Pickles and ice cream. Waves of nausea. We’ve all heard about the various cravings and symptoms that moms-to-be experience. But every woman responds differently to the hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy. What can you expect? Here are the common symptoms during the first trimester.
Common among first trimester symptoms, nausea and vomiting affect up to 85 percent of moms-to-be, and not just in the morning. While it’s not clear exactly what causes morning sickness, it’s believed that the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin may be to blame: The more of it in your system, the more nauseated you’ll be. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing—some experts think that the queasier you are, the less likely you are to miscarry or deliver prematurely.
Here are some ways to minimize the symptoms of morning sickness until they disappear:
- Eat mini-meals throughout the day. Eating smaller meals more frequently can ease digestion and keep your stomach filled. Nausea is even worse on an empty stomach. While you may want to opt for bland foods, experts recommend eating whatever you have a hankering for, as long as it’s healthy. So if you can only stomach grilled-cheese sandwiches for a few days, go for it.
- Have ginger. It’s a proven soother for upset stomachs, so try grating some fresh ginger into your tea or juice to get the full benefits.
- Try B6. A supplement of this vitamin may help your stomach empty faster. Ask your doctor for the appropriate amount.
Food cravings and aversions
A hankering for certain foods or an intense dislike of others is often linked to morning sickness. These cravings and aversions can be unpredictable, but up to 80 percent of pregnant women report cravings, and up to 85 percent say they’re repelled by certain foods. Should you give in to your desires or shun the foods you loathe? It depends. If the craving is healthy and you’re not scarfing down bags of chips or pints of ice cream, then you can indulge. A good rule: Limit your treats to one 75-to-100-calorie serving per day. For food aversions, try substituting these foods for the ones you can’t stomach:
- If you can’t drink milk, substitute low-fat cheese, cottage cheese or yogurt. Try sneaking milk into sauces, soups, oatmeal or pancakes.
- If you can’t swallow veggies, munch on fruits rich in beta-carotene, like mango, apricot and cantaloupe.
- If meat turns you off, try beans, or hide beef, chicken or turkey in sauces, soups and stews.
Heightened sense of smell
Many women report having a sharper sense of smell during pregnancy. One theory: It helps you stay away from foods that have a high bacteria content or natural toxins, which could harm the fetus during this crucial period of development. This bionic sense of smell usually abates as the months go on.
Feeling tired 24 hours a day is one of the most common side effects of pregnancy. Your body is going into overload to spur the baby’s growth: Your ovaries are producing progesterone, which is thought to have a sedative effect, and blood volume is increasing up to 50 percent to supply blood to the fetus.
One hidden culprit for excessive fatigue is anemia. Extra iron is needed to make the baby’s blood cells, and if you don’t have enough iron, the baby will take what it needs from your body, shortchanging you. Your doctor will give you a blood test during your first prenatal visit to check your iron stores. If you don’t have enough, she’s likely to prescribe a supplement.
Other things you can do to combat your tiredness:
- Get moving. Even if all you want to do is lie on the couch, take a short walk or just do some light stretching. Twenty minutes a few times a week can give you a lift.
- Take your prenatal vitamin. It will fill the gaps if your appetite for food is at an all-time low, and because it contains iron, it can help stave off anemia.
- Sleep when you can. Go to bed earlier, get up later and nap when you can. If you’re working all day, take a 15-minute catnap at your desk.
Even if you’re not showing yet, your uterus is growing—and that’s causing pressure on your bladder, which never really empties. Plus, your kidneys are working overtime to flush wastes out of your body. The result: a need to pee often throughout the day and night. But don’t cut back on liquids, and don’t wait to urinate because holding it can cause a urinary tract infection. To reduce the number of nighttime bathroom trips, stop drinking a few hours before bedtime, cut out caffeine at night (it’s a bladder stimulant) and go one last time before you turn off the light.
You may break out because your hormones are working overtime, causing your skin to produce more oil. Acne may subside later in your pregnancy, but to help control it now:
- Don’t scrub or overwash your skin. Use a gentle cleanser like Cetaphil to avoid overdrying it.
- Switch to an oil-free moisturizer. There’s no reason to add oil to your overly oily skin.
- Check the labels of the products you use. Glycolic acid is okay, but ditch those containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, retinols or steroids: They could potentially cause birth defects.
Pregnant women actually inhale deeper in order to better supply all the extra blood with oxygen. Even though you may be getting plenty of air, don’t be surprised if you feel breathless, partly because the baby is transferring more carbon dioxide to you.
Bad headaches during the first trimester are generally from low blood sugar (a result of your changing metabolism), an increase in hormones and reduced blood flow to the brain. If you suffer from headaches, try using a hot or cold compress, massaging your temples or getting some fresh air. If those don’t work, acetaminophen is considered safe for pregnant women. If you’re suffering from migraines, talk to your doctor.
Dry eyes or changing vision
Your entire body can feel a little swollen from the increased blood circulation, and this includes your eyes. Your corneas thicken and curve, and that changes the way they refract visual images. For contact lens wearers, that may mean ditching the contacts and wearing glasses until delivery. And even those moms-to-be who wear glasses sometimes can’t see as well. Even if your vision stays the same, your eyes may dry out from fluctuating hormones. You can try eyedrops to lubricate your eyes, and if needed, visit an eye doctor to temporarily adjust the prescription for your glasses.
Even though your baby is the size of a comma, your breasts are getting ready to nurse her. Hormonal changes and expanding milk ducts produce a growth spurt, usually around your sixth week of pregnancy, and make your breasts feel swollen and tender. To ease the ache:
- Buy larger bras with extra rows of hooks for easy adjustments. Don’t waste money on tight front closures.
- Get a soft cotton “sleep” bra if soreness is preventing you from getting rest—the support will ease the ache.
Changes in libido
The surge in hormones and blood flow can affect your vagina and clitoris, making them softer and hypersensitive. For some women, that means a libido in overdrive and more intense or multiple orgasms. For others, sex becomes as appealing as ice-fishing.
Whatever mood you find yourself in, it’s normal. But do keep your partner in the loop. Let him know how you’re feeling and what turns you on or off, so he doesn’t start feeling insecure or rejected. And remember, sex involves more than intercourse. Cuddling, touching and back rubs can be ways to stay intimate.
Emotional ups and downs
Hormones, lack of sleep, the reality of pregnancy—all of these can contribute to a roller coaster of emotions. You could feel quiet and withdrawn, elated, worried, angry, tearful or happy-go-lucky—and it’s all perfectly fine. Of course, it’s better to stay on an even keel as much as you can (your loved ones will thank you), so try to get as much rest and exercise as you can. Finding sympathetic friends also helps—preferably those who are pregnant, online or off. The changes your body is undergoing can produce a wide variety of first trimester symptoms and an equally wide range of feelings to go along with them. Try not to worry too much, and ask your doctor if you have any questions about what you’re experiencing.