First trimester pregnancy: What to expect

First trimester pregnancy can be overwhelming. Understand the changes you may experience and how to take care of yourself during this exciting time. By Mayo Clinic Staff

The first trimester of pregnancy is marked by an invisible — yet amazing — transformation. And it happens quickly. Hormones trigger your body to begin nourishing the baby even before tests and a physical exam can confirm the pregnancy.

Knowing what physical and emotional changes to expect during the first trimester can help you face the months ahead with confidence.

First trimester pregnancy: Your body

Consider common physical changes during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Bouts of nausea

Morning sickness, which can strike at any time of the day or night, sometimes begins as early as three weeks after conception. Nausea might stem in part from rapidly rising levels of estrogen and progesterone, which cause the stomach to empty more slowly. Pregnant women also have a heightened sense of smell, so various odors — such as foods cooking, perfume or cigarette smoke — might cause waves of nausea in early pregnancy.

To help relieve nausea, eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. Choose foods that are low in fat and easy to digest. Avoid foods or smells that make your nausea worse. It's also helpful to drink plenty of fluids. Try drinking ginger ale.

For some women, motion sickness bands are helpful. For others, alternative therapies such as acupuncture or hypnosis offer relief. If you're considering an alternative therapy, get the OK from your health care provider first.

Contact your health care provider if the nausea is severe, you're passing only a small amount of urine or it's dark in color, you can't keep down liquids, you feel dizzy when standing up or you vomit blood.

Tender, swollen breasts

Soon after conception, hormonal changes might make your breasts tender, sensitive or sore. Or your breasts might feel fuller and heavier. Wearing a more supportive bra or a sports bra might help.

Increased urination

You might find yourself urinating more often than usual. Pressure from your enlarging uterus on your bladder might cause you to leak urine when sneezing, coughing or laughing. To help prevent urinary tract infections, urinate whenever you feel the urge.

If you're losing sleep due to middle-of-the-night bathroom trips, in the evening cut back on fluids containing caffeine, which can make you urinate more. If you're worried about leaking urine, panty liners can offer a sense of security.

Fatigue

Fatigue also ranks high among first trimester symptoms. During early pregnancy, levels of the hormone progesterone soar — which can put you to sleep.

You can't really fight this fatigue, so rest as much as you can. Make sure you're getting enough iron and protein. Include physical activity, such as a brisk walk, in your daily routine.

Food aversions or cravings

When you're pregnant, you might find yourself turning up your nose at certain foods. Food cravings are common, too. Like most other symptoms of pregnancy, these food preferences can be chalked up to hormonal changes — especially in the first trimester, when hormonal changes are the most dramatic.

Dizziness

Pregnancy causes your blood vessels to dilate and your blood pressure to drop, which might leave you lightheaded or dizzy. To prevent mild, occasional dizziness, avoid prolonged standing. Rise slowly after lying or sitting down. If you start to feel dizzy while you're driving, pull over. If you're standing when dizziness hits, lie down on your left side.

Seek prompt care if the dizziness is severe and occurs with abdominal pain or vaginal bleeding. This could indicate an ectopic pregnancy — a condition in which the fertilized egg implants itself outside the uterus. To prevent life-threatening complications, the ectopic tissue must be removed.

Heartburn and constipation

Pregnancy slows the movement of food through your digestive system. This gives nutrients more time to be absorbed into your bloodstream and reach your baby. Unfortunately, it can also lead to constipation. Pregnancy hormones relaxing the valve between your stomach and esophagus can allow stomach acid to leak into your esophagus, causing heartburn.

To prevent heartburn, eat small, frequent meals and avoid fried foods, carbonated drinks, citrus fruits or juices, and spicy foods. To prevent or relieve constipation, include plenty of fiber in your diet and drink lots of fluids. Regular physical activity also helps.

First trimester pregnancy: Your emotions

Pregnancy might leave you feeling delighted, anxious, exhilarated and exhausted — sometimes all at once. Even if you're thrilled about being pregnant, a new baby adds emotional stress to your life.

It's natural to worry about your baby's health, your adjustment to motherhood and the financial demands of raising a child. You might wonder how the baby will affect your relationship with your partner or what type of parent you'll be. If you're working, you might worry about your productivity on the job and how to balance the competing demands of family and career.

You might also experience misgivings and bouts of weepiness or mood swings. Remind yourself that what you're feeling is normal. Take good care of yourself, and look to your partner and other loved ones for understanding and encouragement. If the mood changes become severe or intense, consult your health care provider for additional support.

Apr. 22, 2014 See more In-depth