Whether you are trying for a baby, or have just gotten a positive result from your pregnancy test (congrats!), it is good to know what you are in for when you are expecting. Understanding how your body changes, the common discomforts faced by expectant mothers, and how mums-to-be manage during this period will help you to deal with similar issues which you may encounter.
Development of foetus
The first trimester is probably the most crucial time of your baby’s growth. Over the course of three months, the foetus changes rapidly from a clump of cells smaller than a full-stop into a human-like form with facial features and limbs. The skeleton, heart, brain, and other internal organs also develop during this time. For this reason, pregnant mothers are advised to take special care with their diet during this period. Smoking and consuming alcohol should be avoided, while caffeine should be limited to 200mg a day, or the equivalent of two cups of coffee.
This is a symptom that is commonly experienced between the sixth and 13th weeks of pregnancy. Ms. P. Ng, 33, a stay-home mother of a 3½ year old, had a harder time than most mothers. She shared, “I had nausea throughout the entire pregnancy. I realised that I wouldn’t throw up if I nibbled and snacked the whole day instead of having proper meals.” Eating plain bread or dry crackers can also help to neutralise the stomach acid and relieve the nausea.
Frequent toilet breaks
As the uterus expands and presses on the bladder, it causes the expectant mum to feel an increased urge to pass urine. While this may not pose a problem during the day, it can cause the mother to make several toilet trips during the night and disrupt her sleep. Avoiding beverages one hour prior to bedtime can help to reduce the frequency of waking during the night.
As the uterus grows in size and takes up more space in the abdomen, it causes the stomach to be compressed. This results in gastric reflux, and the acid which backs up the digestive tract causes a feeling described as “heartburn”. To overcome this, mothers are advised to eat small but frequent meals and not to lie down immediately after eating. They can also sleep in a propped up position.
Development of foetus
This is an exciting period of your baby’s development! Some mothers may feel their baby’s gentle movements, described as “fluttering” or “gas bubbles” in the tummy as early as 16 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. These movements get stronger as the baby grows larger, and by the end of the second trimester, you will be able to feel the baby kicking or pushing when you place your hand on your tummy. Your baby’s eyelids open around the 25th week, and he or she can hear you talking. This is a great time to interact and talk to your baby, and to feel his or her responses. Depending on the position of the foetus, an ultrasound scan performed around the 20th week of pregnancy can reveal the baby’s gender.
While it is exciting to interact with your unborn child during the day, a baby who practises kung-fu at night can keep you awake. Mrs M. Ow, 32, an Assistant Manager who delivered recently recalled, “My son kicked a lot at night and this made it hard for me to fall asleep. I guess he may have felt uncomfortable when I lay down, so I tried not to press too much on the tummy.”
From the 26th week of pregnancy, your gynaecologist may start monitoring the sugar level in your urine as one in 10 women develop gestational diabetes. Though this condition goes away after the pregnancy is over, it has a 90 per cent chance of recurrence in subsequent pregnancies. If left untreated, the increased levels of blood sugar can lead to pregnancy complications. Mrs M. Ow developed gestational diabetes in the third trimester of her first pregnancy and these symptoms returned almost as soon as she was expecting her second child. She shared, “I had to prick my finger seven times a day and go for monthly blood tests to monitor my blood sugar level. I also had to choose my food carefully and avoid all sweet things or food that is high in carbohydrates, such as yellow noodles.”
As the pregnancy progresses, the breasts and tummy enlarge, thus stretching the skin and causing the collagen in the skin to break down. Up to 90 per cent of pregnant women experience itchiness and stretch marks as a result. While stretch marks cannot be prevented, the use of anti-stretch mark creams or oils before the marks occur can help to make the skin more supple, soothe the itch and possibly reduce the extent of the marks. Do try to resist scratching an itchy belly as this can make the marks worse. Take comfort that while these stretch marks are permanent, they will fade to a light, silvery colour and will not be so obvious with time.
Development of foetus
Your baby is almost fully developed at this stage, with the lungs being the last organ to mature. Most babies begin to turn to a head down position around the 28th week of pregnancy and get into the final position by the 36th week. Once the baby’s head engages with your pubic bone, he or she will have little room for movement, and become less active. However, if you do not detect any movement in 24 hours and your baby is unresponsive to you, do check with your gynaecologist to ensure that your baby is not in distress.
Many pregnant women get backaches as their tummy gets heavier. Maintaining a good posture and using a mattress which provides good spinal support can relieve some discomfort. Low-heeled shoes with good arch supports are also helpful. If you have to carry a laptop or heavy bag to work, do consider using a trolley bag instead.
Varicose Veins and Haemorrhoids
During pregnancy, the volume of blood in the mother’s body increases. Coupled with hormonal changes and the baby’s weight bearing down on the lower body, this may result in veins in the lower body becoming engorged with blood. When this occurs in the legs, these veins appear as bluish, bulging varicose veins. When this occurs in blood vessels inside or around the anus, haemorrhoids (or piles) form. While these conditions may not be easily prevented, varicose veins may be mitigated by wearing pregnancy support leggings, having regular exercise, and propping your feet up while sitting or lying down. Drinking sufficient fluids and eating adequate amounts of fibre to avoid constipation may also help keep haemorrhoids at bay. Varicose veins and haemorrhoids usually improve after the pregnancy, but in some cases, require surgery to remove.
Due to the large amounts of chemical changes in the body, some women experience hives, which may develop at any stage of pregnancy. First time mothers may be more likely to develop hives in the final weeks of pregnancy. Although this condition is harmless to both mother and baby, it causes terrible itching. Mrs B. C. Goh recalls itchy, red lumps appearing on her tummy, hands and feet. The 33-year-old consultant and mother of one said “The more I scratched, the itchier it got, and the lumps spread to become itchy patches. I tried applying calamine lotion and prickly heat powder, but the relief was only temporary. After giving birth, I sponged myself with water that was boiled with honeysuckle flowers (Jin Yin Hua) and this seemed to help.”
Bundle of Joy
After months of eager anticipation, you will soon be cuddling your precious baby in your arms and any inconveniences which you endured during pregnancy will be forgotten. The joy which your little one brings will make it all worthwhile!