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Trimesters Explained

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‘Trimesters’ are the three distinct stages of pregnancy – early, middle and late. These are commonly referred to as ‘first trimester’, ‘second trimester’ and ‘third trimester’. Each trimester lasts for approximately three months.

A pregnancy is considered to have been carried ‘to term’ between 37 to 42 weeks. Births before 37 weeks of gestation are considered premature. Nine months is about 40 weeks, which is why each trimester is considered to be three months.

The first trimester begins from the first day of your last normal menstrual cycle. This is the time your body was preparing for fertilisation, and as most natural conception dates are difficult to pinpoint, we begin from the most recent thing we can track, which is the most recent period. Only about 5% of babies are born on their exact ‘due date’. Due dates and trimesters are generally a rough guide.

Every pregnancy is unique. A second pregnancy can even be very different from your first. Always chat to your doctor if you are unsure what to expect or unsure what is ‘normal’ for your stage of pregnancy. Here’s a guide to what you may be able to expect:

What to expect in the first trimester

You may not even know you are pregnant for half of this trimester! Depending on your normal cycle, sometimes the first sign you might be pregnant is a missed period. At this point, you could be a month or two along (remembering the first trimester starts from the first day of your last period).

This is a very busy trimester for your baby – about 95% of their core development occurs in these three months. Essential organs and body systems are usually formed by the end of the first trimester. Their heart is starting to beat, and they should have ‘nubs’ which will grow into arms and legs.

You may experience morning sickness or nausea, unusual food cravings, or an intolerance to foods that you usually love. Breasts can become tender and larger. Your uterus will grow, which can apply pressure on the bladder, causing you to urinate more frequently.

Hormones are changing and this can cause feelings of stress, irritability, tiredness, and other changes in mood or behaviour you may not be used to. This is normal, though if you are struggling with anxiety for two weeks or more, let your GP or therapist know.

At antenatal appointments throughout the first trimester, the doctor will take urine tests and blood tests to check your overall wellbeing or for infections or other conditions.

What to expect in the second trimester

The second trimester is generally known as the ‘feel-good’ trimester. Hopefully, nausea and tiredness will reduce a bit and you will feel a bit more energetic and comfortable but, unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone – everyone’s pregnancy is different. Skin will start to stretch as your body grows and changes, which may cause itching or slight discomfort but again, this is individual and some mums might not experience much growth until even later in their pregnancy. If you experience severe and relentless itchiness, consult your doctor.

Your baby’s organs, systems and body are growing and maturing further. They will begin to recognise the sound of your voice and your heartbeat. You’ll likely start to feel kicks or wriggles around 18 to 24 weeks but the timing of when this occurs is different for everyone. If you are concerned about not feeling much movement then talk to your obstetrician. As your baby grows, some weight gain is to be expected – this is natural and healthy.

What to expect in the third trimester

You’re nearly there! Your body will go through some more changes in these last three months. You could begin to experience heartburn, sleeping may become more difficult, and you may experience Braxton Hicks contractions, which are basically ‘practice’ contractions – they don’t mean labour has started.

The good news is breathing should become easier as your baby moves lower down toward your pelvis and cervix. By 37 weeks, your baby should be ready or almost ready to be born! Their bones and muscles have usually developed by now, except for the soft spot in their skull which will close later.

This is an exciting time, though it is not uncommon to experience anxiety. Becoming a parent comes with lots of uncertainty and feelings of pressure. Reach out to your loved ones or health professional for support; you are never alone, and there is always help for any kinds of struggles throughout pregnancy (mental, physical or otherwise).

Pregnancy is a journey

Throughout each trimester, make sure to chat with your health care professionals about diet and exercise. Levels of exercise you can perform will change, as will your dietary requirements. Try writing down any questions you have so you can ask them all at your next antenatal appointment. Congratulations on your pregnancy! Remember taking care of yourself is part of taking care of your family.

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