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What to expect during pregnancy

Nothing can prepare you for that moment when you first hold your little one in your arms. 

Even so, it’s best to go into pregnancy armed with as much knowledge as possible, to help you feel relaxed and empowered. 

Many women experience a rollercoaster of emotions in the lead up to their delivery, regardless of whether they planned to welcome new addition to the family, or the positive test result came as a shock.

Let’s talk about each stage, so you have a solid idea of what to expect.

Trying to become pregnant

It can be exciting to decide you want to expand your family, especially as you imagine introducing your bundle of joy to loved ones. Many women fall pregnant quickly, with little effort. 

But this isn’t the case for everyone. 

Some women despair they will never conceive, as they’ve been trying for so long and it still hasn’t happened. This can be frustrating and heartbreaking. If you’ve been trying for six months, consider booking an appointment with your doctor, who can refer you to a fertility specialist to make sure there are optimal conditions for conception. 

Note: please avoid all alcohol while trying to conceive, to improve fertility and give your baby the best start to life. 

Everyone reacts differently to alcohol, but even the occasional glass can make it harder for you to fall pregnant by causing ovulation changes. 

This advice applies to men too! Heavy drinking has been shown to lower the hormones needed for sperm production.

Even more importantly, alcohol consumption can harm the development of an unborn baby’s brain, heart, nervous system and facial features. For example, one 2019 study suggests that foetuses have a higher risk of developing congenital heart disease if women and men drink three months before pregnancy (especially if it’s five or more drinks at one time).

For this reason, both men and women should abstain from alcohol as soon as planning to start a family (at least three months before trying to conceive).

What to avoid while planning to conceive:

  • Alcohol 
  • Smoking
  • Excessive exercise
  • Chronic stress
  • Drastic weight gain or loss
  • High-mercury fish (such as tilefish, king mackerel, swordfish and shark)
  • Lubricant brands that aren’t fertility-friendly or pH-balanced
  • BPA in plastics
  • More than two cups of coffee a day

If you don’t already, start tracking your cycle:

This will give you the perfect timing for intercourse, and help your obstetrician to estimate when conception occurred. 

Something else to consider:

If you want to deliver in a private hospital, keep in mind there’s a minimum 3 to 12 month waiting period for birth related coverage (depending on the insurer). This means you will need to make arrangements well BEFORE you start trying to conceive. 

However, if you miss the mark, or choose to use public services, please know you’re in highly capable hands, as Australia has one of the best public health systems in the world. 

First trimester (1 to 12 weeks)

Congratulations, you have a baby on the way. This is when you visit your obstetrician for the first time with plenty of questions! We’ll do a physical examination and ultrasound, before discussing the option of screening for chromosomal abnormalities. 

We’ll also talk about how you’re feeling and whether you have good support systems in place. Depression impacts around 15 per cent of pregnant women, so please reach out if you need help, this is completely normal. 

You’re probably feeling many conflicting emotions, such as excitement, anxiety and fear. Many women also experience tiredness, moodiness, breast tenderness, bloating, nauseousness and vomiting. 

Your body is going to change over the next nine months, and some women struggle with this. In the first trimester, expect to gain a few kilos (this could be less if you have morning sickness). 

It’s beneficial to engage in gentle exercise for your emotional and physical wellness. Examples include walking, swimming or stretches. If you did yoga before pregnancy, feel free to continue, but stay away from classes in a hot or pressurised room. 

Foods and substances to avoid while pregnant:

  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Excessive caffeine (reduce intake to no more than 200mg a day)
  • Certain cheeses such as brie, camembert and chevre (hard cheeses are fine)
  • Pate
  • Raw or undercooked eggs
  • Raw or undercooked meat
  • Liver products (too much vitamin A)
  • Supplements with vitamin A
  • High-mercury fish
  • Raw shellfish
  • Pre-packaged salads
  • Rockmelon
  • Bean sprouts
  • Sushi (unless fully cooked or vegetarian options)
  • Cold cured meats
  • Unpasturised milk
  • Energy drinks
  • Unwashed fruit, vegetables and salads (avoid traces of soil)

An important note about dental care while pregnant:

Although you may find it difficult to brush your teeth if feeling nauseous, now is the worst time to neglect your oral hygiene. Pregnant women are more susceptible to gum inflammation and tooth decay, due to hormonal changes and excessive vomiting that erodes enamel. Many women experience bleeding gums during pregnancy, so please see your dentist if you do too. 

Why this matters: 

Untreated gum disease can trigger premature births, according to new research from the University of Sydney. 

Thankfully dental treatment halves this risk, and a good oral hygiene routine prevents dental problems from arising in the first place. This guide has useful tips for looking after your teeth while feeling nauseous, and it explains symptoms to look out for. 

Second Trimester (13 to 28 weeks)

You’ve probably gotten used to the reality that a tiny human is growing inside you, and your bump is starting to show now. If you had morning sickness, usually this eases during the second trimester (but not always) and you start to feel more grounded and energized. 

Don’t be surprised if you experience unusual cravings, as this is usually when they hit hardest. It’s fine to give into most cravings for indulgent foods, but don’t over-do it, as it’s important to maintain a balanced and healthy diet.

Expect to gain around 6 kilos. Your hair and nails should become thicker and stronger during this stage too! 

16-week obstetrician visit: this is when we take a detailed look at the baby’s vitals and movements and discuss the results of chromosomal screening (if you did this test). 

20-week obstetrician visit: this is when you can find out your baby’s gender (optional) and the placental location.

24-week obstetrician visit: you will receive blood test forms to test for anemia and gestational diabetes. We’ll also remind you to get the whooping cough vaccine.

28-week obstetrician visit: we look at the results of your blood test and discuss management of any detected conditions. The Baby’s vitals are checked again and you can look at your baby in an ultrasound scan. 

Third trimester (29 to 40 weeks)

It’s normal to feel forgetful, tired, constipated, breathless and uncomfortable, as your baby continues to grow. Sleep may be a little harder too, especially if you experience heartburn! 

Expect to gain around 5 kilos and don’t be surprised if your back starts to hurt from all the strain. 

It’s not uncommon for women to feel Braxton Hicks contractions now, but this generally doesn’t mean that labour is starting. However, please call the hospital if you experience reduced foetal movements, frequent painful tightening of the vagina, blood or fluid leaking from the vagina. 

Most likely you’re excited and nervous about the upcoming birth. It helps to talk to someone (a good obstetrician will be happy to listen to any concerns that you have). 

Welcoming baby to the world (37+ weeks)

It’s normal to feel nervous about giving birth as your due date draws closer, but remember, your health team has done this so many times and will take care of you. 

The Braxton Hicks contractions usually become more frequent now, and you may feel pressure in your vagina and lower abdomen as your baby changes position. 

Expect to make frequent trips to the bathroom, so try not to be too far away from a toilet! 

It’s nearly time to meet your little one, who may launch an exodus from your womb at any time of the day (or night!). 

Make sure you have a bag ready and a solid plan for how you’re going to get to the hospital. Remember to consider who will look after your other children or pets (if you have any) while you’re at the hospital. Scroll to the bottom of this page to see a useful checklist for the final weeks of pregnancy. 

Don’t be alarmed if your due date passes but baby still hasn’t arrived. It’s not uncommon for pregnancies to continue for up to 10 days past the original date. Your obstetrician may recommend induction of labour, which involves medical intervention to trigger the birth. 

After the birth

Whew, you did it, and now your heart exists outside your body in the form of a tiny human. 

It’s normal to be hit by an avalanche of emotions in the coming weeks and months, as you adapt to a new routine, while dealing with sleep deprivation and changing hormones. 

You may even temporarily feel as though your world has been turned upside down, while also overcome with love for your baby. Your obstetrician will see you after six weeks, to discuss how you’ve been coping and to check on baby. 

For many women, feelings of depression don’t last beyond the first or second week after giving birth. However, some women struggle for longer than this. Around 1 in 10 women experience postnatal depression in the 12 months following birth, and partners can be affected too. If you’re feeling completely overwhelmed, please call your GP.