Pregnancy stages: What to expect in the first trimester

Of all the pregnancy stages, the first trimester can be the hardest to navigate. Here’s what to expect in the first 12 weeks. By Tammy Jacks

While you might be thrilled to see two pink lines on that pregnancy test, it’s important to prepare yourself for the first trimester. Because the truth is, although the first 12 weeks are filled with excitement and celebrations, this pregnancy stage is also marked by intense emotional and physical changes that could catch you off guard.

ALSO SEE: 8 ways your body changes during pregnancy

If you think about it, you’re at the beginning of an incredible stage of life when your body goes through dramatic changes. Many of these changes are linked to how fast your baby develops and grows.

Pregnancy stage 1 – the first trimester

While you might have heard about fatigue and morning sickness, the first trimester is also marked by some unexpected changes. Here are a few you might experience, as well as how to prepare for them.

Physical changes

Extreme fatigue

Whether you’re pregnant for the first, second or third time, there’s no escaping pregnancy fatigue, which is most prevalent in the first trimester. According to experts who wrote the Pregnancy and Baby Book, pregnancy fatigue is especially overwhelming in the first trimester as it’s caused by increased progesterone and your body working incredibly hard to grow your little one.

What to do:

If you’re a first-time mom and don’t have older children to worry about, listen to your body and rest as much as you can. Put your feet up any chance you get, nap often, scale down your social calendar and take it easy. If this is your second or third pregnancy, you won’t have the luxury of napping when you can, but that doesn’t mean you need to turn to caffeine or stimulants to stay awake. Remember caffeine and stimulants aren’t recommended during pregnancy.

Rather get to bed early, take small regular breaks where possible by asking friends and family to watch your kids so you can take a quick nap, shop online for almost everything and see where you can take short cuts so you can rest. Resting doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping, it means not feeling guilty for asking for help with the dishes or sticking a movie on for your toddler so you can rest on the couch before cooking dinner.

All-day sickness

Forget the term morning sickness! Many women claim to feel ill from morning to night in early pregnancy. More like an all-day queasiness, this is due to increased levels of hormones needed to sustain your pregnancy, say researchers from the Johns Hopkins Medicine group.

The good news is, unless you have extreme nausea and vomiting characterised by a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum, your all-day queasiness should subside by weeks 13 to 15.

What to do:

Eat oats if you can. The simpler you prepare them, the better. Their slow-release energy and high fibre content will help build stamina and stave off nausea, which can also be linked to constipation in the first trimester.  It’s also a good idea to drink plenty of water, enjoy smaller meals and snacks throughout the day, chew on blocks of ice or try ginger in drinks, smoothies or juices. Ginger helps to aid digestion and beat nausea.

ALSO SEE: 2 yummy popsicle recipes to treat morning sickness


In your first trimester, you may feel you can’t breathe properly or take in enough air. Although your baby isn’t yet big enough to push up against your diaphragm (this happens in the third trimester), shortness of breath in the first trimester is linked to hormonal changes. Your body is adjusting to sharing blood and oxygen with your baby and it works hard to produce more oxygen which may cause you to breathe more rapidly. 

What to do:

Maintain a healthy weight; practice moderate exercise most days of the week – this will help your body automatically take in more oxygen. Try taking slower, deeper breaths (it helps to meditate while breathing – even for just a few minutes a day); sleep propped up and avoid sleeping on your back past 18 weeks.

A keen sense of smell

If you suddenly can’t stand the smell of your partner’s cologne or you feel queasy when you cook and eat dinner, it’s because pregnancy hormones heighten your sense of smell and taste – which are both intertwined. Studies have found that your sense of smell and taste are affected by your oestrogen levels – and this can fluctuate throughout pregnancy, but it’s particularly heightened in the first trimester.

What to do:

Try masking nauseating scents with neutral ones. For instance, place two drops of lemon essential oil on a cloth and sniff slowly when you need to.

Emotional changes

Perinatal anxiety

“Pregnancy is a huge transition in a woman’s life, and it involves a complex mix of emotions, both good and bad,” believes Dr Mary Kimmel, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Besides hormonal fluctuations that can make you moody and irritable, DrKimmel, who specialises in women’s mood disorders, also believes pregnancy can be riddled with fear and anxiety for what’s to come. In her opinion, moms-to-be must work through a lot of issues both psychologically and socially during pregnancy, and this might mean seeing a professional to discuss your concerns.

These may include:

  • What will a baby mean for my life going forward?
  • How will a child affect my relationships, and will I have support from my partner and family members once the baby arrives?
  • Will I be a good mother, and how will I handle my new responsibilities?

What to do:

Introspect and write down your thoughts and feelings or see a professional. If you’d like to unpack these emotions a little more and seek professional help, visit Sally is a self-esteem coach who specialises in helping people navigate their way through life’s many ups and downs. Her workshop “Committed @ Conception” is designed to help parents-to-be improve their communication skills and build a better bond before their baby arrives.

ALSO SEE: Pregnancy insomnia linked to perinatal and postpartum anxiety


Another unexpected emotional challenge during pregnancy is the feeling that your “sacrifices” as a mother start now, and you might not be quite prepared for them. For many women, this means giving up sleep – from as early as the second trimester thanks to frequent trips to the toilet as well as your evening glass of wine, morning coffee and favourite pair of jeans.

What to do:

Take a deep breath and tell yourself this is just a short season of sacrifice worth many years of love and bonding you’ll gain with your children in return. Also, rather than focusing on what you have to give up, focus on what you’re gaining – a beautiful baby bump to show off, an excuse to rest more and put your feet up, a chance to eat healthily and nourish your body with the right foods and the chance to build a lifelong bond with the little life inside you.

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