May 07, 2019
For those experiencing pregnancy for the first time, the process can seem a bit overwhelming. Between the birthing classes, tours of the labor and delivery department, and preparing the house for your baby’s arrival, days and weeks often blend together during this emotionally-charged, nine-month journey. To make those 280 days of changes a bit easier to understand, doctors have organized pregnancy into roughly three 13-week phases called trimesters. Here’s what expecting moms might experience during each of them:
Beginning the first day of a woman’s last period, the first trimester causes the body to rapidly release hormones in preparation for the transition ahead. This sudden shift can be delightful, draining, and everything in between.
Because the external signs of pregnancy aren’t as apparent during these first few weeks, the first noticeable changes are often emotional. Mood swings during this time can be intense — expectant moms describe feeling giddy one moment, completely wracked with fear the next, and finishing the emotional rollercoaster by feeling spacey, forgetful, and distracted.
The physical symptoms, while often unnoticeable to others, can be just as powerful. Women in their first trimester can expect to feel a variety of physical sensations, including but not limited to: nausea and vomiting, increased urination, heightened fatigue, and heartburn. To ease some of these symptoms, doctors suggest eating small meals and snacks throughout the day, avoid standing and sitting for long periods of time, getting plenty of rest and water, and (all but) removing caffeine and excess sugar from your diet.
The second trimester is often a turning point for pregnant mothers, sometimes considered the most enjoyable. Nausea often subsides, along with the extreme fatigue that can accompany the first trimester.
At this point in the pregnancy, mothers will find their “baby bumps” more pronounced as the fetus’s growth accelerates. By week 18, the baby weighs about as much as a bell pepper—and can even yawn and hiccup. Around week 21, mothers may even start to feel the baby moving around inside the womb. Early on, these movements can resemble gas or “butterflies,” but become more recognizable as the baby grows. While this can sometimes be uncomfortable, many mothers find it induces a sense of wonder and awe.
As the second trimester comes to an end, mothers may start to feel first trimester symptoms return or experience new symptoms entirely. These could include leg pain, urinary tract infections, swelling, nasal congestion, nosebleeds, and skin irritations.
The third trimester is the final stretch of pregnancy. While mothers may feel like they’re nearing the end of the gestational journey, their babies still have a lot of growing to do. By 28 weeks, the baby will be roughly the size of a bowling pin. At this point, their eyelids and eyelashes have formed, and the central nervous system can direct rhythmic breathing movements and control body temperature. The baby’s brain continues to develop throughout the third trimester, their bones harden, and by week 36, their internal systems are generally fully functioning.
This rapid growth can exacerbate a mother’s pregnancy symptoms. Pain in the lower back and hips is likely to escalate as the connective tissue in the pelvis loosens. Shortness of breath is often present during the third trimester, as the uterus expands and puts pressure on the rib cage and diaphragm. The burst of energy that may have accompanied the second trimester can slow, making quality rest essential to a mother’s mood and physical strength.
As the third trimester closes and the delivery date creeps closer, regular visits with a healthcare provider are more important than ever. Be it a mid-wife or an OBGYN, weekly appointments are recommended to check for complications or dilation of the cervix. In the final weeks of the third trimester, expecting mothers should be on high-alert for signs of labor, like decreased pressure on the diaphragm, rupture of the amniotic sac, and consistent contractions. Once these symptoms occur, get ready—the baby is likely on its way!