Pregnancy lasts, in total, around 40 weeks – far longer than the oft-stated “nine months.” Nevertheless, the expecting period is often reduced into three separate time periods known as trimesters.
There’s plenty of reason why this makes sense, even if the numbers are a little off. The three stages of pregnancy are radically different to one another, often involving very different needs for both mom-to-be and your growing child. Understanding how to manage your health is never dull during pregnancy, especially when those needs are always changing.
So, to try and simplify the health and fitness requirements during the three distinct phases of pregnancy, you have to separate them from one another. What works in the first trimester is not necessarily going to work in the second, and the first and third are so different from one another it’s hard to believe they’re part of the same experience.
Keeping each phase separate helps to focus on your needs for each particular part of this amazing experience, so let’s start at the very beginning.
The First Trimester: Nausea, Exhaustion & Vitamins
The first trimester lasts from conception to 12 weeks, which is – barring any complications – usually the point of the first scan of your baby. After 12 weeks, the statistics and risks for pregnancy complications such as miscarriage begin to tumble; it’s considered the ‘safe’ zone for announcing your pregnancy to the world.
What happens before that 12-week point, however, is rarely fun.
Nausea is one of the most common symptoms of pregnancy, and it can plague the first trimester more than ever as levels of the primary pregnancy hormone HCG multiply. The higher your HCG levels, the more likely you are to experience morning sickness that can’t tell time – the idea it’s just in the morning is a complete myth!
There’s also exhaustion to battle with, which can make a living a normal life very difficult indeed – complicated further by the fact no one is meant to know you’re pregnant yet. You might find yourself having to make a lot of excuses for missing social events, especially those that involve alcohol or the foods you are meant to avoid.
Coping with this period of pregnancy is as much about survival as anything else.
- You might find that swimming helps to ease some of the symptoms you experience. It’s also a relatively gentle exercise that can contribute to improving your mood, but without placing huge demands on your body at a time when every move exhausts you.
- Ensure you begin a regimen of prenatal vitamins, which are essential for the health of your developing baby.
- If you experience nausea, the most commonly suggested remedy is ginger. Use this root in tea, grated over food, or baked into biscuits to help reduce nausea. If this doesn’t work, then see your doctor – there are plenty of safe nausea and sickness remedies that will improve your experience of the first trimester dramatically.
The Second Trimester: Feeling Better (And Bigger!)
By the time you sail into the smooth(er) waters of the second trimester, your body is beginning to adjust to its new state. Nausea should be starting to recede, but your waistline is doing anything but – you’ll soon start to develop a very recognizable bump that will just keep growing and growing.
- You’re probably feeling better, too. Unless you have specific conditions such as hyperemesis, nausea should be beginning to settle, and your appetite is returning. You might also see an improvement in your hair and nail health, which can give your self-esteem a much-needed boost!
- You’ll likely still have tiredness issues, but you’ll begin to feel closer to your usual self than you have in the last three months. It’s also worth remembering that the second trimester is usually when women begin to feel the first flutterings of baby movement, helping to reassure you that everything is going as planned.
- There’s no harm in changing up your fitness choices during the second trimester. It’s a perfect time to sample different classes to see what works for you, taking the chance to try Club Fitness free to find out what works for you. You could try a barre class or specialist prenatal yoga, all of which will help strengthen your body while keeping you fit and healthy.
- To do the above with an ever-growing bump, you might find an abdominal support helps keep you comfortable. Not unlike the belts that weightlifters use, these belts can contribute to help your stressed abdominal muscles and allow you to go about routine exercise even when your bump is growing to the size of a squash.
- Now is the time to invest in a good sports bra, too – you might need to buy a few over the course of the second trimester, in fact! Make sure you keep them for any future pregnancies; bras can be expensive, but they’re an essential if you’re going to keep your exercise regime ticking over!
- If for the first trimester you were mostly just eating anything you could keep down, focus more on eating a healthy, pregnancy-friendly diet for the second trimester. You might even have enough energy to cook!
The Third Trimester: The Home Stretch
By the time you reach 28 weeks (the generally-agreed start point for the third trimester), you’re going to be big – in all the right places! Your bump is growing to the point people know you’re pregnant on first glance – though it’s not without its issues. For one thing, the larger you get, the more difficult you might find it to sleep. Looking for a pregnancy pillow can save you a lot of discomfort at night, especially as you try to sleep on your left-hand side, the way all the guides recommend.
Tiredness can pick up in the third trimester, though as much from the physical strain of carrying your bump as anything else. You’ll also be beginning to feel Braxton Hicks contractions in many cases, which – while alarming – are just your body starting to prepare itself for the next phase.
- Exercise can be difficult between 28 and 30 weeks, as the baby is compressing your diaphragm. This will pass later in the pregnancy, so it’s worth taking it easy until you feel more able to get a full breath of air without discomfort.
- The downside to the relief on your breathing is that you may need to go to the bathroom more often. Try exercise classes such as yoga, where you can take a quick break as and when you need – far better than walking outdoors and being stuck for somewhere to go!
- There’s a chance that you will have problems sleeping during the third trimester. This could be discomfort due to trying to sleep with the bump, or because of the incredibly vivid dreams that surging pregnancy hormones can cause. If this is a particular issue for you, then do all you can to remedy it – you’re going to need your rest!
- When you do have the energy, it’s well worth the time spent to prepare and freeze meals to be eaten post-birth. This ensures you can have access to healthy, simple meals that you don’t need to do much for but heat up. This can even play a part in your surging nesting instinct!
- You’re going to have a few hospital visits during this period, so if any issues are detected, make sure you prioritize these over everything else. For example, you will be tested for gestational diabetes and strep B; positive results will give you extra steps to take to ensure all is healthy and well.
- If you want to keep exercising more than basic yoga or pilates, then swimming is once again going to be your friend. The extra weight you’re carrying will be well-supported by the water, making you feel more comfortable than you do when on dry land. Swimming is also an excellent way to keep your strength up without causing too much stress or jostling on your baby.
The three different stages of pregnancy have a variety of demands, and handling each trimester is always a matter of experimentation. Having a good idea of what to expect while expecting can help, but bear in mind that overwhelmingly, you have to be your guide. Do what feels right for you and what feels comfortable, rather than forcing yourself into activities and behaviors that don’t feel quite right. Your burgeoning maternal instinct is taking control here, so give it free rein!
Remember: if you experience anything unusual, then talk to medical professionals or a doula about what you’re going through. Pregnancy is a time of great joy and excitement, but there’s no doubt it can be testing for the human body. If you’re excessively uncomfortable or struggle with keeping yourself feeling good, then talk to someone, follow the steps above, and learn to listen to yourself.
Then, before you know it, you’ll be in the fourth trimester with your baby – which, of course, is going to make the previous 40 weeks feel 100% worth it!