For many mothers, nothing compares to the moment you see your first positive pregnancy test result. You never forget the thrill of getting the news and realizing a little life is growing inside you. It marks a new chapter in life and the moment when your family started growing.
The excitement and anticipation feel great. But this good news means you need to start protecting your health and that of your unborn child right away.
What are the first symptoms of pregnancy?
“Aside from taking a home pregnancy test, there are several telltale signs that you’re pregnant,” said Cynthia Mangubat, MD, an OB/GYN at OSF HealthCare. “Some women experience a number of symptoms. Some may not have any symptoms at all. They usually start around the sixth week after the last menstrual period.”
Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Breasts that are sore or swollen
- Darkening of the skin around the nipples
- Food cravings and aversions
- Frequent urination
- Light vaginal bleeding – notify OB/GYN immediately
- Nausea, with or without vomiting
- Sensitivity to certain smells that can trigger nausea or vomiting
Your first pregnancy appointment and beyond
“As soon as you realize you’re pregnant, it’s important to make an appointment to see an OB/GYN, especially if you’re over 35 or have a history of high-risk pregnancies, such as a previous miscarriage, previous C-section or other complications,” Dr. Mangubat said.
During that first visit, you’ll receive a complete physical exam and discuss your medical history for risk factors. Your provider will determine the age of the pregnancy, usually based on the date of your last menstrual period. If you’re unsure when your last menstrual period occurred, an ultrasound will be ordered.
The first vaginal ultrasound is best done within the first trimester but not necessarily during the first visit. It’s important for detecting the fetal heartbeat, measuring the baby’s length, confirming viability and ensuring the fertilized egg has implanted properly inside the uterus.
“An ultrasound at this stage is the most accurate way to determine how far along the pregnancy is,” Dr. Mangubat said. “Beyond the first trimester, the measurement is less accurate. We must be accurate to ensure the baby is carried as close as possible to full term.”
You will see your doctor monthly until you reach 30-32 weeks of pregnancy. At that point, appointments will be every two weeks. Visits will switch to weekly at 37 weeks before delivery, around week 40.
Common health risks during pregnancy
There are several health risks that an OB/GYN is always on the lookout for during pregnancy.
“We always check for high blood pressure. It is common in first pregnancies, teen pregnancies and pregnancies when the mother is over 35,” Dr. Mangubat said.
Other risks include:
- Gestational diabetes: Diabetes that develops due to pregnancy
- Urinary tract infections: Can cause preterm labor
- Preeclampsia: A condition marked by elevated blood pressure and protein in the urine that can decrease blood supply to the placenta and baby. It reduces amniotic fluid and restricts growth.
- Weight gain: The target for weight gain is around 25 lbs. Going over that raises the risk for high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. It also raises the risk for a large baby that can lead to complications during delivery or the need for a C-section.
Nutrition during pregnancy
Of course, your diet is very important. You’re now eating for two. It’s common to have cravings for certain foods during this time. These cravings may be due to nutritional deficiencies. But other times, certain foods just sound good.
“Since many pregnant women deal with nausea, it’s important to eat what sounds good. That way you make sure you’re getting at least some nutrients,” Dr. Mangubat said.
But there are certain nutrients they need to make sure they’re getting. These include:
- Protein, which is essential for an unborn baby’s development.
- Fiber, which helps prevent constipation.
- Prenatal vitamins, which aid the baby’s development and mother’s health. An OB/GYN will let the mother know if there are any additional vitamin or mineral supplements she should be taking.
“You may have cravings for sweets, but it’s important not to overdo it due to the risk for gestational diabetes,” Dr. Mangubat said. “It’s also important to avoid raw foods, such as raw fish and undercooked pork. They can sometimes carry parasites.”
What to avoid
It should come as no surprise that smoking and alcohol should be strictly avoided during pregnancy. Smoking – including tobacco, marijuana and vaping – can cause preterm births and stillbirths.
Alcohol use can cause fetal alcohol syndrome in the baby. It results in various physical defects and problems in the brain and central nervous system.
Caffeine should be limited to about a cup per day. Exceeding that amount raises the risk for hypertension and has been linked to problems with a baby’s growth and development.
Exercises during pregnancy
Exercise is almost always recommended for physical and mental health, but it becomes more difficult as pregnancy progresses. That’s why Dr. Mangubat suggests that expectant mothers play it safe by avoiding high-impact, strenuous activities.
“Running is OK during the early months of pregnancy, but it’s not usually recommended during the later months. You don’t want to risk injury due to falling,” she said. “Safer exercises include things like stretching, Pilates, walking, aerobics and using dumbbells.”
Prenatal classes are a great learning opportunity for first-time parents. These classes are usually recommended around the sixth month of pregnancy. They teach what to expect during labor and delivery, how to cope with pain, how to breastfeed, and more.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends three vaccines during every pregnancy: flu, Tdap and COVID-19. The flu vaccine protects you and your baby from the seasonal flu. The Tdap vaccine protects them from pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus and diptheria. And if an expectant mother hasn’t yet been vaccinated for COVID-19, that vaccine is also recommended.
Last Updated: June 20, 2023