A Peaceful Pregnancy
Women typically describe pregnancy is two ways: “It’s the most amazing and natural feeling in the world” and “It’s the kind of torture nobody should have to endure for nine months.” The adjectives may vary, but the responses seem to be at one extreme or the other.
This begs the question, were the ones who enjoyed pregnancy more informed about what to expect and thus more prepared for the experience? Each trimester of pregnancy brings about new symptoms, new emotions, new concerns and new requirements for medical care. Let’s explore each stage so moms-to-be know what’s heading their way.
In the first three months, a woman’s body goes through many changes. The first physical symptom a woman experiences often is morning sickness. “It’s more common with the first baby and less common with subsequent pregnancies,” says Patrick Duff, M.D., professor and residency program director in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Florida, Gainesville. “Most women experience mild nausea and vomiting and are put off by highly aromatic foods.”
Although more than half of pregnant women experience morning sickness, according to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), it seems to stop around the 12th week of pregnancy. The APA suggests you eat small meals often, drink fluids 30 minutes before or after a meal (but not with meals), eat soda crackers 15 minutes before getting out of bed in the morning, avoid pungent-smelling foods, sniff lemons or ginger to relieve nausea and get plenty of rest.
But morning sickness isn’t the only thing to watch. “A common serious finding at this stage is spotting or bleeding,” Duff says. “Any patient with bleeding in the first trimester certainly needs to see a physician, as this can be a sign of miscarriage.”
The first trimester also can be an emotional time. “Fatigue and morning sickness can wear on a woman’s emotions,” Duff says. “She can feel insecure about the viability of the pregnancy because she cannot yet feel the baby move.”
Finally, prenatal care is extremely important in this stage, as during all stages. “All women need prenatal care, and the earlier the better,” Duff says. “Office visits happen every four to six weeks and are timed to coincide with various screening tests. The first-trimester test is an ultrasound and blood test to screen for Down syndrome that is performed between 11 and 12 weeks.”
The middle months are much calmer, Duff says. “Women aren’t so worried about miscarriage, and they aren’t worried about premature delivery yet,” he says. “Morning sickness is resolved by this stage, and the woman is not too big and uncomfortable yet. Her spirits are high—she’s planning a baby shower, picking out names and signing up for baby preparedness classes.”
Another exciting marker of this time is a baby’s first kicks. Women can feel the first fetal movements between 13 and 25 weeks, according to the APA. Feeling the baby kick, punch and roll around as he or she stretches limbs and responds to noises, foods or the mother’s emotions is an exciting—and reassuring—experience.
Screenings for the second trimester include a quad test. “Performed at 15 to 16 weeks, this blood test looks for birth defects, such as Down syndrome and trisomy 18, and neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida,” Duff says. Women also should be screened for gestational diabetes at this time, which affects about 4 percent of pregnant women, according to the American Diabetes Association.
As the baby grows, so does the mother’s discomfort. “Women become uncomfortable in this last trimester,” Duff says. “They may have heartburn, back pain, hip discomfort, pressure sensations and so on.”
But there is a more pressing matter during this time frame: preeclampsia. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, this condition can cause hypertension (high blood pressure), swelling, headache, sudden weight gain, a racing pulse and lower back pain. Women diagnosed with preeclampsia may be placed on bed rest for the duration of their pregnancies.
Finally, the third trimester is a time for decision making. A woman and her physician must decide on a birth plan, including whether she will have a Caesarean section or a vaginal delivery, whether she will use anesthesia during the birth, and whether she will breastfeed.
“She may also experience frequent mood swings and sleep disturbances, and if she’s a first-time mother she’s worried about the delivery process and if she is ready for parenthood,” Duff says. “It’s a very emotional time.”
Having a baby is a life-changing event and preparing for your newborn can be a little chaotic. To help every parent prepare for their arrival, Gwinnett Medical Center offers classes and support groups from childbirth to breastfeeding and beyond. Click here to learn more about our childbirth classes taught by certified instructors. To find a board-certified OB/GYN, click here or call 678-312-5000.