During your pregnancy, you are not only looking after yourself but also your growing baby, so it is important to stay fit, healthy and happy.1 Even though you will be planning for your little one’s arrival, you should also be preparing for all the changes your body will go through. Whether it is your first child or your third, no two pregnancies are the same and so we have partnered with midwife Vicki Scott to provide you with some top tips to follow during your pregnancy.
First Trimester: Weeks 1 to 12
Congratulations on your pregnancy! The initial weeks of pregnancy are an important time and a lot happens in this first trimester. From the beginning of pregnancy through to labour, your body, your emotions and your life will all change.2 You may go from feeling excited to worried, from being off food to having cravings at 1 am, and this is completely normal. Pregnancy hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone can cause havoc with your emotions, giving you a mixture of highs and lows, especially in the first 12 weeks.
In addition to information about prenatal nutrition and other tips for you to consider, here are some changes your body may be going through:
Fatigue: Your body is using a lot more energy to help support both you and your baby, so you may feel more tired than usual. Listen to your body and take plenty of naps and rests, and try to keep up your energy levels by eating a varied and nutritious diet3
Breasts: Hormonal changes in your body can lead to tender, sore breasts, and this is a result of your changing hormones and your body preparing your milk ducts to feed your baby. To help you feel more comfortable, consider getting fitted for a new bra to accommodate your changing breasts1
Bleeding: A quarter of women experience slight bleeding during this phase. This is known as spotting and may be a sign of implantation of the fertilised embryo in the uterus. This is usually no cause for concern; however, as bleeding can sometimes be a sign of something more serious, it is important to get checked by a doctor to make sure you and your baby are healthy1
Constipation: Due to high levels of a hormone called progesterone, the movement of food through the small intestines slows down.1 Another reason for constipation is the extra iron your body is getting through prenatal vitamins causing you to feel bloated. To help reduce this feeling, drink plenty of fluids and increase your fibre intake with foods such as cereals, fruit and vegetables1
Morning sickness: Nausea and vomiting are very common in early pregnancy. It can affect you any time of the day or night. It usually clears up by Week 16–20 of your pregnancy. Some women experience a severe form of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum and will require specialist treatment1
Prenatal vitamins and nutrients
Midwife Vicki Scott advises you should eat a healthy and varied, well-balanced diet in order to get the vitamins and nutrients you need. You can also consider taking supplements to boost the nutrients your body is getting at this important time.
Folic acid is recommended for all women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. 400 micrograms of folic acid should be taken each day before you are pregnant up until 12 weeks, either alone or as part of a pregnancy supplement. Folic acid is taken to minimise risks associated with the development of the baby in the early weeks of pregnancy.4
Vitamin D: You should take vitamin D supplement daily (10 micrograms) to support the development of healthy bones, teeth and muscles4
Iron: You can take iron tablets to help with fatigue or if you suffer with anaemia. Your doctor or midwife will advise you to take iron if your haemoglobin levels are low. Iron can also be found naturally in food sources such as nuts, green leafy vegetables and lean meat4
Vitamin C: You can find vitamin C in foods such as oranges, strawberries, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and red/green peppers. They help to protect and maintain healthy cells in your body4
Calcium: This nutrient is essential for healthy teeth and bones. Here are some good sources of calcium: milk, cheese, yoghurt, tofu, green leafy vegetables and fish which has bones4
Vitamin A: Do not take vitamin A supplements or any supplements that contain retinol as this could harm your baby4
Try to find some time to do at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, as remaining active can help relieve some of the discomfort you may be feeling.5,6 It is safe to continue with your usual exercise or other activity. Just remember to take it slow and not to overdo it –you should not become breathless while exercising during pregnancy.6 If you would like to start exercising, attend a special pregnancy class, or make sure that the instructor knows you are pregnant and they will advise you on what is safe and recommended for you.
Exercising regularly can also help to relieve any stress you may be feeling during your pregnancy and allows you to have some down time.
Foods to avoid
There is no special pregnancy diet, but it is vital your diet is well balanced and varied to ensure you are getting all the nutrients needed for you and your baby.7 During your pregnancy, try to avoid foods such as mould–ripened soft cheese such as brie and camembert, soft blue cheese, raw or partially cooked eggs, raw or undercooked meat, liver products, high doses of multivitamin or vitamin A supplements, and some types of fish.8 It is also important to reduce your caffeine intake, because too much can result in babies having a low birthweight; you shouldn’t have more than 200 mg a day.8 Remember, caffeine can be found in tea, coffee and chocolate, so keep an eye on how much you are consuming.
In terms of alcohol, the safest approach during pregnancy is to not drink any at all. While you are pregnant, alcohol passes into your bloodstream, through the placenta and to your baby, which is why alcohol can affect their development. Heavy alcohol consumption during the 9 months can lead to foetal alcohol syndrome.9
Pickles, olives, pizza, chocolate? No one seems to know the answer to why women get cravings during pregnancy.10 The hormonal changes occurring in your body are thought to play a role, heightening some of your senses.10 Cravings normally occur towards the end of your first trimester and peak during your second.11
Watch my baby grow
During the first trimester, your baby and placenta develop together, and by the end of this trimester your baby will be fully formed, although tiny! And the placenta fully developed.12 The placenta now takes over from your hormones in supporting your pregnancy which is why some of the early symptoms of pregnancy start to lift.12
By the end of your first trimester, the foetus should be about 7.6–10 cm long and weighs about 0.06lbs,12 the weight of nine tea bags!
Second Trimester: Weeks 13 to 27
During your second trimester, your bump should start to appear, but this will vary from woman to woman. This stage is known to be the most comfortable part of pregnancy, but your body will continue to go through changes as the baby grows.13 The majority of early pregnancy symptoms should have now slowly disappeared, but you may begin experiencing leg cramps and back pain more often.13
Hair growth: Pregnancy hormones can cause your hair to grow more than usual. It may appear thicker and in places you may have never had hair before. It is not recommended to use laser hair removal while pregnant as there is no research to prove it is safe for your baby14
Back pain: This is a result of weight gain putting pressure on your back or hormones causing your ligaments in the pelvic area to relax.15 To help ease the pain, try to sit up straight and use a back support,14 or ask your partner for a massage
Breast enlargement: The feeling of tender breasts should be wearing off, although your breasts will keep growing as your body prepares to provide milk for your baby14
Headache: This can be common during pregnancy, and so paracetamol can be used while pregnant or breastfeeding.14 However, only take other medicines if advised by a doctor
Heartburn: During pregnancy, your body produces more progesterone, which relaxes the muscles in your lower oesophagus that normally keeps food and acid in your stomach.14 Some ways to help you deal with heartburn are either changing your diet and avoiding foods that could cause it, or try eating smaller more frequent meals-if your stomach is less full you are less likely to have symptoms. An upright position will help too, both when eating as well as when sleeping-try using pillows to prop you up a little at night. If necessary antacid medications can help-speak to your doctor or pharmacist for advice on these16
Skin changes: When you are pregnant, your body produces lots of hormones, and the levels are constantly changing. This causes the skin to look flushed or glowing. Additionally, as the baby grows, your skin will naturally stretch and expand, and so you may get stretch marks (although this does not happen to everyone)14
Some vaccines are recommended during pregnancy. These include the flu vaccine and the whooping cough vaccine, which will help to protect the health of you and your baby.17 The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended before pregnancy.17 The ideal time to get the whooping cough vaccination is between 16–32 weeks, and the flu vaccine can be taken at any time during your pregnancy.14 These are all inactivated and do not contain the live virus.17
You may want to travel and explore the world during your pregnancy, but it is advised that you avoid visiting countries where vaccination is required due to high risk of infections. Seek advice from your general practitioner or midwife on whether the destination you wish to travel to is safe for both you and your baby.17
Exercising is good for you, and regular exercise can help to relieve some of the pain you may feel during your pregnancy. As your pregnancy develops, you can begin doing exercises that will help you during labour and prepare you for childbirth. Pelvic floor exercises, pelvic tilts, squatting, aqua aerobics and yoga can all help to get you ready.18 Look in your area for a specialist pregnancy class or instructor to ensure the exercises are safe and appropriate for you.
Watch my baby grow
One important, and exciting, pregnancy milestone you will experience around 18 to 20 weeks, or even earlier, will be your baby making small movements in the womb, such as kicking.19 As well as kicking, your growing baby may also suck their thumb.19 All the small details such as eyelids, eyebrows, eyelashes and nails will start to become more defined during the second trimester.19 Their teeth and bones will continue to become denser. At the end of your second trimester, your baby will be about 30 cm long and weigh approximately 2lbs, the weight of three apples!19
Third Trimester: Weeks 28 to 40
You are almost there! During these last few weeks your emotions may change. You may feel more tired and uncomfortable but also excited, as it is not long now until the arrival of your baby.
Frequent urination: Your uterus is growing to accommodate your baby and this is putting pressure on your bladder, which can mean you find yourself needing to urinate more often21
Braxton Hick contractions: Towards the end of your pregnancy, you may experience Braxton Hicks contractions, and a lot of pregnant women mistake these for real labour contractions. Braxton Hicks do not follow a consistent pattern in terms of duration, frequency and intensity, unlike real contractions.22 Real labour contractions last somewhere between 30–70 seconds, occur at regular intervals, become more frequent as you get closer to labour and they are more painful.22 If you are unsure then you can ask your midwife or doctor
Varicose veins: During pregnancy, the amount of blood in your body increases to help support the developing baby. This puts extra strain on your veins. Increased hormone levels during pregnancy also cause the muscular walls of the blood vessels to relax, which also increases your risk of developing varicose veins.23 Wearing support tights or stockings can help relieve discomfort. Avoid standing for long periods and rest with your feet up when you can
Fatigue: By the third trimester, you may feel exhausted because of all the changes your body is going through. Try to keep active, eat regularly and stay well rested.23 You may want to purchase a pregnancy pillow to support your body and help you feel more comfortable when sleeping and resting
During the third trimester, you should continue to do your usual exercise, pelvic floor exercises, yoga and aqua aerobics. These exercises have some real health benefits such as helping to improve blood flow and control your weight.24 Maintaining a fitness regime over the 9 months of your pregnancy will also help you to prepare your body for childbirth and build stamina during delivery.6 Not only that, keeping active will allow you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain.25 Exercising is not dangerous as long as you do not lift any heavy weights or attempt strenuous exercises.25 However, as you come towards the end of your pregnancy, you may need/want to take it slow, and for any concerns related to exercising you should speak to your midwife.25
Watch my baby grow
Coming towards the end of pregnancy, your baby is between 46–51cm long and weighs approximately 7lbs.26 Their organs are nearly fully developed, their reflexes are coordinated and they have some of the basic human senses such as sight, touch and hearing.26 During your third trimester, pay close attention to your baby’s activities inside the womb such as the kicks, twitches and rolls. Notice your baby’s usual pattern of movements - every baby is different and let your midwife or doctor know if baby is moving less than you’re used to so they can check you out.27 They may advise you to do kick counts and record this over a period of time.27
What to have in your hospital bag
Here is a little checklist of some of the essentials you’ll need for when your baby arrives28:
Your baby’s first outfit
Sleep suits/baby grows, vests and socks
A cotton hat, scratch mitts and a cardigan
Something comfortable for you to wear
Blankets for the journey home
Plenty of nappies
Biodegradable, vegan, sensitive baby wipes, such as WaterWipes
Soft baby hair brush
You have got this! Just remember, there is lots of advice and information out there for you to take on board, but always do what works best for you, trust your instincts and ask for help and support if you need it. Take it nice and easy, slow right down in the early weeks and don’t try to do too much too soon. Everything takes much longer when you have a new baby so don’t take on more than you need to. Focus on staying fit and healthy for both you and your baby, and get as much sleep as possible!
To discover more expert tips and advice for mums-to-be, visit our dedicated parenting page full of articles to help you through your pregnancy journey.