After the second dark line appeared on my at-home pregnancy test, joy and excitement jolted through my veins. But some worries snuck their way in, too: Would our baby make it to full term? Would he or she be healthy? Was I fit to be a mom? I struggled to reconcile the doubts in my mind even though I was incredibly thankful for the new little life inside of me. And I’m not the only one! More than one in 10 women experience anxiety during pregnancy. If you’ve experienced a miscarriage or dealt with infertility, the first trimester can be an emotional roller coaster. Even if you’ve had smooth-sailing baby-making in the past, getting through those first 12 weeks isn’t always easy.
The first 12? 13? 14? How long is the first trimester, anyway?
Surprisingly, there isn’t a consensus on how long the first trimester lasts. Based on various sources, 12 to 14 weeks is generally accepted. The most common definition seems to be that the end of your 12th week marks the conclusion of your first trimester. According to one pregnancy app, that means your baby will be the size of a lemon! Because the highest percentage of miscarriages occur in the first trimester, it’s common (and understandable) to be nervous and take all the precautions you can. But if you’re in the thick of first trimester anxiety, there’s hope! There are plenty of ways to help you stay relaxed during these initial weeks so you can enjoy more of the journey with your new precious gift.
First Trimester Tip 1: Focus on what you can control.
Human beings tend to love being in the driver’s seat, but some things are entirely out of our hands. “The statistics around first trimester miscarriages are tough,” admits certified nurse midwife Theresa Starr. It may be helpful to know, though, that approximately 50 percent of miscarriages in the first trimester are due to fetal chromosomal abnormalities, not anything the mother did. While smoking, drinking, and using drugs can impact your chances of miscarriage, not much else does, thank goodness! For instance, attending a regular aerobics class or missing one prenatal vitamin shouldn’t be cause for concern. (I’m even guilty of obsessing over having sniffed a lemongrass essential oil!) “We usually don’t know why a first trimester miscarriage happens. We let women know that they couldn’t have prevented it—that there was nothing they did wrong, and that a miscarriage probably won’t affect their ability to get pregnant in the future,” explains Starr. So rather than letting unnecessary worry occupy your headspace, focus your energy on what you can control: your diet, exercise, and the amount of rest you get each night. “Eating healthy and participating in regular exercise will help you feel better both physically and mentally. Making small changes during pregnancy will help you and baby be as healthy as possible,” explains certified doula and childbirth educator Marisol Garcia.
Aim for a well-rounded first trimester diet.
Wondering what to eat in the first trimester? Focus primarily on receiving a breadth of nutrients. A well-rounded diet of healthy fats, carbohydrates, proteins, fruits, and vegetables are recommended for expectant moms. “Studies have shown that women who have a balanced diet and consume 80–100 grams of protein per day are less likely to feel morning sickness. Eating smaller and more frequent meals helps too,” shares Garcia. But don’t worry if you miss a day of healthy eating; just get back on track tomorrow!
Practice light to moderate exercise during the first trimester.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that if you’re healthy and have been given the go-ahead from your doctor, it’s safe to continue or start most types of exercise. In fact, studies show that exercise benefits both you and your baby. Not too surprising, right? But to ensure you’re getting in proper first trimester workouts, it’s helpful to know what’s safe and what’s not. The most general recommendation is that you can continue any exercises you were doing previously. For instance, “if you lifted weights prior to getting pregnant, you can continue doing so. Just remember your center of gravity shifts, so take things a bit slower. Stay well hydrated and avoid activities where you have a risk of falling,” explains Starr. [pullquote align=”center”]“When you’re taking care of your body, you’re likely to experience less anxiety, because you’re doing everything physically that you should be doing.” —Theresa Starr[/pullquote] Hiking and swimming have become my go-to pregnancy workouts—giving my skis (both downhill and water) a break for the season. “When you’re taking care of your body, you’re likely to experience less anxiety, because you’re doing everything physically that you should be doing,” says Starr.
First Trimester Tip 2: Choose your sources for information wisely.
“I really encourage expectant moms to learn as much as they can—but in a healthy way,” says Galena Rhoades, PhD, research associate professor of psychology at the University of Denver and project director of MotherWise Colorado. It’s convenient to pop every question into a search engine, but it can sometimes cause more harm than good if you’re not careful about which sites you’re visiting. Dr. Google isn’t actually a doctor—and it’s not your friend either. Rhoades further explains that not all online sources should be avoided but that you should be mindful of the sources you choose. “If you’re reading an online forum, it’s hard to know how accurate that information is. You’re likely to find information that keeps you worried, because people typically don’t post about things that go well.” As Starr notes, it’s best to “focus on factual information with scientific evidence.” Outside of the internet, books written by professionals are another avenue for seeking reliable information, explains Rhoades. If you’re unable to find a definitive answer online or in a book, don’t hesitate to call up your OB provider.
First Trimester Tip 3: Establish a support system (even if you’re not sharing the news publicly yet).
Whether you’re feeling all of the lovely first trimester symptoms like fatigue and nausea or you’re one of the lucky few who aren’t, having support gives you strength when you need it most. Many women fall into telling someone or not telling someone they’re pregnant based on what they feel they should do rather than what’s best for them. “Instead, make a mindful decision of who you want support from,” encourages Rhoades. You may feel obligated to first share the news with your parents or sister, when perhaps having a best friend or co-worker by your side would be beneficial. Form a plan with your partner regarding who you want to share your pregnancy news with and when, so you can get the support you need. Unsure of who to lean on? “Look for people who are supportive and in line with your beliefs,” suggests Garcia. Almost everyone has an opinion about pregnancy and parenthood, so “direct your energy to someone who carries similar views.” Rhoades also stresses the importance of building a community of women or couples who are going through the same experience. Sometimes this happens naturally if you have friends or family who are pregnant at the same time. Other times you may need to find a pregnancy support group or a studio that specializes in prenatal yoga.
First Trimester Tip 4: Practice self-care (and don’t be shy about pampering yourself!).
With so much focus on the baby, we can forget to take care of ourselves during pregnancy (surprise, surprise). But self-care is vital: It helps keep us healthy, sane, and energized. Having worked with expectant moms for more than 20 years, Starr expresses the joy of pregnant women now having a range of self-care options: prenatal massages, prenatal yoga, and even guided meditation apps. Even something as simple as taking a bath (sounds amazing, right?) or asking your partner to make dinner can offer you the relief and care you need. That’s right: Go ahead and put your feet up! “It’s also important to release any tension and insecurities within you,” explains Garcia. If you’re experiencing problems with your loved ones, address insecurities and emotions before your baby’s arrival to help ensure healthier relationships both during pregnancy and parenthood. If you feel tension in your body, practice meditation, prenatal yoga, and relaxation exercises at home. No matter how you decide to pamper yourself during your first trimester (which you should definitely do), just be sure it’s safe. The American Pregnancy Association recommends not elevating your body temperature to 101º F or above as it can cause concerns during pregnancy. So steer clear of hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms to eliminate this risk.
First Trimester Tip 5: Bond with your baby daily.
Early on in the pregnancy, it can be tough to feel connected with your baby, says Starr, “especially if you’re not feeling well due to morning sickness and fatigue.” I mean, come on, who’s feeling connected after perching over the toilet all morning? [pullquote align=”center”]“When you take a moment to remind yourself that there’s a baby growing, you become more mindful of what your body’s doing, and that’s incredibly valuable.” —Galena Rhodes, PhD[/pullquote] But bonding with your baby for at least a few minutes each day can reduce your anxiety and stress while pregnant, says Rhoades. “Set aside time by yourself or with your partner to think about and talk through what you’re experiencing. When you take a moment to remind yourself that there’s a baby growing, you become more mindful of what your body’s doing, and that’s incredibly valuable.” If you’re experiencing anxiety while pregnant, Rhoades recommends setting aside dedicated time to worry as well. Rather than letting fearful thoughts infiltrate your work day or distract you when you’re out with friends, you can say to yourself, “OK, I have time to think and worry about this tomorrow.” Devoting time to worry has long been a technique used by therapists to treat anxiety, and it can be particularly helpful to expectant moms.
First Trimester Tip 6: Connect with additional resources.
“Women feel increases and dips of hormonal changes during pregnancy and postpartum. It’s important to practice self-care and address any mental health issues with your medical professional,” explains Garcia. Even though you may be excited about the new baby, it’s still a huge life change, whether this is your first or fourth child. So remember: You’re far from alone. “It’s incredibly common to experience stress while pregnant,” Rhoades confirms. “If you’ve been feeling worried or anxious for several days or more in the last two weeks, it’s worth talking with your provider or therapist.” Professional assistance can be found in a counselor, therapist, or even books. Processing what’s happening for you and learning techniques to manage your stress, anxiety, or depression will benefit you throughout your pregnancy—and after you welcome your beautiful new baby into the world.