The first trimester of a woman's pregnancy consists of possibly the most important three months of a baby's life.
During these initial fourteen weeks, the little one will be forming her heart, her liver, her kidneys and all of the other organs we require to be fully functional, independent human beings.
Alongside the organs, those cells are also becoming the complex highways through which blood will be pumped, the nervous system that will enable her to receive and process stimuli, and the adorable little face you are going to fall in love with is being formed.
This amazing transformation from an egg and a little swimmer, to a fertilized egg and, ultimately to a tiny, but fully formed baby takes place in a matter of weeks, and while your baby is developing during this period, she is at her most vulnerable to outside influences. Much is still to be learned about what can interfere with this process, but we do know that things such as X-rays, alcohol, and some medications, among other things, have the potential to disrupt the regular course of development.
To help you understand why the 14 weeks are so important during your pregnancy, we have put together a list.
14 Bedding In
Just over a week after the fastest swimmer infiltrated the egg, between days seven and ten, the fertilized ovum has found its way to the uterus. If all has gone well, your body has prepped for the implantation of the ovum by providing a warm, welcoming uterine lining into which it can snuggle down. If you could look at your baby at this stage, you would see a small layered disc of cells.
Once the disc has attached itself to the lining of the uterus, the placenta begins to form. This will be the basis for your baby's life support system for the next eight and a half months.
At around the point where you notice that you're late, your bundle of cells is still known as a zygote, which also happens to be a great Scrabble word, and is the size of an apple seed.
13 Exhausted? Here’s Why
Your person to be may be no bigger than the tiniest tadpole but those cells are multiplying at an eye-wateringly fast rate, and you are the one responsible for providing the energy needed to do it. If you could see your baby at the end of the fourth week, you would be able to see a rudimentary beating heart, the neural tube which is destined to become the brain and the spinal cord, and tiny little buds which will grow into arms and legs.
By this stage, you should already be thinking about ensuring that your calorie intake consists of good quality nutrition. You do not need to up the amount of food you are eating, but you should be making sure that what passes your lips is generally as full of healthy levels of vitamins and minerals as you can manage.
12 Your Babe’s A Brainiac
The first organ to develop is the brain and spinal cord. At just sixteen days after conception, the foundation for the brain and the neural plate develops and as it grows larger, folds in on itself to form a tube. This is the neural tube, and it will close entirely at some point around the sixth or seventh week of pregnancy.
Now that tube will begin to bulge and fold and curve until it eventually forms the five areas of the brain with which we are born. Meanwhile, just at the rear, there is a bulge that will form the spinal cord and the entire nervous system that allow your baby to move, which he will be doing by the end of the eighth week. Any disruption to this process can cause a miscarriage or congenital disabilities.
11 I Heart You Already
The heart begins as a tiny pair of tubes developing on the disc of cells that will eventually become your child. At the end of the third week after fertilization, these two tubes fuse together to form the organ that becomes the heart. Just one week later, the heart begins to beat and the fused tubes begin a period of rapid growth. During this period, the tube bulges and folds in a complex process that will result in the four chambers of the heart. By this stage, the vessels that will become the veins and arteries that carry blood to and from the heart have formed.
Adequate levels of vitamin A in the mother's bloodstream are critical for the healthy development of the heart. It is not yet fully understood how vitamin A impacts embryonic heart growth, but it is thought that too much or too little can disrupt the delicate process, potentially causing heart defects.
10 A Health Overhaul
All of this exciting stuff going on in your uterus means that your body will be facing unprecedented demands. If you are not the healthiest of people, now is the time to begin eating more healthily and exercising.
This does not mean changing your diet entirely and trying to run a marathon, but it does mean that you should get out in the fresh air and walk if you can. Take up swimming, find a prenatal yoga class or spend some time lifting gentle weights of around five pounds.
If you cannot eat because of morning sickness, do not attempt to take supplements without checking with your doctor first. Some supplements are critical for the developing fetus; others can be dangerous. Take this first trimester as an opportunity to make some changes.
9 Give It Up
The heart and nervous system are only two of the many parts of your baby that can be affected by smoking, especially in the first trimester. Cigarettes contain many chemicals that could potentially cause congenital disabilities or other problems for your unborn baby.
Ideally, it is best to give up smoking before you become pregnant but if you were unable to, or your pregnancy was unplanned, it is not too late to give you and your baby a healthier environment.
It can be incredibly difficult to give up smoking, even when you desperately want to and the stresses of your pregnancy may make it more difficult still. If you can, go to your doctor and ask what help is available with smoking cessation for moms to be. Remember, even cutting down is better than nothing at all.
8 No Cheers
In much the same way as tobacco and smoking can have a devastating effect on the developing embryo, so can alcohol consumption. It is not yet fully understood how much alcohol is safe and how much is enough to cause problems. Nor is it clear when alcohol might be the most dangerous to your developing baby and when the worst dangers may or may not have passed.
If you have a drinking problem, now is the time to seek help. Not only will it benefit your baby but it will make a world of difference to your health and the way in which you parent your child when they are here.
If you find out that you are pregnant after you have been drinking alcohol, try not to worry. The occasional drink or a one-off drinking session, although not ideal, is unlikely to have had a detrimental effect on your child.
7 Doctor's Meds
Some medications, while safe for you, can be unsafe for the developing baby. If you are planning to become pregnant and you are on any prescription medications or taking any over the counter health products or supplements, talk to your doctor.
If you have discovered that you are pregnant and you are on any medications, do not stop taking your prescription unless the medicine's instructions tell you to stop immediately. It is safest to visit your doctor and discuss with them what is and is not safe to take while you are expecting.
For example, much has been made about the safety of antidepressant use during pregnancy but it can be incredibly dangerous for you to stop taking them without tapering off and without arranging for another medication or therapy to support you to get you through to the birth in optimal mental health.
6 What’s Up Doc?
At some point during your first trimester, you will have your first prenatal check-up. You should call your doctor as soon as you know or suspect that you are pregnant. Some doctors will want to see you straight away, and others will wait until you are eight weeks or more. If you have a low risk, uncomplicated pregnancy, this will probably be your longest appointment.
The doctor will begin by performing a pregnancy test and noting down a basic medical history including any illnesses or conditions you may suffer from, whether or not you have had any previous pregnancies, and if there are any hereditary diseases in your family.
This appointment is crucial for identifying any risk factors for you and your baby as soon as possible as well as establishing your doctor-patient relationship.
5 Due Dates
Another critical element of your first appointment will be your doctor establishing just how far along in your pregnancy you are. So many things can influence this that even the woman with the most regular menstrual cycle can rarely pinpoint the exact day that her egg was fertilized. The fact that daddy's little swimmers can hang out in your uterus, bumping around and trying to find your fallopian tubes for a few days, specifically seventy-two hours at a maximum, means that even if you only had sex on one day, it may not be the day that you became pregnant.
Dating your pregnancy is important because it allows your doctor to accurately monitor your baby’s development and growth giving him or her plenty of opportunities to intervene if there is a problem.
4 Testing, Testing, 123
The first trimester is the time during which many tests can be carried out to determine the health of your baby. The most important thing to realize is that these are predominately risk assessment tests. This means that they will not be able to tell you for sure that your baby does or does not have a particular condition, but they will be able to tell you if it is likely that they do and whether or not further testing may be useful.
Prenatal testing is a personal decision that should be carefully considered before you go ahead. Both amniocentesis and CVS tests come with a risk of miscarriage and may not be able to tell you definitively if your child has an issue. If you go ahead with testing, you also have to decide what you might do if the results indicate your child may have a medical condition.
3 Early Loss Possibilities
With all of the complex development going on and the high sensitivity of the zygote/embryo/fetus to external factors, it is not surprising that up to half of all fertilized ova do not implant correctly or fail to develop past the first week or two. The development of accurate home pregnancy tests has led to a lot more women being sure that they have suffered an early pregnancy loss than women a generation ago merely because those older women could not be 100% certain that they were two or three weeks pregnant.
Some women are able almost to brush off the thought that they were pregnant and then, less than a week, or so later they are not, but others, particularly those who were trying for a baby, find it more difficult to cope. There is no right or wrong way to feel about this. How you feel is how you feel, and you should not feel guilty if you do not feel sad, nor should you feel like you shouldn’t grieve.
2 Work It Baby
Depending on where you work and what type of job you have, it may or may not be important to alert your employer as soon as you discover that you are pregnant.
If your job is not physically demanding and does not involve exposure to potentially harmful substances, then this will probably not be a pressing issue. If your job requires you to exert yourself physically in an extreme way, or if you have other health and safety concerns, now is the time to protect you and your baby.
You cannot be fired for being pregnant, and your employer has a legal obligation to protect you as soon as you tell them you are expecting. This includes making reasonable provisions for you in the workplace or placing you temporarily in another role.
1 Sailing The Relationship Ocean
An unplanned pregnancy can be a shock to you both. For some people, it is a happy shock and for others, not so much, and they need time adjusting. Even a planned pregnancy can be shocking when the idea which once sounded nice and abstract, suddenly become a reality.
The most important thing is to try and communicate openly and without judgment. Tell your partner, in the nicest possible way, how you are feeling and listen to them without making them feel bad if they are not overjoyed.
Openness, honesty, and consideration for each other can make or break a relationship under strain at this stage.
References: hopkinsmedicine.org, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, stanfordchildrens.org, embryology.med.unsw.edu.au, embryo.asu.edu,