Guide to the stages of pregnancy
Pregnancy is one of the most physically uncomfortable but absolutely incredible journeys you’ll experience in your life. Growing a human inside you is so empowering. It might just make you feel like you can do anything! But let’s be real – the whole thing can be confusing and overwhelming at times too. Keeping on top of what foods to eat and supplements to take alone can be a total mindf*ck.
While every woman’s experience will be unique, the actual physiological changes that occur to your body during the pregnancy stages tend to be similar and predictable. So, to help you wrap your head around it all and know what to expect, we’ve created this helpful guide to your pregnancy trimesters. You can thank us later!
So once you’ve finished celebrating (and/or recovering from the shock of) that positive pregnancy test, kick up your feet, have a read, and let’s prepare you for the ride of your life.
The first trimester:
From day dot to tiny bump
How long is the first trimester?
This stage of your pregnancy will last from conception to 14 weeks.
Confirming you’re pregnant
If you think you’re pregnant, the first step is to get some solid proof! Keep in mind, early pregnancy symptoms can feel similar to PMS symptoms. And even if you’ve missed a period, it’s not always a sign that you’re pregnant. It could be due to an irregular cycle, stress, or changes to your lifestyle.
You may be wondering when to take a pregnancy test. While some at-home pregnancy tests allow you to test up to six days before your period is expected, the longer you wait to test, the more accurate the results will be. 5-7 days after your predicted period is a good time for it.
The first thing to do after you’ve gotten that positive pregnancy test result (after you’ve laughed/cried/called your mom/hugged your partner etc.) is to book an appointment with your doctor.
Seeing your doctor
A doctor’s visit is essential early on in your pregnancy. They’ll probably run some tests to confirm that you’re pregnant and assess your health. Expect your blood, urine and body to be carefully examined. And then the fun part: they’ll refer you to get an ultrasound to confirm your pregnancy due date, and so you can see your baby’s heartbeat!
This first pregnancy checkup is also a good time to discuss your maternity care. For example, you may talk about whether midwives will be involved in your prenatal care or delivery, if you’ll be referred to a high risk obstetrician (called a perinatologist), and where you’ll deliver your baby.
Be prepared for this first appointment with a list of questions for your doctor. Trust us, they’ve heard it all – no question is too silly to ask here.
Auditing your diet and lifestyle
There’s no better motivator to take stock of your diet and lifestyle than when you’re growing a baby inside you. Chats with your doctor and maternity care team will help you nut out what to include in your diet, and what to steer clear from. You can also learn what medications are advised against during pregnancy (er… some say to avoid all medicines in the first 12 weeks), and what habits you may need to break to create a safe environment for your developing bub (i.e. smoking, drinking alcohol).
Aside from food, you may need to create a plan for your exercise and activity levels too. If some of your tasks at work involve intense physical activity, you should begin planning how to reduce stress on your body, particularly later in pregnancy. Your doctor can be a great help in understanding what exercises are safe to continue during all pregnancy stages. They can also give you strategies to prepare for labor and delivery.
Managing your first trimester symptoms
At first you may not take much notice of your first trimester pregnancy signs. For example, light spotting is one of the more common pregnancy symptoms, week 1 after implantation. However, this is around the time when a period is due, so women can mistake this for normal menstruation.
But as the pregnancy develops, you’ll probably start to develop more noticeable signs. First trimester symptoms are often the most brutal – sorry to say it.
You may experience a variety of the following:
- Nausea and vomiting (morning sickness)
- Cramping, bloating, gassiness
- Frequent urination
- Cravings and aversions
These are all normal and to be expected in the early weeks of pregnancy. Where possible, try to slow down and give your body the rest it needs to cope. If you’re worried or struggling, your doctor may be able to offer some suggestions for how you can manage these symptoms.
Listening to your body
Early pregnancy is a time to get in tune with your body. You may start to be more aware of it than ever before. You might feel your belly start to expand towards the end of the first trimester, and you may experience tender breasts as your body starts to form an intricate feeding system (get ready to be amazed by your boobs!).
It’s important to listen to your body in the first trimester, and check in with your maternity care team if anything feels amiss.
Celebrating and planning
As uncomfortable as the first trimester of pregnancy can be at times, you have full permission to actually enjoy it too. Brainstorm quirky pregnancy announcement ideas, begin planning your nursery and baby shower, or whip up a fancy pregnancy calendar so you can keep track of your stages.
There are some great apps out there to help you track your pregnancy week by week and compare the size of your baby to fruit or vegetables. (It can be pretty cute to imagine your little mandarin-sized sweetie.)
But we know it’s not all fun and games. As morning sickness sets in, you may find yourself desperately wondering, ‘when does the first trimester END?!’. As you approach Week 14, know that you’re almost there, girlfriend. Hang tight. Your second trimester will probably be a bit easier.
The second trimester: Middle ground and growing round
How many weeks is second trimester?
Your second trimester starts right where your first left off, from 14 weeks – 28 weeks.
Watching your symptoms shift
For many, the second trimester weeks are the most enjoyable. You may notice your energy levels rising and signs of morning sickness subsiding (thank f*ck for that!).
On that note, though, see your doctor if your morning sickness persists into your second trimester of pregnancy. A very unlucky 3% of women experience what’s known as hyperemesis gravidarum, which is extreme morning sickness that lasts throughout the pregnancy.
Second trimester symptoms generally include less nausea and fatigue, and shift more towards the general discomfort of carrying a growing baby. Expect things like:
- A growing belly – Your baby bump may become more pronounced and actually noticeable to other people during your second trimester. Which is cuuute!
- Feeling your baby’s movements – You may start to feel them kicking or hiccuping. At first this can feel subtle, like your tummy is rumbling. Speaking of which…
- Increased appetite – Your tummy may actually be rumbling more. You could start to feel hungrier because you’re not feeling sick all the time, but it could also be due to your body requiring extra nutrients to help your baby develop.
- General body aches and pains – As your uterus expands and your baby starts to weigh more, you may experience a range of discomforts like pelvic pain or lightning crotch.
Finding out the baby’s gender
At around 20 weeks you’ll generally have a scheduled anatomy ultrasound to review your baby’s growth. This is typically when doctors can confirm the baby’s sex! Let your sonographer know if you want to find out or not. And if you have big plans for your baby’s sex reveal, you can always get them to write it down confidentially. (Sneaky sneaky.)
If you choose to keep the gender a secret, you’d better start fleshing out your list of baby names with girl AND boy options. You want to be prepared either way. (But who are we to tell you that you can’t call your baby girl ‘Dave’? You do you!)
Planning for birth
Throughout your second trimester you’ll have a few scans to check on the progress of your pregnancy. You’ll also start to speak to your obstetrician or midwife about birth plans – as in, how you want to give birth.
Now is an excellent time to discuss your wishes with your support partner and actually write up a birth plan. You may start to research pain management options, and generally get a feel for how you’d like to give birth, who you want with you, what techniques you’ll use etc.
Feeling your baby
By the start of your second trimester your baby’s bones will be growing, and by the end of this period all their organs will be developed too. (Wild!) They’ll start to move around a lot more, and will even develop a noticeable sleep and waking cycle. The only problem is, they may enjoy somersaulting in the middle of the night when you’re trying to sleep.
Your maternity care team will emphasize how important it is to keep an eye on your baby’s movements once you start to feel them, and this is something to keep in mind going into your third trimester of pregnancy.
Watching your bump grow
It can be so interesting to record a pregnancy week by week photo journal. Women often notice a big difference between their bump size at the start of the second trimester and at its end.
As your clothes get tighter, you’ll likely need to invest in some good maternity wear so you feel comfortable and to help reduce those second trimester aches and pains.
The third trimester:
Home stretch (and stretch marks)
How many weeks is third trimester?
The third trimester weeks last from 28 weeks up until you give birth (which could be 40 weeks or more, depending on when your baby decides to arrive!)
Dealing with third trimester symptoms
In the third trimester, pregnancy dictates a lot of what you can and can’t do. For example, you can demand extra helpings at dinner (your body needs the extra calories!). But you can’t fit into your high-waisted pants. It’s a trade-off.
With your belly getting larger by the day, you’ll often struggle to get from A to B without stopping for a breather (‘A’ being the couch, and ‘B’ being the fridge).
Some other third trimester symptoms you might notice include:
- Heartburn – This is very common in pregnancy, especially as gestational age increases. It may get worse as your pregnancy progresses, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel: it usually goes away after you give birth.
- Difficulty sleeping – It’s not surprising given that you can’t lie on your stomach and lying on your back in the third trimester isn’t advised. Up to 3 in 4 women experience insomnia in this stage of pregnancy, and other symptoms like heartburn and restless leg syndrome can contribute to this too.
- Swelling – You may notice your feet and ankles getting puffy and swollen towards the later stages of your pregnancy. This can be due to increased blood volume and excess fluid being pushed to your extremities. Putting your feet up regularly can help with this.
- Stretch marks – These rude marks can appear on your boobs, thighs, belly, butt or hips in the latter half of your pregnancy, along with itchy skin.
Now’s the time to be careful with your physical movement. Avoid high impact activities, and avoid carrying heavy things. Talk to your doctor or midwife for further guidance about what activities are safe in your third trimester.
You may notice that your body needs more rest during this time. A midday nap never goes astray, particularly if you struggle to get enough sleep at night.
Planning for baby’s arrival
While your body may be slowing down, your brain might be going into overdrive as you start preparations for welcoming a baby into the family. You may not see yourself as the ‘nesting’ type, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself contentedly folding tiny, color-matched onesies, searching for great deals on Facebook Marketplace, and stocking up on diapers and wipes in your third trimester.
Many women hold a baby shower in the third trimester of pregnancy too, which can be lots of fun.
Prepping for D-Day
Okay, so it’s time to start seriously thinking about your exit strategy for this (rather large) babe in your belly.
While contemplating labor and birth can be freaky, there are plenty of professionals who can help you deal with any fear or anxiety you may have, and provide tools for coping. Book into a birth class, and consider adopting some birth affirmations to reframe your thoughts (and drill into your mind what an incredible goddess you are!).
Just remember, your birth may not go exactly to plan. That’s okay, and doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. Thankfully, you’ll be supported by loved ones and a medical team if anything does veer from your plan (and it inevitably will!). It’s just important to consider how you’ll deal if/when sh*t hits the fan.
When the third trimester starts, it’s also getting towards the time to pack your hospital bag, and have it on standby. Baby will come when baby is ready!
Living it up while you can
With mere weeks to go until there’s a baby running in your life, it’s time to rest and enjoy any downtime you can find. Some people like to organize a babymoon – one last luxurious getaway to celebrate the end of life without kids. A ‘last hurrah’, if you will.
It’s actually so important to relax and get yourself in a positive mental state before giving birth. The more calm and in tune with your body and baby you can be, the better your body will naturally respond to this powerful, amazing thing it’s about to do. And don’t worry – it will do it. Your body is designed to birth babies, and you’re gonna do an awesome job!
Information overload? Sorry mama! This whole pregnancy thing involves lots of stuff. Just remember, your body knows what to do even if you don’t. Listen to it, and never be afraid to ask for help if you’re unsure. There’s no ‘right’ way to do pregnancy. Trust yourself, trust the support team you arm yourself with, and get ready for life to change forever, in the best way possible. This is going to be amazing. And we’re here for you the whole way.
Healthline, Treating a cold or flu while pregnant
Medical News Today, Pregnancy symptoms week 1: Early signs
Healthline, Best Pregnancy Apps of 2020
March of Dimes, Morning sickness
Healthine, The Second Trimester of Pregnancy
Health Engine, Heartburn in Pregnancy | HealthEngine Blog
Sleep Foundation, Sleeping During Your Third Trimester
UT Southwestern Medical Center, 8 third trimester pains and how to deal with them