By Hayley Oakes LM, CPM ~
‘I just found out I am pregnant.’
‘Congratulations! We will see you in 5-6 weeks.’
‘What? What do I do until then?’
Many women assume they need to be seen right away after finding out they are pregnant. But there’s not much to do in monitoring the baby until about about 10-12 weeks gestation. This is when the baby’s heartbeat can be heard via a Doppler (a hand-held ultrasound) and when genetic screenings are offered.
If you want to be seen earlier, you can get an early ultrasound (between 6-8 weeks) to confirm the viability of the pregnancy and to better estimate your due date based on the size of the baby. You can also have your pregnancy hormones assessed (aka Human chorionic gonadotropin) via a blood draw to confirm the levels are appropriate for how far along you are. Until then, try to remain relaxed and let your body continue to nourish and care for your growing baby.
Let’s do a quick review of the early physical development in utero. A baby’s heart begins to beat during week four. An ultrasound won’t be able to pick it up until week six to seven. There are arm and leg buds with facial and neck structures. At this stage, a baby is a quarter of an inch long.
At week 5-6, the nose, mouth and palate take shape. The arms and legs have developed and by the end of the seventh week the baby has clearly defined wrists, elbows, knees, fingers, and toes. A baby at this age is one-half inch long.
At 10 weeks, the baby’s essential structures – both internal and external have been formed and just require further growth and development. This is when you will begin prenatal care. (Romm)
‘What can I expect from my first appointment?’
Your vitals will be taken i.e. blood pressure, pulse and weight. This will serve as a baseline to compare to throughout your pregnancy to ensure your body is adapting well and you are healthy.
Your care provider will review you and your family’s medical history along with any surgeries you have had in the past. He or she will also go over your gynecologic history including when your last menstrual period was to confirm your best estimated due date. A thorough discussion around work, relationship status, stress, nutrition, and exercise are all very important aspects in maintaining a healthy pregnancy that will be reviewed as well.
There will be blood work and other labs performed to assess iron and thyroid levels, immunity to infectious diseases, and/or the presence of sexually transmitted diseases. There is also the option of screening for genetic abnormalities in the baby.
A physical exam will be performed. This includes listening to your heart and lungs as well as feeling your throat and neck for thyroid abnormalities or inflamed lymph nodes. Lastly, an examination of the breasts and pelvis will take place.
You will return for routine check ups monthly until 28 weeks. Then, you will be seen more frequently of every 2 weeks until 36 weeks. In the final weeks, you are seen once a week (or sometimes more frequently) until you have your baby.
Here are some things you can do to support your body in developing and growing your baby until you meet with your care provider.
Take a prenatal vitamin for the folic acid. Extra folic acid (found in leafy green vegetables, eggs, whole grains, lentils, nuts, milk, and liver) is needed in pregnancy to prevent anemia, miscarriage, premature birth and birth defects. I recommend a food-based vitamin so it is better digested in the body.
Rainbow Light is a great brand. If not this one, I recommend choosing a brand that requires consuming multiple pills a day versus one a day. The pills are usually smaller in size and better digested. When one large pill is consumed this can make your digestive system work harder causing stomach upset, nausea and constipation. Plus, your body doesn’t need all those nutrients at once, so you may end up flushing out much of the benefits of the extra vitamins. Rainbow Light makes a prenatal petite mini-tablet that you take three times a day. If you are someone who doesn’t like taking pills, then at least take one in the morning and two at night.
Avoid toxins such as alcohol, cigarette smoke, foods that are high in mercury and nitrites/deli meat. Also beware of environmental toxins i.e. pesticides and chemical fumes, toxic cleaning products, prescription and over-the-counter medications. This is especially true from weeks three to seven as it is the most vulnerable phase of development for the baby.
Combat nausea during weeks 6-13
- Eat small meals every two hours to prevent low blood sugar
- Eat something protein-rich as that will sustain blood sugar levels longer
- Eat before rising in the morning
- Rest (take extra naps)
- Don’t take prenatal vitamins on an empty stomach and/or stop taking prenatal vitamins during this time
- Moderate exercise will help mobilize toxins and high levels of hormones coursing through your body
- Avoid spicy or greasy foods
- Drink ginger or peppermint tea
- B6 is helpful in maintaining blood sugar levels. As much as 50 mg can be taken every 4 hours along with 400 mg of magnesium. In more extreme cases of nausea and vomiting, intramuscular injections of B6 can be very helpful. (Frye)
Don’t Google symptoms as it always leads to worst-case scenario. Instead, contact your care provider, if possible. Otherwise pick up a current, non-fear based book about pregnancy, birth and early motherhood. Nurture by LA-based doula, Erica Chidi Cohen is informative, comprehensive and non-judgmental (of birth plans or desired birth settings).
Try to live life ‘normally’, unless specifically indicated not to by your care provider. While avoiding toxins as mentioned above, keep up with your routine of exercise, sexual intercourse, travel, work, etc. If something doesn’t feel right then modify the activity and contact your care provider.
Keep a journal to help process all of the new physical sensations and emotions that can arise. There is a lot of change with pregnancy and what that means as a woman, partner, mother and person in the world. Thus, experiencing a range of feelings is normal. Please reach out to your care provider if you are concerned.
Enjoy and have fun getting to know your body and baby!
Frye, Anne. Holistic Midwifery: A Comprehensive Textbook For Midwives in Homebirth Practice. Labrys Press, 2010.
Romm, Aviva Jill. The Natural Pregnancy Book. Ten Speed Press, 2003.