Don’t make early pregnancy harder than it has to be—these tried-and-true tips are key for getting through those first few months.
The first trimester of pregnancy (which is weeks one to 13, or approximately the first three months), is notorious for being a generally uncomfortable time. Many people deal with morning sickness (which should be more aptly named "all-day sickness"), insomnia, bloating, irritability, and a host of other symptoms that come on suddenly as your hormones change rapidly and your body prepares to grow another human. When I got pregnant, one of the things I found most challenging was that I couldn't talk about all these woes openly with my friends and family since we were still keeping our little bean a secret.
Once I reached week 14 and finally shared the news that I was expecting, advice rolled in from my friends about how they got through the first trimester. While their insight was interesting, it came a little too late. Here are a few of the healthy pregnancy tips I wish I'd known a bit earlier to make my first few weeks go more smoothly. Keep in mind that every pregnancy is different, so what works for some might not work for you—but you might just find something that makes those first few months a little easier to bear.
Staying moving will help your pregnancy in both the short and long term. In fact, according to Marie Savard, MD, author of Ask Dr. Marie: What Women Need to Know about Hormones, Libido, and the Medical Problems No One Talks About, for many women, pregnancy may even be the trigger to adopt a more healthy lifestyle. “For most women it’s considered safe to continue their pre-pregnancy level of exercise throughout the pregnancy although some modification may be needed towards the end,” she says. “For inactive women, pregnancy is a good time to start a program.” Of course, always make sure you’re cleared for exercise by your doctor before you get your sweat on, and skip the hot yoga—according to Dr. Savard, all pregnant women should avoid greatly increased body temperature.
Despite it being the last thing I wanted to do some days, getting out for a walk was the only thing that made me feel energized and remotely like myself. The days when I could get in a light strength workout or pilates session were even better. My friends who struggled with nausea more than I did report that even on days when they felt sick, squeezing in movement made them feel less queasy. Yes, it can be hard to get moving, but start with just a walk around the block and you might just feel compelled to keep going. Staying active through all trimesters can help alleviate common symptoms like back pain, constipation, bloating, and could even help speed up labor. According to Dr. Savard, these benefits apply to both aerobic and strengthening workouts. “Studies have shown that exercise may lower the risk of excess weight gain, pregnancy related diabetes, preeclampsia, C-section, and even postpartum depression,” she says.
While it’s helpful to move as much as you can, it’s equally (if not more) important to listen to your body and know when you need to take it easy. After all, your body is performing some herculean tasks, so even if you feel like you haven’t done anything but lie on the couch all day, you’ve been working hard creating life. As a trainer at my gym told me, pregnant women are the original “body builders.” It certainly made me feel better about going light with my weights that day!
My first trimester, I took advantage of every opportunity I had to nap and sleep in. After all, once that little one arrives, the opportunities to do so will be quite limited. And if you’re lucky enough to have a partner or family around who offer to do the dishes or take out the dog, now is not the time for pride—let yourself be taken care of.
…and what you can stomach. While you might have had visions of being a yoga-doing, green-juice-drinking pregnant woman awash with a glow from your nutrient-rich diet, sometimes that’s just not realistic for your first trimester. Don’t feel guilty if all you can stomach in the first few months are crackers and cereal. “Nausea in the first trimester can make eating a balanced diet difficult,” Dr. Savard says. “But even with nausea, taking a prenatal vitamin is very important.” By regularly taking your prenatals, you can ensure that your babe is getting the vitamins it needs and take a little pressure off of mom to have the “perfect” diet.
I found (and have heard the same from many people) that eating every two to three hours, or grazing throughout the day, was a lot easier on my system than trying to eat three square meals a day. Bottom line, throw out any “food rules” or preconceived notions about what prenatal nutrition looks like. Dr. Savard says not to worry if you don’t gain any weight in your first trimester (as long as your doctor agrees, of course). Focus on nourishing yourself as best you can on any given day. “Find any healthy food that you can tolerate to maintain your weight such as grains, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, such as avocado, nuts, and plant oils,” she says.
The thing I craved the most in my first trimester was frozen fruit. Really, anything super cold hit the spot. But a room temperature apple? No way. Point being, if you’re having any sort of food aversions, try out options that are warm, cold, crunchy, mushy, and everything in between to find what works for you. You might discover that you’re actually able to keep some veggies down in the form of chilled crudites, while roasted veggies may sound repulsive. I ate a lot of ice cream in my first few weeks of finding out I was pregnant until I discovered that an after-dinner treat of frozen grapes satisfied me just as well.
I always assumed that the massive C or U-shaped pillows pregnant women use for support at night were for later in pregnancy. But you don’t need a big belly to benefit from the extra support and comfort offered by a large body pillow. Like many women, I struggled with insomnia my first trimester—between the getting up every two hours to pee (thanks, hormones), general body discomfort as ligaments loosen and your body gets ready to make room for baby, and worries and to-do lists piling up, it can seem impossible to get a good night’s sleep.
I decided that since I was going to order a body pillow at some point, I may as well get bang for my buck and purchase one as early as possible. Starting in my ninth week of pregnancy I began sleeping with a C-shape pregnancy pillow, and my only regret is that I didn’t start the second I got my positive test result. It gave my hips and joints extra support as my body started to change. As pregnancy goes on, the pillow will both help alleviate aches and pains as well as help you sleep on your side (which is the sleeping position most recommended later in the second and third trimester). The type and size pillow you buy is totally based on personal preference, so just get something that’s cozy for you.
When you’re pregnant, you require more water than normal to support your increased blood flow and all the additional work your system is undertaking. In addition, drinking more water early on will simply make you feel better. Oftentimes, my nausea was relieved by sipping on some ice water. Grabbing a glass will also help relieve another pesky first trimester symptom: constipation. “Water helps form the amniotic fluid, and it also helps digest food and encourage regular bowel movements,” explains Dr. Savard. “Drink water throughout the day, and not just when you’re thirsty. If you’re thirsty, you’re already somewhat dehydrated.” She recommends setting a goal of 8 to 12 cups (or two to three quarts) of water a day.
If the idea of plain old water feels boring after a while, try adding a splash of juice or reach for a flavored sparkling water. I started adding packets of electrolytes to my water bottle (after checking with my doctor), and it helped with my occasional lightheadedness and made it easier for me to drink the bottle down. You just might want to drink most of your liquids a few hours before bedtime to avoid making nighttime trips to the bathroom even more frequent than they already are.
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Symptoms vary from pregnancy to pregnancy, but this tip is pretty universal. It’s easy to feel frustrated when you can’t motivate yourself to get off the couch or don’t want to eat anything other than simple carbs, but remember that your body is going through intense and rapid changes. First trimester is really about survival, and mental health is an important part of the puzzle. I was lucky to have a fairly easy first trimester physically, but I struggled mentally as my fluctuating hormones made me extra irritable with my partner and I was anxious thinking about the big life changes ahead. Beating myself up over the way I felt made things worse. Giving myself a little space to let things be, instead of fighting every reaction I had, made me be able to move on more quickly from a surge of emotion. Remember that this is a temporary phase that will pass. For most people, the second semester brings more energy, less sickness, and overall better spirits. Hang in there, and be kind to yourself!
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