Sick and tired? Power through the first trimester


(This article was first published in Your Pregnancy, Dec 14'/Jan 15')

You’re exhausted from baking a human, your hormones are racing, you’re puking, you’re grumpy, you’re tearful… and you’re terrified.

But this is also normal. We discuss all the changes you can expect in the first trimester of your pregnancy, and how, by being prepared, you can tackle them head on.

How you'll feel

Your first job as a mother-to-be is to become a mother-to-be. In other words, you have to add another role to the complex set of traits and characteristics that have so far added up to be you. That alone can take some time to process. Psychologist Lisa Lazarus says: “Having child is one of the biggest life changes.

"Your entire identity is about to alter, as you begin to take on the role of mother. No surprise that many women feel conflicted about this massive shift. These ambivalent feelings are probably compounded if the pregnancy was a surprise and/or not necessarily desired. Try not to feel scared by the range of feelings you might be experiencing about your unborn child, from excitement to dread. 

"Understand that conflicting feelings are normal and all new moms have them. Just because you don’t always feel upbeat and positive doesn’t mean you won’t be an excellent mother.”

This process of integrating feelings about your new role continues even after you’ve given birth.

Your changing body

But that’s not all. While your brain is spinning, your body is along for that roller coaster ride as well. More than half of women feel nauseous in the first trimester. Luckily, for the majority, this resolves around week 16, so breathe easy. However you may be one of a few women who continue to feel green around the gills for the whole nine months.

But if you are losing instead of gaining weight and not getting enough nutrition to feed your foetus, you could have hyperemesis gravidarum and need medical attention. On the other hand you may be craving food, and while you must eat when hungry, it is a good idea to focus on healthy, nutrient-rich foods which are good for you and your baby, and give in to those chocolate urges as a treat. Common preggie cravings include tart tastes such as pickles and preserves, sweet, energy rich foods such as chocolate and ice cream, spicy food, crisps, and carbonated drinks.

It’s not uncommon to crave something while pregnant that you can’t otherwise stand. A magnesium supplement might help. Some women’s cravings are off the chart weird, such as the desire to suck on or chew ice. An iron deficiency may cause the bizarre condition pica – this is the craving to lick or taste non-foods such as paint, cigarette butts, soil or coffee grounds.

If you experience this you need to visit your doctor. The super dose of hormones in your body, especially oestrogen and progesterone, allow the foetus to grow safely inside you but they also ensure that you and the toilet are best friends. Whether you’re puking or peeing, you’re seeing a lot of that white bowl.

As your blood volume increases, your kidneys are working harder and producing more urine, while the slackening function of progesterone can relax your bladder.

(You’ll get a break in the second trimester, but the pressure on your bladder from your growing baby might force you to make very frequent pit stops again in those last weeks.)

You might feel more exhausted than you can imagine. It’s normal. Your body is working extremely hard and is sending you a clear message that you cannot overdo things that deflect attention from its priority – growing a healthy baby. This might resolve for the period of the “golden” second trimester, a time many women settle down to enjoy their pregnancy.

The fears

But wait. There’s even more. On top of everything you are negotiating, you are learning – mainly that everything is dangerous.

It’s a long list of what you can’t eat (sushi, champagne, soft cheese), what you shouldn’t do (scuba dive), how much exercise or what bath temperature is within safe limits (warm, not hot). It is true that the danger of having a miscarriage is highest in the first trimester (about 15 percent), and that your chances decrease sharply after the 12th week.

But know that this is because women’s bodies often reject a non-viable foetus and this causes a miscarriage in early pregnancy. Therefore, most of the time nothing you did could have prevented it. It’s a fine balance between following all the advice experts agree on, and losing the plot and letting your anxiety skyrocket.

If you’ve accidentally broken a pregnancy “rule”, no good can come from stressing about it afterwards. Just resolve not to do it again and move on. See your doctor if you have symptoms (such as spotting or pain) or if you can’t switch off the worry button.  

Are you currently in your first trimester? Share your thoughts and experiences with us by emailing we might publish your comments. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

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