The first trimester of pregnancy is a rollercoaster ride like no other.
Experiencing a mixture of excitement and apprehension as you climb aboard, it’s a ride that accelerates you from 0 – 100 in a matter of weeks; forcing you to leave behind the safety of your old life and plunging you into a world of loop-the-loops, unflattering photo opportunities and the odd splatter of vomit.
It really is quite something.
Although nearly always portrayed in rom-coms as a faintly hilarious sort of time – one filled with projectile vomiting and spontaneous bouts of sobbing – the reality of those first twelve weeks is far from film worthy. While for some, it can definitely play out as an enjoyable and exciting time, for others, it can also prove an incredibly challenging period – both mentally and physically.
For me? I would say it was an unpredictable blend of the two.
Before getting pregnant, I was definitely aware that there was no ‘one-size-fits-all’ experience when it came to the first trimester; something that left me both nervous and curious. How would my body react to those surging hormones and stretching ligaments?
As it was, I got off relatively lightly – especially when compared with women who have to cope with extreme symptoms, such as hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). However, and while I’d say that I was treated to more of a family friendly ride, rather than a G-Force nightmare, there were still parts of the first trimester that I found difficult and grim.
Below is a (only faintly melodramatic) summary of my experiences of the first trimester of pregnancy. It was a wild and unpredictable twelve weeks – and a chapter that I’ll certainly never forget.
1. The First Trimester of Pregnancy: Fatigue
I’ve always been partial to a nap – in fact, I love nothing more than a sneaky daytime sleep. However, during the first trimester of pregnancy, this once beloved pastime quickly transformed into my arch nemesis.
In fact, it became my dictator.
Looking back, when friends had told me that they were ‘more tired than usual’ during their pregnancies, I’m not sure I completely appreciated what they were trying to say – i.e. that they were completely and utterly exhausted: depleted, hollowed out husks of their former selves.
It was a symptom that took me by surprise and knocked me for six. In fact, my body was so shocked at suddenly finding itself building another human being, that a 9.30am nap (after getting up at 8am) quickly became the norm.
Given that I was living through the first trimester during the Covid-19 pandemic, there were some days when I felt as though I perhaps even had the virus. Was I definitely pregnant – or just incredibly unwell?
Soon, the naps that I used to enjoy became something I dreaded – the rattle of their sleepy prison keys constantly haunting my days. All I wanted was to be able to get past lunch time without curling up on the sofa.
Frantically Googling the reason for my bone-deep tiredness, I discovered that women, on average, use as much energy a day during their first trimester as they would on a daily hike. Increased hormone levels, a decrease in blood pressure and an increase in blood production also add to this overwhelming fatigue.
As someone who is used to having their days crammed full of activities, I initially found it difficult to admit defeat and rest. Gradually, however, I did learn to stop being so hard on myself – having a lie down whenever I needed it and stripping back my day to just the bare essentials (even washing my hair was out of the question).
Handy tip: I did find that gentle exercise helped improve my energy levels. A brisk walk around the block, or a morning bike ride, definitely alleviated the worst of the exhaustion.
2. First Trimester of Pregnancy: Boobs
I’ll be the first to admit that as a small chested woman, the prospect of ‘pregnancy boobs’ filled me with much excitement. If puberty hadn’t delivered the goods, then surely pregnancy would?
Well, as it turns out, apparently not.
During the first trimester, there is only one thing that my boobs did – and that was hurt. I found this particularly to be the case at night, especially when I turned over in bed. Cautiously gathering my boobs up like two newborn babies, I would turn over, whimpering a little as I went.
To add insult to injury, I wouldn’t say my boobs even increased in size during this time – not even marginally. Instead, they just took on a swollen, distended appearance.
Shiny, stretched and painful boobs were not what I had in mind.
Handy tip: sleep in a comfy sports bra to help keep your boobs strapped down and supported throughout the night. It really helped me manage the never-ending discomfort.
3. First Trimester of Pregnancy: Odours
I always presumed that Hollywood scenes of pregnant women throwing up after catching a whiff of a bacon butty were exaggerated.
They, my friends, were not.
What they don’t tell you is that during pregnancy, particularly the first trimester, you develop the smelling senses of a bloodhound. Someone smoking in the garden ten houses down? You’ll smell it. The household bin in need of an empty? You’ll know.
Smells – pungent, intense smells – haunted my existence day and night during the first trimester.
For eight long weeks, I lived a life dedicated to avoiding household items and appliances. Planning a daily route that would avoid the fridge, the bin, the bathroom, the freezer and the dishwasher, my house quickly took on the quality of a vomit-inducing minefield.
All it would take was a handful of fridge particles to float my way and I was running to the bathroom.
To help you get an idea of just how much odour affected my day-to-day life, here’s a list of just a few things that would leave me retching:
- The fridge
- The bin
- Food cupboards
- The supermarket
- The dishwasher
- Pigeon poo under a bridge
- The waft of fast food
- The smell of my neighbour’s BBQ (the summer proved a challenging time)
- An overflowing dog bin
- Cat food
4. First Trimester of Pregnancy: ‘Morning’ Sickness
Smells and sickness: these were two glorious symptoms that went hand-in-hand during my first trimester of pregnancy.
‘Morning’ (and I use that term loosely) sickness kicked in around week seven of my pregnancy. Appearing unexpectedly one July morning, my queasy new friend stayed with me through to week 14 or 15.
During this time, the sickness I experienced felt like a continually evolving beast. During the first few weeks, the nausea felt like the type you’d get with a hangover – that acidic, empty stomach feeling that’s normally solved with a carby snack.
This was initially tricky to manage, but I found that if I kept on top of eating (snacking every hour or so), I could keep the actual sickness at bay. I found that bland items like almonds, rich tea biscuits and apples seemed to help the most.
By week 10 of the first trimester, I experienced a miracle week of no sickness at all. Like some divine intervention, this happened to correspond with my week’s holiday to Cornwall, where I could luckily enjoy a few dinners out and tasty cooked breakfasts.
Curiously, however, my sickness returned with vengeance during week 11 and seemed to haunt me most in the evening. It ruined dinner time and left my dreading all meals – regardless of what was served up. As a result, those final few weeks of sickness were definitely the hardest – and saw my weight plummet pretty quickly.
Around week 15, however, the nausea did begin to fade and was replaced with glorious, wonderful hunger. My only advice during this time is to therefore remember that it will (on the whole) pass and to just eat what you can (but no more).
Handy tip: although I didn’t end up taking them, I was offered anti-nausea tablets by my doctor. If you are really struggling, I would definitely explore this option with your own GP.
5. First Trimester of Pregnancy: My Coping Mechanisms
In order to cope with the waves of nausea and heightened sense of smell, I developed my own ‘unusual’ ways of resisting the need to heave.
In fact, my coping mechanism seemed to concern seeking out ‘smells’ that contrasted with, or countered, the item that was making me feel sick.
These included (but was not limited to):
- The inside of the printer (nothing like the smell of metal and ink)
- Laundry softener
- Coffee beans
- The inside of a dusty book
- Nail varnish
- Shower gel
- My cat (she smells of dust)
- Grass and soil
I’ve still no idea why this helped me, but it might have been the mix of distraction and deep breathing exercises that I employed that did the trick.
Handy tip: don’t feel panicked if the ‘traditional’ remedies don’t help with your nausea. I tried everything from ginger tea to permanently wearing travel sickness bands. You will find your own ‘thing’ eventually – it just happened that mine was discovered whilst sat crouched on the lawn, inhaling the smell of soil.
6. First Trimester of Pregnancy: Bloating
If there’s one thing that a pregnant woman wants to see, it’s the vague outline of a developing baby bump.
For me, this bump came much sooner than expected – and in the form of severe and extreme bloating.
Within a week or so of discovering I was pregnant, the Great British Bloat Off began. Unable to do my jeans up one day, I excitedly googled whether this was the beginnings of my baby. It was growing so fast – maybe I was having twins?
After a little research, however, it turns out that what I was really caressing was my bloated intestines and plenty of water retention.
During your first trimester, progesterone jumps into action. This, in turn, slows down your digestive tract and encourages your body to absorb more nutrients. This slowing of my intestines – particularly for someone who has always prided themselves on their fast metabolism – caused relentless bloating and cramping.
Handy tip: if you’re sensitive to iron tablets (like me) and you’re not iron deficient, perhaps avoid pregnancy supplements like Pregnacare. I found these only made my bloating and pain worse. Instead, I switched to Boots’ own brand of pregnancy supplements, containing just folic acid and vitamin D.
7. First Trimester of Pregnancy: Perinatal Anxiety
Anxious thoughts were not an unexpected symptom of my first trimester.
Knowing my brain was wired a little differently to most, I found my thoughts surrounding pregnancy and impending motherhood to be more anxious than positive.
Of course, I now know that this is entirely OK and very normal.
In fact, according to the many friends I asked and forums I scoured, feeling a sense of panic when the pee stick returns a positive result, is a reassuringly regular occurrence.
With no obvious way to see what’s happening inside your body when people ask “How’s the baby?” (note: pregnant women cannot hold an internal dialogue with their foetus), I found it a strange and anxiety-inducing time.
In fact, for a while, I convinced myself that I was perhaps experiencing some strange, phantom twin pregnancy – having learned that Laura was pregnant just a few weeks before.
Googling late one night: ‘can your body pretend it’s pregnant?’, I decided that an early private scan might help relieve my anxieties.
I wasn’t expecting much from this 9 week scan; perhaps a blurry image of a blob floating through time and space. However, I was surprised to discover a tiny, grape-sized human on the screen, complete with a pounding heart and a miniature brain.
I was stunned.
This experience felt, in many ways, more special than my eventual 12 week scan and helped hugely in reducing my anxieties surrounding those first few weeks. Whenever I began to worry, I would watch the video clip back and feel that little bit calmer.
Handy tip: if you are experiencing anxious thoughts during your first trimester, please do speak to your midwife or GP. They are hugely open and understanding – and can arrange counselling or medication if required.
8. First Trimester of Pregnancy: Awe
In contrast to perinatal anxiety, I simultaneously experienced moments of complete awe and happiness throughout my first trimester.
I told you it was a rollercoaster.
I’d often find myself gazing out the window and marvelling at the fact my body even knew how to create a human being. Although my brain didn’t seem to have any knowledge (that I could access) on foetal production, here it was doing it anyway.
It was mind blowing stuff.
It was these moments of wonder that probably got me through the darker days of the first trimester; reminding me that despite episodes of projectile vomiting and increasing anxiety levels, I was, nonetheless, creating a new life.
And that’s quite a special thought.
9. First Trimester of Pregnancy: Secrecy
For many women, keeping your pregnancy under wraps for 12 long weeks is hard – really hard.
I decided early on that I wanted to make it to the 12 week scan before telling my parents and friends. Feeling anxious already, I didn’t want the added pressure of other people asking too many questions.
However, those early weeks turned out to be the longest of my life. As one of life’s over-sharers, remembering not to mention that I’d been sick multiple times that day, or that I couldn’t do up my jeans, was tricky. In fact, I was so worried that I’d let something slip that I began to avoid talking to people altogether.
Luckily, however, this probably went largely unnoticed thanks to the convenient arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Indeed, one positive of this yearlong nightmare was that I had no social engagements to fulfil or people to see. In fact, I was being ordered to stay home for the sake of the nation – it was my duty to stay on the sofa.
Without the lockdown, I think I’d have struggled to keep my pregnancy hidden. This would be particularly so at work, where my green face would have definitely raised alarm bells. I must therefore commend any woman who made it through those first 12-weeks in an office – you’re far stronger than I am.
Handy tip: if you feel isolated during your first trimester, why not consider picking up the phone and sharing your news with a close friend or family member? Being able to chat to some of my friends during those early days was a huge source of reassurance and help.
10. Things Do Get Better
So much better.
Despite the fact that it may feel an impossibility at the time, the first 12 weeks of pregnancy do pass – and your stint chained to the sofa, deeply inhaling a pot of fabric softener, will come to an end.
Although it was a gradual process, I found myself feeling more and more like my old self as I passed the landmark 12 weeks. My energy began to return, my appetite reappeared and my skin and hair became shinier and glossier.
It was a little like a rebirth.
Now happily cocooned within the second trimester, pregnancy already feels far easier and much more enjoyable. In fact, the first 12 weeks are already feeling like a patchy, vague memory that will soon be long forgotten (I hope – I pray).
So, if you currently find yourself in the trenches of those initial early weeks – gagging into the kitchen sink or embarking on your ninth nap of the day – remember: ‘this too shall pass’.
Apparently, it’s all worth it in the end.
(I’ll have to report back on that bit).