In my last post I promised to discuss some first trimester symptoms and when you should go to the ER. I’d like to start off by saying everyone is different! You know your body better than anyone else, so if you feel deep down that something is wrong. Do NOT wait. Something that may be totally normal for one person may be completely off for another, so DON’T ignore any signs that may not be normal for you.
That being said, the first trimester can be a real bitch. This is usually due to the sudden, rapid increase in hormones, namely oestrogen and progesterone. It’s like PMS on steroids!
I decided to do a two-part post because it would have been way too long to be one! I’d give a brief over view of the first trimester and what’s normal and expected and in the upcoming post, we’d talk about the red flags!
What is oestrogen? Oestrogen is a hormone, mainly a feminine hormone (men produce it too). What is a hormone you ask? Well, it’s chemical produced by the body and basically tells a target organ what to do.
In early pregnancy the ovaries are responsible for hormone production and this job is then taken over by the placenta, ensuring that the correct conditions are created and maintained for a successful pregnancy.
I promise not to turn this into an entire lecture, but I think understanding what happens behind the scenes will give us a better understanding of what is happening to our bodies. Agreed? I think so too.
So back to oestrogen! What does it do?! Let’s break it down in a not so ‘lecture-y’ way.
While progesterone dominates throughout pregnancy, oestrogen is also very important! We can think of oestrogen as the woman behind the man (progesterone). They do say behind every successful man is a woman who put him there!
Progesterone actually requires oestrogen! They are literally a married couple. Progesterone production from the placenta is stimulated by oestrogen! (This oestrogen comes from the ovaries). Oestrogen increases progressively and steadily until birth and is responsible for:
- Controlling, maintaining and stimulating the production of other pregnancy hormones
- The correct development of fetal organs including the lungs, liver and kidneys
- Stimulating the growth and correct function of the placenta
- Promoting growth of maternal breast tissue (along with progesterone) and preparing the mother for breastfeeding
- Improve vascularization (the formation of blood vessels)
Oestrogen is the pregnancy MVP! But holddddd up, let’s not throw progesterone out the door yet. Progesterone is necessary throughout pregnancy, it maintains pregnancy! In early pregnancy progesterone:
- Increases blood flow to the womb by stimulating the growth of existing blood vessels
- Stimulates glands in the lining of the womb to produce nutrients that sustain the early embryo
- Stimulates growth and thickening of the lining of the womb, which supports the attachment of the placenta and allowing implantation of the embryo
- Helps to establish the placenta
The placenta then takes over hormone production! Progesterone also has many functions during mid to late pregnancy, which includes:
- Correct fetal development
- Preventing the muscles of the womb contracting prematurely
- Preventing lactation until after pregnancy
- Strengthening the muscles of the pelvic wall in preparation for labour
So now that we have an idea of what these hormones are useful for, let’s talk about their side effects. That’s right, those pesky first trimester symptoms.
Due to the rapid increase in oestrogen and progesterone, which our bodies take a while to become adapted to, we experience those ICK pregnancy symptoms. These hormones affect our entire body, not just our ovaries and uterus. This includes our brains! *cue mood swings* Sorry partners who have to deal with this. We don’t control it! This is where we need you guys to be understanding and not take it personally. Laugh, cry, yell, get angry, and then totally relaxed like none of the above never happened. Yup, that’s pretty much how it goes.
I’d get a little doctor-y here and say that if you notice these mood swings persisting over two weeks’ duration with a significant decrease in mood, such as feelings of sadness, guilt or hopelessness, consult your doctor. You may be experiencing signs of depression. Always remember having to talk to someone is not a sign of weakness. Mental health is just as important in the overall wellbeing of your nugget too. Pregnancy itself is overwhelming, bringing new life into the world and the responsibility it holds is overwhelming, you may need to explore these concerns and thoughts with someone.
These high levels of hormones are also responsible for that dreaded ‘morning sickness’ that most women experience. Everyone experiences some part of morning sickness to varying degrees. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable! I was SO lucky I didn’t have it too bad. I did experience nausea in early pregnancy which was easily treatable with club soda, coke and salt prunes!
Morning sickness is common in the early first trimester, around weeks 5-6 and usually stops around week 12-16. If it persists or becomes severe, that’s a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum. More on that in a later post.
These hormones aren’t all bad. They’re responsible for that pregnancy ‘glow’ we experience! Hormones coupled with the increased blood flow may make your skin look rosy and shiny in the first trimester! I’ve stopped wearing makeup as often since I got pregnant! Just some BB cream if necessary. It also makes your hair thicker and stronger! My hair was shedding pretty badly and now it doesn’t shed at all! These traits were said to increase attractiveness to keep your partner. Men… SHEESH!
Remember that back pain I keep mentioning? Yeah, it starts in the first trimester! UGH! Mine certainly did. It literally feels like my bones are breaking on the slightest movement. My pelvis feels like I’ve been hit by a 40-tonne truck.
This is due to another hormone, known as relaxin. It relaxes the muscles, joints and ligaments to make room for baby. If you’ve ever broken a bone, this is what it feels like! Walking is painful. There were times I was walking, and the pain would suddenly hit me and I’d feel like I was about to fall over or just become immobile! I didn’t expect this so early in pregnancy so imagine the shock both my fiancé and I had when I came home from work unable to move!
Constipation…embarrassing topic but it’s real! (I shit like a duck so thankfully that transferred into pregnancy!) However, due to the increased amount of progesterone, gut motility decreases and paired with iron supplementation, you get CORKED! Ugh! Like if this pregnancy journey wasn’t hard enough! (No pun intended).
Ensure you drink a lottttt of water, even when you’re not thirsty and start eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. Increase your fiber intake! This will also be beneficial in later pregnancy, as baby grows, he/she will put even more pressure on the bowel making constipation worse! Talk to your doctor about switching your prenatal vitamin to one with a lower concentration of iron as well.
OH! And if you think peeing every second starts later in pregnancy. EEEEKKK. Wrong. It. Starts. At. The. Fucking. Beginning. The increased blood volume combined with these hormones cause structures that connect the kidneys to the bladder to become enlarged and the increased blood flow through the kidneys, cause you to pee like Niagara Falls! The bathroom is now your best friend, might as well have a nice set up in there. Light some candles, put a few magazines!
While you may not see that bump just yet, (believe me I stood and stared in the mirror for months sticking out my tummy in every direction to see something), you may experience some bloating. Similar to PMS! The weight gain has begun! It starts really slowly, but then a couple months down the line you’re a whole cow and you have no idea how it happened. Remember to stay as active as you can!
Physically your boobs are target #2, your nipples tend to start getting larger (TMI I KNOW), your breast tissue enlargens, and least fun of all, your areolas triple in size and become REALLY dark. Ugh! As if these changes aren’t bad enough, the breast soreness and tenderness is a real mother. (Again, no pun intended). Bathing hurt, if you accidentally touch it, it hurts, if the wind blew it hurt! This gets better once you cross the first trimester. This, I promise.
Fatigue…this one… unfortunately is inevitable. No. Matter. What. I was tired waking up on mornings. IT’S BAD! Seriously! And I was TYADDDD before pregnancy. Thanks progesterone. Owe you one. Take naps whenever you can!
Last and certainly not least, food cravings! And in some cases, aversions. Your sense of smell is improved in pregnancy. I could literally hunt in the wild with this sense of smell. I was smelling things I’ve never smelled before. Some things made my stomach churn (i.e those diabetic feet and sacral ulcers in the hospital. Like those aren’t bad enough without pregnancy nose!) and others were simply interesting smells. I didn’t have any particular cravings or aversions per se. I definitely wanted fries all the time though! Nothing crazy like dirt or chalk or any other out of the ordinary things I’ve asked some people about!
I’m just going to touch on bleeding here. It is indeed a norm for women to experience bleeding in early pregnancy. This is known as the implantation bleed. Soon after conception, the fertilized egg implants in your uterus, where it is completely normal to experience mild to moderate bleeding with some cramping. Sometimes this blood is bright red or may be brown in colour. I will go more in depth on this in the next post about red flag symptoms but know a little bleeding is normal!
Also to be expected, vaginal discharge. EW! It gets worse trust me. I’d touch more on this in the red flag post as well!
Hope this was informative and you guys get a good idea of what early pregnancy feels like! The journey has just begun…