Do you think you are experiencing the signs of pregnancy? Wondering what you should and shouldn’t do? An expert answers common questions associated with early pregnancy and its symptoms.
By Amrita Gracias
Overjoyed, confused, scared, apprehensive – this is perhaps how most women feel when they find out they are pregnant. Yes, you are a bag of mixed emotions with so many questions running through your mind! And a bunch of hows and whys, and what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Well, worry not! Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked, yet relevant, questions about early pregnancy symptoms.
Dr Kamini Rao is a noted gynaecologist and pioneer in the field of Assisted Reproduction in India, and the recipient of the prestigious Padma Shri award. With several accolades and publications to her credit, Dr Rao is the founder and director of Milann Fertility Centre in Bangalore, India. She helps us make sense of the early pregnancy symptoms, changes, dos and don’ts associated with them.
1. How do I know if I’m pregnant? What are the most common symptoms?
The most common sign that you are pregnant is a missed period. Morning sickness or nausea is another early sign for some women, although it can occur at any other time of the day or even through the day. Tiredness, tenderness in the breasts, increase in whitish vaginal discharge, bloating and indigestion are also some of the symptoms of pregnancy in the first month or first trimester.
2. How soon can I take a pregnancy test?
It is recommended that you can take a home pregnancy test a week after your missed period. Although sometimes, in some cases, the test can work even on the second day after your period is due.
3. What is the best way to confirm the pregnancy? Is a home pregnancy test foolproof?
The easiest way to confirm a pregnancy is to test for the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone, which is present in your body only if you are pregnant. A home pregnancy kit will check these levels in your urine. This hormone is only released when a fertilised egg attaches itself to the uterus lining, and the levels double every two days. However, home tests are not entirely foolproof. Therefore, it is advisable to take a Serum Beta hCG test, which is a blood test to check the levels of the hormone in the blood. This is the best indicator to confirm the pregnancy. An ultrasound scan by the 32nd day of the cycle will allow the doctor to check for the foetal heart beat.
4. Could I be pregnant even if the home test is negative?
Yes, sometimes home pregnancy tests give a false-negative; that is, the result might read negative even though you are actually pregnant. This could occur if the test has been taken too early or if the test has not been administered in the right manner. A blood test for hCG levels followed by an ultrasound can confirm if you are pregnant or not.
5. Should I consult a gynaecologist immediately? What are the likely tests that she might ask for?
The sooner you consult a gynaecologist, the better so that folic acid supplementation can begin at the earliest. You might also be asked to take tests for routine blood investigations such as those for complete blood picture, thyroid, sugar and serology. A scan for foetal viability is also usually recommended.
6. What could bleeding indicate after a positive pregnancy test?
Implantation bleeding is absolutely normal during early pregnancy. The discharge is usually a pinkish-brown colour, and it occurs when the fertilised egg embeds itself on the wall of the uterus. Sometimes however, bleeding can be an early sign of an abortion, called threatened abortion. In this case, the bleeding is accompanied by cramps or pain in the abdomen.
7. Can the exact date of conception be determined? How?
It is very difficult to pinpoint the exact day of conception, except in cases of IVF-FET conception where the day of embryo transfer is the day of conception. In cases of natural conception, the approximate date of conception can be ascertained through dates, dating scans or quickening (flutter or first foetal movements).
8. What are the immediate changes in my body that I can expect?
Your body will undergo many transformations during pregnancy and you will begin to experience some changes soon after conception. Fatigue, somnolence (excess sleepiness or drowsiness), nausea, vomiting, moodiness, and mastalgia (tightness or pain in the breasts) are the most common and visible changes that you will notice. Meanwhile, your body is working hard to pump extra blood to support the pregnancy. Your skin might begin to look more rosy, while your breasts will begin to feel swollen as hormones are released to get the body ready for breastfeeding.
9. How much weight gain is normal during pregnancy?
For a woman with an average BMI (Body Mass Index), it is normal to gain about 9-11 kg during the course of the pregnancy. Your doctor can advise you with tips to stay healthy and avoid gaining excess weight.
10. What is the reason behind nausea / morning sickness? What can I do about it?
Morning sickness is mostly marked by nausea and, or, vomiting during the first trimester. It is thought to be caused mainly by the hCG hormone. Rather than having a full meal, you can divide them into smaller meals – for instance, three small meals and three snacks a day. Avoiding spicy food and caffeinated drinks, and enjoying a good sleep can help reduce the nausea. In fact, morning sickness indicates a healthy pregnancy, as your hormone levels are high.
11. When will I begin to have food cravings?
The nausea and vomiting usually subside around 12 weeks, after which pregnant women begin to have cravings for particular foods. Pica, the practice of craving substances that have little or no nutritional value or even non-food substances like chalk or something metallic, is sometimes experienced in pregnancy.
12. Should I make any changes to my diet? Are there any particular foods that I should avoid?
You can continue to eat the foods that you have been consuming regularly. However, smaller frequent meals are better. Make sure your diet includes lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and that you drink enough water. It is advisable to avoid papaya, pineapple, sesame seeds and caffeinated beverages. Smoking and alcohol are strictly prohibited during pregnancy.
13. Do I need to take any vitamin supplements? Why?
Usually, periconceptional folic acid is prescribed three months prior to conception, and it needs to be continued until the third month of gestation. Folic acid helps in the baby’s neurological development and prevents neural tube defects. Hence it is recommended to start intake of folic acid supplements prior to conception.
14. When will I be able to feel the baby’s movements?
Quickening, a slight flutter in your tummy, is the first movement of the baby that the mother feels. In a ‘primigravida’ or first pregnancy, the feeling occurs at about 22 weeks of gestation. In a second or third pregnancy, the quickening can be felt as early as 18 to 20 weeks, owing to prior experience.
15. Are there any precautions I should take in the early weeks of pregnancy?
You can avoid unnecessary travel, especially on bumpy roads, and lifting heavy weights. Try and maintain a healthy lifestyle with healthy food habits.
16. Can I continue my exercise routine now that I’m pregnant?
Yes, you can. Walking, running, swimming and upper body exercises are permitted during pregnancy. Lamaze and pregnancy yoga are routines that are becoming increasingly popular. They help prevent complications in the pregnancy and favour a normal delivery. Apart from this, daily activities like drawing rangoli or sweeping the floor will actually help relax and tone the pelvic muscles, thus facilitating a normal delivery.
Pregnancy is a unique experience and each woman has her own story to tell. Whether you are experiencing pregnancy symptoms in the first week of pregnancy or experiencing the glow in the fifth month, it's important to take the utmost care of your physical and mental health. Here's wishing you a happy journey into parenthood!
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