Pregnancy is the most . . .
Fill in the blank, whatever you pick it will probably fit for someone. Difficult, wonderful, horrible, amazing, strange, easy . . . the list really does go one. The most important thing to remember about pregnancy? Every pregnancy is different, so no matter what one person experiences, another person is likely to go through the exact opposite. So take a deep breath, and prepare for the ride of a lifetime.
Stages of Pregnancy
Pregnancy is usually divided into three trimesters, of three months each.
The First Trimester
The first trimester seems to fly by. This is partly because the first two 'weeks' of the trimester are actually counted as being from the woman's last menstrual cycle – before conception! Additionally, pregnancy tests generally aren't accurate until after the next menstrual cycle is late, so even if a woman is expecting to get pregnant and testing at the first opportunity, often she will be a full month into the first trimester before even knowing she is pregnant.
Fetal development in the first trimester is focused on fast growth and establishing the primitive versions of baby's various organs and body parts. In particular, this is the trimester when the neural tube first emerges and begins to become the brain and spinal column, making this the time when fetal alcohol syndrome is most likely to develop. For the mother, the first trimester can be either a strange time of knowing you are pregnant without experiencing any changes to make the pregnancy seem 'real. It can also be a miserable time, as if you are going to experience morning sickness, this is when it starts and is at its worst. The nausea of morning sickness is typically worse in the morning because the stomach is empty after fasting all night. The best way to deal with morning sickness is to keep light snacks on hand, and eat before you are hungry so your stomach is never empty during the day, and have a very light breakfast – plain toast, saltines, maybe a mild tea (white and green tea do not have the caffeine of black tea and are generally considered safe during pregnancy). Folic acid is very important during this stage to help the brain develop.
For many women, this is the best part of pregnancy. Morning sickness usually ends by the third or fourth month, and the back pain, swollen feet and exhaustion of third trimester are yet to come. Once baby reaches second trimester the worst danger of miscarriage is past, and baby has at least a primitive version of all the basic body parts she needs to survive. During the second trimester baby begins to move, and development is focused on maturing the internal organs, and limbs. By the end of the second trimester, baby will be sucking her thumb, and responding to familiar voices. At the very end of this trimester, the baby is considered viable, and can survive with intensive care if born prematurely. While morning sickness usually ends early in the second trimester, it can continue up to six months. Early in the second trimester clothes will often start getting tight, and most mothers are in maternity clothes by the middle or end of this trimester. It is also common for a mother-to-be to tire easily, as a great deal of her energy goes into helping baby grow.
For many mothers, this is the miserable part of pregnancy. Morning sickness is over for pretty much everyone, but is replaced with swollen ankles, sore backs, and feeling like a blimp. But take heart – it is almost over! If baby's movements weren't felt before now, they become obvious as he kicks, squirms, sucks his thumb, and even gets the hiccups. He is opening his eyes, and will move in time with music. Pick a few lullabies to sing frequently, and he'll recognize them and be soothed by them after birth. This is the point were serious complications become a concern, so watch for signs of preeclampsia. If the baby isn't moving at least once a day talk it's important to call the ob-gyn. The tiredness of the second trimester develops into full on exhaustion, to take it easy as much as possible. Putting the feet up, massage and warm (not hot!) baths can be a a huge help at this stage. As important as it is to rest – try and get some easy exercise in at least a few days a week. Walking is a great exercise – as long as you can keep up a conversation while you walk you going at a good pace. Prenatal yoga is another great form of exercise that can keep you limber.
Most women experience a few minor complications during pregnancy – swelling feet, lower back pain, and needing to urinate frequently are among the most common. Over all, pregnancy complications can create a fair among of discomfort, but aren't a cause for concern. These minor complications can often be reduced with a little bit of thought and effort. Sitting and standing in one place will increase swelling in the feet, moderate walking and laying down or putting the feet up with reduce it. Lower back pain (and neck pain and shoulder pain and a great deal of other pain) can benefit from massage, rest and good support. Some massage therapists are specially trained in prenatal massage, and can help make pregnancy much more enjoyable. Similar, simple remedies can make a difference with almost all the discomforts of pregnancy. However, some complications are serious. If you experience any of the symptoms of these complications you should contact your ob-gyn as soon as possible. Preeclampsia – Preeclampsia is a condition caused by high blood pressure and protein in the blood. If untreated, it can develop into eclampsia which is dangerous to both the mother and child. Warning signs of preeclampsia include sudden and significant weight gain (more than 2 pounds per week, or a pound or more in one day) and swelling in the hands and face. Symptoms of severe preeclampsia include headaches that do not go away, pitting edema (this means swelling that if it is pressed gently remains dimpled), pain in the abdomen of chest, or reduced urination. Gestational diabetes – Gestational diabetes can lead to increased birth weight, preeclampsia, and increased risk of both mother and child developing diabetes after the birth. This complication occurs when the body does not make the extra insulin necessary during pregnancy, leading to high blood sugar levels. A majority of women who develop gestational diabetes have no risk factors, and show no symptoms, so many doctors routinely test blood sugar levels. The symptoms that can occur include increased thirst, increased urination, tiredness, and blurred vision.
Sexual Activity During Pregnancy
Unless dangerous complications develop, it is entirely up to the mother how long she stays sexually active. Sexual activity in the last trimester can get the cervix ready for labor, which makes the birth faster and easier, however by the third trimester most women find sexual activity to be too uncomfortable to try, even if they weren't already miserable otherwise.