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Common first trimester questions, answered

Blue Bell – Skippack Pike August 1, 2023 Women's Health

Finding out that you're pregnant is a uniquely special time, filled with excitement and joy. The wonder of early pregnancy is often accompanied by new feelings, new experiences and above all, new questions.

Here's what you should know about your first trimester of pregnancy, including the answers to five of the most common questions you might have.

What is the first trimester?

A typical pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. These 40 weeks are broken up into three sections (known as trimesters) that last about 3 months each.

"Your first trimester starts with the first day of your last menstrual period and goes until the end of week 12," explains Lee S. Halpern, MD, FACOG, obstetrician at Main Line Health.

Your baby during the first trimester

The first trimester is a time of extraordinary development for your baby. During the first trimester, your baby goes from a zygote (the combination of a man's sperm and a woman's egg) to a fetus.

Major developments include:

  • Formation of the brain, spinal cord, heart, lungs and digestive tract
  • Development and growth of arm and leg buds
  • Growth of cartilage and fingernails
  • Formation of genitals

By the end of your first trimester, your baby has all the same structures and features as an adult and is about three inches long.

Your body and symptoms during the first trimester

Growing a developing baby is no easy feat. Your first trimester can bring some novel symptoms and discomfort. The hormones that are helping your baby grow and develop can lead to normal symptoms like:

  • Nausea (and sometimes vomiting — together, these are sometimes referred to as "morning sickness")
  • Food aversions
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Breast tenderness
  • Spotting (a few drops of blood in your underwear or when you wipe)
  • Increased frequency of urination

Since every pregnancy is different, you may experience all, some or even none of these symptoms.

5 common first trimester questions, answered

Your first trimester can bring more than a rapidly-developing baby and some new symptoms and feelings for you — it can also bring up many new questions. Some common questions include:

1. Which symptoms are normal and which aren't?

Symptoms like those discussed above are normal, especially during your first trimester. Other symptoms that you could experience warrant a call to your healthcare provider. These include:

  • Extreme nausea or vomiting multiple times per day
  • Vaginal bleeding (spotting can be normal, but it's wise to and can be comforting to speak to your healthcare provider about any amount of blood)
  • Vaginal discharge that smells bad or causes pain or itching
  • Pain with urination

2. What should — and shouldn't — I eat and drink?

Eating a healthy diet is especially vital when you're pregnant, since you're providing nutrition for two (or more). Eating nutrient-packed foods like fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains helps your body provide for your growing baby.

Protein is especially important while you're pregnant and is found in foods like lean meats, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds.

While you're pregnant, you'll also likely need to take a prenatal vitamin. These vitamins help provide the extra folic acid and iron that pregnant women need.

Another key component of a healthy pregnancy is hydration. Staying hydrated while pregnant means drinking water, and plenty of it.

Drinking eight to 10 glasses of water each day can also help alleviate pregnancy-related constipation.

"If you're experiencing food aversions or nausea during your first trimester, it can be helpful to eat several small meals or healthy snacks during the day instead of trying to eat large meals," says Dr. Halpern.

On the flip side of the nutrition coin, there are beverages and foods that you should avoid while pregnant.

"As for beverages, you should avoid alcohol and excessive caffeine while pregnant. Alcohol is not considered safe at any point — or in any amount — during pregnancy. For caffeine, aim to stay under 200 milligrams per day (which is roughly one 12-ounce cup of coffee) or avoid it entirely," says Dr. Halpern.

3. How much weight should I gain?

The amount of weight you should gain while pregnant can vary. During your first trimester, you might gain only a few pounds or you might not gain any weight at all due to food aversions, nausea and vomiting.

If you were at a normal weight for your height before pregnancy, you should gain somewhere between 25 to 35 pounds by the end of your pregnancy. In general, if you were underweight before becoming pregnant, you should gain more, and if you were overweight before pregnancy, you should gain less.

If you're carrying twins or multiples, you should gain even more weight by the end of your pregnancy.

4. Can I have sex?

Unless you have a high-risk pregnancy or are told otherwise by your healthcare provider, sex is safe during pregnancy — including the first trimester. That includes sexual intercourse, penetration with sex toys/fingers and orgasm.

It's normal to have cramping or spotting after having sex while pregnant or after having an orgasm. If the cramping continues or is severe, or if you experience more than spotting, contact your healthcare provider.

5. Is it safe to exercise?

As long as you're healthy and you don't have a high-risk pregnancy, exercising during pregnancy is a great way to stay fit.

In addition to keeping your hard-working heart strong and healthy, exercising while pregnant has benefits that include:

  • Lowering your risk of pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes 
  • Encouraging healthy weight gain during pregnancy
  • Reducing the likelihood of cesarean section
  • Making it easier to lose the baby weight after pregnancy

Pregnancy questions: First trimester and beyond

You might have other questions as you go through your first trimester of pregnancy and beyond. During this exciting time, attending regular prenatal appointments with your healthcare provider is the best way to stay on top of your healthcare needs and get answers to your questions.

Next steps:

Make an appointment with Lee S. Halpern, MD, FACOG 
Learn more about pregnancy care at Main Line Health 
Spotting during pregnancy: What it may mean and what to do about it