Pregnancy can be a fun, exciting time in your life. But if it’s your first pregnancy, you may feel overwhelmed by all the information available out there.
Everyone has advice about how to stay healthy during your pregnancy, and sometimes, that advice can be confusing. The more you understand about your pregnancy, the easier it will be to make choices that will keep you and your baby healthy from the first day through your baby’s birth and beyond.
This guide will help prepare you for your pregnancy so you know what to expect and some good ways to take care of yourself during your pregnancy.
What Does Prenatal Mean?
“Prenatal” is a term usually used to refer to pregnancy.
For example, prenatal vitamins are vitamins designed to be most beneficial during pregnancy. Planned Parenthood describes prenatal care as care for your baby (and you) during pregnancy. In some cases, the words are even interchangeable.
Often times, pregnancy yoga and prenatal yoga are interchangeable. This time period spans conception to birth, but most people don’t know they’re pregnant until a few weeks after conception.
Sometimes, prenatal refers primarily to caring for your baby during your pregnancy. But since your health impacts your baby’s health, the two are often linked.
The Best Pregnancy Tests to Use
Whether you’re trying to get pregnant or suspect you are and want an answer, one question you may have is “How soon can I take a pregnancy test?”
Typically, over-the-counter pregnancy tests are accurate as early as two weeks after conception, but it can depend a lot on your body and hormone levels. Very early in your pregnancy, you’re more likely to get a false negative than you are to get a false positive. However, over-the-counter pregnancy tests are becoming more and more accurate.
The top 3 pregnancy tests
*You can also speak with a care provider for a blood or urine test at your provider’s office.*
Stages of prenatal development
Prenatal development can be divided into stages. This makes it easier to understand what your body is going through during your pregnancy. Here’s what you need to know about those stages.
Germinal: The germinal stage takes place between zero and two weeks of pregnancy. This is the stage when the fertilized egg moves to the uterus. The cells begin to divide at this stage. Conception typically occurs at what is considered the 2nd week of pregnancy.
Embryonic: The embryonic stage takes place between three and eight weeks of pregnancy. This is when the tiny mass of cells begin to take human shape. Around the fourth week, the head forms and after that, the arms and legs begin to emerge. Around the eighth week, the embryo has almost all of the basic organs and at the end of this stage, the basic brain and central nervous system structures are in place.
Fetal: The fetal stage begins at approximately nine weeks of pregnancy and goes until you give birth. During this stage, the body’s systems continue to develop as the fetus grows so that, when the baby is born, they are able to breathe and blink and their heart is able to pump blood through their body. It’s during this time that the baby’s feature begin to develop, as well, so you’ll know which family members your baby looks like. By the end of this week, the Mayo Clinic says your baby might be a little less than 3/4 inch (16 to 18 millimeters) long from crown to rump, which is roughly the diameter of a penny.
What to expect during pregnancy
Pregnancy is different for every individual, but there are common experiences that most people have during pregnancy that can give you an idea of what to expect. Here are some of the common experiences you can look forward to:
Nausea and vomiting.
Known as morning sickness, nausea and vomiting are usually associated with the first trimester of pregnancy. For some people, though, these symptoms last longer than just the first trimester. There are lots of ways to ease your symptoms, but if they’re keeping you from eating enough or even drinking water, be sure to talk with your care provider. There are medications that can help with severe morning sickness.
Aches and pains.
As your baby grows, your body changes, but there’s still a strain on your body and joints. You’ll likely feel aches and pains, especially if you stay in one position too long. Staying active can help alleviate pregnancy pain. If you need a pain reliever, be sure to talk with your care provider first so you know what’s safe for you and baby.
Pregnancy brings on a lot of hormone changes, as well. You may feel moody, irritable, or sad. You may feel more excited or antsy. Each person reacts to these hormone changes differently. Just know that it’s normal. As long as your hormone changes aren’t keeping you from living your daily life, it’s not a problem.
What to expect in your first prenatal visit
Your first prenatal visit is the starting point for your prenatal care. In this visit, your pregnancy will be confirmed and you’ll have a full physical examination to determine your health as well as your baby’s health. Your care provider will also typically order blood work to make sure things look good. At this visit, your care provider might do an ultrasound. You’ll get the opportunity to see your baby and hear their heartbeat through the monitor.
To help set you up for a healthy pregnancy, your care provider may give you information about what to expect, order further testing, and even prescribe medications or recommend you take prenatal vitamins daily. Your care provider might recommend a specific diet or exercise regimen to help keep you healthy. This is a good time to ask any questions you have about your pregnancy and how to take care of yourself and your baby.
Better understand prenatal vitamins
Most care providers will recommend that you take a daily prenatal vitamin throughout your pregnancy.
Your first questions might be, “What are prenatal vitamins?”
A prenatal vitamin is a multivitamin that includes a combination of vitamins and minerals that will help your body stay healthy and give your baby the extra vitamins needed for healthy development. There are lots of prenatal vitamins available over-the-counter, and these are usually enough for your pregnancy needs.
Some common prenatal vitamins are:
Your care provider may give you a prescription prenatal vitamin instead. These are used to make sure you get exactly what you need during pregnancy. Be sure to follow your care provider’s instructions for prenatal vitamins as well as what to eat to keep your baby healthy through every stage of development.
Pregnancy hacks to help you along
You’ll find things that help you during your pregnancy based on your needs and experiences. But there are some things you can use and do that can make your pregnancy easier.
Use a pregnancy pillow.
Sleeping can be tough, especially later in pregnancy. A pregnancy pillow helps support your joints (especially your hips) during pregnancy so you can get comfortable at night.
First, you might have to learn how to use a pregnancy pillow. Seriously.
Because putting a pillow between your knees and under your belly when you sleep on your side can help give you better sleep support.
Pay attention to your skin.
Since your hormones change during pregnancy, chances are your skin will change, too.
Don’t be surprised if your standby lotion doesn’t work as well or you break out with your favorite face wash. Try different products that will adapt to your changing skin. (The same goes for hair care!)
Invest in compression socks.
You may notice that your ankles start swelling later in your pregnancy, especially if you’re on your feet a lot during the day.
Compression socks can help keep your ankles from swelling as much and will promote better circulation in your legs during your pregnancy. (And you can find some cute designs these days to match your personality and style!)
Check out the best compression socks to wear during pregnancy.
How to deal with pregnancy cramping the right way
Cramping can be alarming during pregnancy, but often, it’s not a sign that anything is wrong.
Instead, it’s your body adjusting to making changes to grow your baby in a healthy way. In fact, some people feel cramping when the egg implants in the lining of their uterus during the germinal phase of pregnancy.
If you experience abdominal cramping early in your pregnancy, there are things you can do to make sure it’s addressed the right way.
If the cramping is minor, it’s likely normal cramping or caused by dehydration or being hungry. These are things that can be fixed at home.
It’s a good idea to contact your care provider, if you experience the following:
- Severe pain that does not go away
- Lower abdominal pain, accompanied by contractions
- Vaginal cramping, bleeding, discharge, gastrointestinal symptoms, and dizziness
- Cramping, along with pain in the shoulder and/or neck
- They may want you to come in to make sure everything is okay. If you have cramping and bleeding, be sure to contact your care provider right away.
Staying active during pregnancy
One of the best ways to stay healthy during pregnancy is to stay active.
Not only will you stay healthier, but it’ll make your pregnancy (and birth) easier, you’ll recover from birth more quickly, and you’ll feel better every step of the way.
Before you start an exercise routine, be sure to talk to your care provider. Some people have limitations during pregnancy, and it’s most important to do what’s best for you and baby. If you’re looking for ways to stay active during pregnancy, some good ways are:
Taking walks is an easy, relaxing way to be active. You can take short or long walks, and there’s no set speed for walking that you need to stick to. As you progress through your pregnancy, you can adapt your walks so that you’re not doing too much, but you’re still staying active during your pregnancy. If you walk, be sure that you stay hydrated before, during, and after your walk. You should also pay close attention to the weather so you don’t get overheated or aren’t warm enough.
Yoga is a full-body workout, but because it focuses on the connection of mind, body, and spirit, it’s much more low-impact compared to other exercise routines.
The great news is that there are online yoga classes designed specifically for pregnant people! These classes adapt the poses and movements for your changing body so you can get the stretching and movement you need without worrying about injury to you or to baby.
Plus, prenatal yoga can help your body prepare for birth through stretching, so you may have less pain and reduced recovery time afterward!
Put the Pregnancy and Prenatal Cheat Sheet to Use
No matter how you choose to stay active during pregnancy, it’s important to remember that your body is changing during this time. The exercises you did before you were pregnant may be difficult and you may need to change your exercise routine since your body has different needs during this time.
You know your body, but listen to your care provider’s advice so you don’t do anything that could be potentially harmful to you or to your baby.
At the beginning of your pregnancy, it may seem like you have a long time until you get to meet your baby, but as it progresses, it will feel much quicker.
No matter whether you feel like time flies or it’s going too slow, it’s important to have the information you need to be healthy for you and for your baby.
Lots of people will give you advice, but ultimately, it’s up to you and your care provider what’s best for you and the baby. Make sure you take care of yourself and, before you know it, your pregnancy will be over and you’ll be ready for whatever comes next.