventional potato chips.
8. Preventing stretch marks
While you most likely won’t see or get any stretch marks during the first trimester, now is the time to start a routine of prevention. Once stretch marks form it can be difficult to get rid of them so knowing the right way to prevent from the start is important.
The name of the game when it comes to stretch mark prevention is helping your skin maintain maximum elasticity and suppleness, and gaining weight at a steady rate.
Tips for preventing stretch marks:
- Stay hydrated: Getting enough hydration is important for keeping the skin hydrated and soft. Drink water, coconut water, bone broth, and eat lots of fruit. Well-hydrated skin does not develop stretch marks as easily as dry skin does.
- Add this to your supplement routine: If there is one supplement that may help you with stretch marks during pregnancy, it’s collagen. It also offers other plenty of benefits during pregnancy, too.
- Gain weight steadily: During pregnancy, your body will naturally put on weight, but keeping your weight gain within the recommended range for your BMI and putting it on gradually can keep stretch marks away. To do this, focus on eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a regular exercise routine throughout pregnancy.
- Use a stretch mark cream or oil: Using a high-quality stretch mark cream or oil is an important step in keeping stretch marks away. These creams help improve the elasticity of your skin and prevent dryness. Look for a cream with natural ingredients like jojoba oil, lavender oil, avocado oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, and coconut oil.
9. Varicose veins
Varicose veins are swollen blood vessels, usually in your legs and feet that appear as dark purple or blue lumps on your skin. They affect between 10%-20% of pregnant women and most often show up later in pregnancy. However, like stretch marks, early attention to prevention can be key to keeping them from showing up at all.
Tips for preventing varicose veins:
- Stay active throughout pregnancy: By exercising daily, even in the form of a light walk, you will increase blood circulation and keep varicose veins from forming.
- Elevate your legs throughout the day: Throughout the day, and at the end of the day, take the time to elevate your legs above your heart. This will help increase circulation, prevent blood pooling, and help prevent or lessen the appearance of varicose veins.
- Keep weight gain within the recommended range: The added weight during pregnancy puts extra demand on your circulatory system. Keeping it in the recommended range doesn’t add extra stress and pressure.
- Sleep on your left side: Sleeping on your left side keeps pressure off of the main blood vessels, and keeps circulation going.
But if you are dealing with varicose veins during pregnancy, you may find relief by using compression socks or compression hose. I know how painful they can be.
Remember, the first trimester doesn’t last forever
Mama, I know that while you’re in it, the first trimester can feel downright miserable. But, it will end! For as terrible as you may feel now, the second trimester will come with increased energy, less discomfort overall, and your baby bump will likely pop, making it all feel more real.
So hang in there, and use this first trimester survival guide to manage your symptoms. Allow yourself time to rest, remember to say no when you need to, and focus on the incredible miracle happening in your body.