The first weeks of your first pregnancy are overwhelming – here’s the basics of what you need to know, by Dr. Joanna Girling
Even if you have been trying for a baby, discovering you are pregnant can still be a shock and it’s totally normal to feel a range of emotions, from intense excitement to panic or fear.
If the pregnancy wasn’t planned, you might need longer to adjust to the news.
Whatever your personal circumstances, give yourself a little time and space to get used to the idea.
Start looking after yourself
The most important thing to do when you find out you are pregnant is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, stop smoking, avoid or reduce alcohol intake to no more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week; and take 400 micrograms of folic aid every day.
It is also recommended that you take a supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D.
If you have any health conditions or are on any medication you should discuss them with your GP as soon as you find out you are pregnant.
If you haven’t done so already, contact your GP surgery or local maternity unit directly to arrange your antenatal booking appointment.
What should I be feeling?
There’s no definitive answer to how you will be feeling in the very early stages of pregnancy: for some women, the hormones kick in very quickly and they experience strong symptoms almost as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed; other women can feel a bit anxious because they do not feel pregnant at all.
Remember that every pregnancy is different and you’ll have your own unique set of symptoms – lucky you!
The symptoms you are most likely to experience in the early stages include the following:
A missed period
Although this might sound somewhat obvious, some women do experience a light bleed, also known as spotting, at or shortly before the expected time of the period.
This can occur after implantation, when the uterus lining is disturbed as the fertilised egg buries into it.
This isn’t necessarily anything to worry about, but if bleeding is painful, persistent, recurrent, or occurs after your period was due, you should get it checked out in case you are having an ectopic pregnancy.
Nausea or vomiting
Around half of all pregnant women experience some form of nausea or vomiting, with symptoms, with symptoms beginning around six weeks after their last period.
Some women experience ‘morning sickness’ in the morning but it can happen at any time of the day, and some women find they begin experiencing nausea almost immediately.
Going off certain foods or drink
Some people cant stand the taste of coffee or alcohol once they are pregnant, and one of the theories is that it is your body cleverly rejecting food or drink that isn’t good for the growing baby.
Tender, tingling or swollen breasts and darkening of the areola (the skin around the nipple).
Increased vaginal discharge
This is normal as long as it is not associated with itchiness or soreness.
If it is, you should see your GP or midwife.
Working out your delivery date
The vast majority of babies are born between 37 and 42 weeks from the beginning of your last period.
The EDD (estimated delivery date) is 40 weeks, but only 5% of babies arrive on that day; 90% of babies are born from three weeks before the due date to two weeks after – it might be better to have an EDM (estimated delivery month)!
As the average pregnancy lasts 266 days, you can count from the date of your last menstrual period and add 40 weeks – the two weeks before ovulation count as the first two weeks of pregnancy, even though you haven’t even conceived at that point! Or, use Naegele’s rule – add seven days to the first day of the last period and then take away three months.
So if your period started on 18 April, the EDD is 25 January.
If your cycle is regular but lasts less than 28 days you will need to subtract the number of days that it is less than 28 from your EDD; if it is longer than 28 days you will need to add the difference.
Once you see your doctor or midwife they will provide you with an estimated date, but you will need to wait for an ultrasound to confirm this.
Latest ultrasound guidance is that all EDDs should be based on scan measurements of the baby.
So be prepared for your due date to be adjusted. IVF babies are excluded from this.
How you might be feeling
Your conception might have been planned with military precision or you may be one of the 40% of women whose pregnancy was unexpected.
You may be giddy with excitement, and still struggling to get your head around it all. You might also have mixed feelings; don’t feel bad if you are not ecstatic or excited as you think you should be.
Having a baby is undoubtedly a life-changing experience, and it’s completely normal to have feelings of anxiety about the health of your growing baby, the delivery, and how it will impact on your life and relationships.
If you are experiencing a range of emotions about your pregnancy, remember your partner will probably be feeling the same.
This is a perfect time to share all your hopes and fears together so that you can deal with anything that pregnancy might throw at you.
If the baby wasn’t planned, you might have practical considerations to take into account, like the stability of your relationship, your finances or maybe your career.
With pregnancy hormones raging around their bodies, it’s little wonder that many newly pregnant women find themselves inexplicably in tears over the smallest things.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the news, just take it a day at a time and remember that women have been having babies for thousands of years without scans, epidurals, or even doctors around. It really is the most natural thing in the world!
Do I need to buy anything yet?
Hold off on buying the cot or booties for now, as it’s more important that you start taking care of your health and wellbeing.
Ideally you should already be taking 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, but if you’re not, go to your local chemist and buy some straight away, as it can reduce the risk of having a baby born with a spinal cord defect such as spina bifida by up to 70%.
There is some evidence to suggest that taking folic acid supplements also lowers the risk of having a baby born with a cleft lip or palette as well as lowering the chance of going into premature labour.
And the most recent research from Holland suggests folic acid reduces the chance of the baby having a congenital heart defect by 20%.
Dr Joanna Girling is a consultant obstetrician and consultant editor of My First Pregnancy (White Ladder), available in all good book shops now.
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