Early on in pregnancy, symptoms can be subtle. Is it a missed period? Does your belly just feel sort of “busy?” Or have you been a little more emotional lately? Eventually, you ask yourself, “Could I be pregnant?”
Many pregnant people pick up on early signs and symptoms of pregnancy before they head to the clinic or the drugstore for a test. They simply know by observing their bodies closely and noticing that something is different. It’s just the first of the many opportunities that pregnancy offers you to be mindful and pay close attention to your body, your environment and your instincts.
During early pregnancy, symptoms you experience are your body’s way of alerting you to the drama that is happening inside. From the very moment of conception (when egg and sperm join), your body undergoes an avalanche of change in a very short time. Even before the embryo (what your baby is called through eight weeks of pregnancy) implants in your uterus, your hormone levels rise (HCG, human chorionic gonadotropin, is the hormone detected by pregnancy tests). This is the beginning of hormonal changes that continue throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. These shifts, and your growing baby, change your body in amazing ways.
Take a quiet moment to stand before the mirror after a bath and you might note some changes in your breasts: They might be darker or bigger; your nipples may be bumpier; there could be some blood vessels you don’t remember seeing before; or you may feel a tenderness or heaviness. This early sign of pregnancy is the first of many developments your breasts will make in preparation for milk production.
Of all the pregnancy symptoms, nausea can be the most unpleasant. It varies from person to person, and you may be experiencing “morning sickness” when you wake up, at mealtimes or more often throughout the day. Eat and drink whatever you think might help you deal with it. Try small, regular snacks that seem comforting and digestible, and take note of what goes down easily. For many, it’s carbohydrates.
Research shows that during their pregnancy about two-thirds of all gestational parents have some nausea, and it may actually serve an important purpose: Protecting you and your baby from harmful chemicals and food-borne illness. Certain foods are common triggers for pregnancy nausea. Many expectant parents feel sick when they consume or smell eggs, poultry, fish, meat, alcohol or caffeinated drinks. Your body might perceive these items as threats to the embryo, which hasn’t finished making a good, strong attachment. In the same way, your body might crave certain foods because it needs those nutrients.
The first weeks of pregnancy are often a time of deep tiredness. One parent remembers wanting to crawl under their work desk for 10 a.m. naps. “Those mornings, I’d long to curl up and sleep - just out of the blue,” they recall. “It suddenly occurred to me that I’d never needed to sleep like that! That was my first real attention-grabber.” Since their period had never really been regular, tiredness was the first sign that changes were happening in their body.
Some people’s emotions send strong signals. You might find yourself snapping back in reply to a casual comment or crying over some small matter. These emotional changes are tied to the hormonal changes that are happening in your body during pregnancy.
Your body’s signals are valuable as information and source, whether it is an early sign of pregnancy or at the start of labor. Learning to read those pregnancy symptoms is the first of many intuitive developments you will make throughout your pregnancy and into parenthood. “[It’s] not necessarily an automatic process of nature,” says Pam England, MA, CNM, author of Birthing from Within (Partera Press). “If you want this to happen, you’ll have to play an active part.” So listen and respond to your baby’s messages. The bond you will have with your child has already begun to form. It is only the start of a lifetime of conversation and learning together.