Every pregnancy is different, which can make things new, fun and exciting, yet unpredictable at the same time. Some women may not experience any symptoms at all and have healthy pregnancies (let's attribute this to a combination of great genes and luck). Other women experience symptoms without complications, or symptoms with complications. There are women who have complications with their pregnancies but do not experience any symptoms at all. There is no better time than during pregnancy to take it easy for your health and the health of your unborn baby.
Early signs of pregnancy
Early pregnancy symptoms include swollen or tender breasts, fatigue, nausea (especially in the morning), and a missed period. Usually, the first day of your missed period is the earliest you will be able to confirm your pregnancy - by taking a pregnancy test at home or at your doctor's office. Either way, confirm that you are pregnant with a qualified healthcare provider.
We know you don't have a lot of spare time to reference a bunch of different resources to find out about all of the different pregnancy symptoms. That's why we created a Pregnancy Symptoms Chart, with a complete list of symptoms head to toe (by trimester), and remedies.
But first, a quick word of caution - this chart has been referred to by mothers we know as a sure way to make you not want to get pregnant again, so you may want to wait to read it until after you are pregnant.
Your support team (physician, midwife, doula, partner, etc.)
Optimal nutrition during pregnancy
Great nutrition during pregnancy provides your baby with the best chances for health, intelligence, and a strong immune system. It will also help provide you with more stored resources when faced with the sleep deprivation that can occur with a new born and help prevent low mood and depression (see our sleep schedule for ways to help get your baby sleeping through the night!).
There is overwhelming evidence that mothers who have had exceptional nutrition during their pregnancies go on to have good nutrition themselves and healthy babies (see this page for postpartum/4th trimester nutrition). But the big question is, what is exceptional nutrition? There are so many opinions and diets out there and a one size fits all approach doesn’t typically work. Plus, factor in busy schedules, other children, lack of education, and for some, access to healthy foods which can all create barriers.
The core of a healthy diet
The core of a healthy diet includes the following:
fresh vegetables (colourful, leafy green, cruciferous, etc.)
whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, steel cut oats)
legumes/beans (chick peas, lentils, all types of beans)
nuts/seeds (tree nuts, hempseeds, flaxseeds, chiaseeds, sunflower, etc.)
It is also important to drink plenty of water each day when you're pregnant. I usually suggest at least 2 cups more than when not pregnant (see this post). This can seem like a lot when you are already running to the bathroom every hour with a full bladder!
Remember that tea counts – see this post for helpful teas during pregnancy as well as a list of teas and herbs that are safe and not safe (this post discusses how much caffeine is safe to ingest while pregnant).
Nutrients, vitamins and supplements
There are specific and important micronutrients that are emphasized during pregnancy to maintain good health. These include: B vitamins, iron (RDA 30-60mg), Vitamin D (800-2000iu), magnesium (450-500mg), calcium (1000mg), zinc (20mg), and iodine (150mcg). A prenatal vitamin should cover the majority of these however if you have a compromised digestive system, iron deficiency, or under a lot of stress, then you may require more nutrients.
While nothing beats a well-balanced diet, there are a few supplements that may help provide the extra nutrients needed for growing a healthy baby. A good quality multivitamin specific for pregnancy is a great start. Choose one with active B vitamins (see this post on methylated B12 and B9) and no added fillers or dyes. We are always confused why a company would make pink prenatal vitamins that contain harmful, usually aluminum based dyes when we know how susceptible the growing nervous system of an infant is! If you live in northern climates and countries, taking Vitamin D is important for calcium metabolism and immune function. An increase in healthy fats is needed during pregnancy and can for the most part be obtained from diet; however, taking a good quality fish oil can also be beneficial.
Caloric intake & food variety
During the first trimester, your actual caloric needs stay the same as previous to pregnancy, although most women feel ravenously hungry during these first few weeks! During the second and third trimester, the caloric need only increases by 300-350 and 400-450C respectively per day (double for twins); however, the type of calories is more important than actually counting calories.
Unless you have a known food sensitivity or allergy, it is ideal to have a variety of healthy foods and not avoid certain foods to prevent allergies in your baby. A 2014 study found that mothers who consumed tree nuts and peanuts five times per week had the lowest risk of their child developing allergies to nuts compared to mothers who did not showing that when exposed in-utero infants develop a strong immune system to detect what is safe and what is food versus an allergen.** (DO NOT consume tree nuts if you as the mother have an allergy!). There is also clinical evidence that moms who had a varied diet with lots of flavours and spices also had more adventurous eaters when their child was older.
Nutrition and meal plans during pregnancy
For more tips, recipes and meal plans, check out our Nutrition page for Moms-to-be and Mothers.
Strategies to maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy
Eating healthy can be difficult during pregnancy! It can be hard to control what you eat when you have pregnancy cravings or are suffering from morning sickness. Read this post for tips to satisfy your pregnancy cravings. Important information about non-food craving during pregnancy can be found here.
Here are 5 strategies to help maintain a healthy diet during your pregnancy:
1. Prepare foods in more wholesome ways
Try using healthy ingredients and cooking oils like coconut oil instead of highly processed, hydrogenized oils; extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil are also good options. If wanting to speed up with the cooking process by using canned foods, ensure the product you buy has BPA-free lining or choose frozen vegetables. Avoid microwaving if you can especially for long periods as this depletes important nutrients from our food.
2. Eliminate junk and highly processed foods & eat more fresh vegetables (and fruit)
Eating junk food is throwing away an opportunity for healthy calories, not to mention money. Pre-packaged foods are actually more expensive then fresh foods.
3. Ask for support
There will be days that you just don’t feel like cooking, reach out to your community. Humans are naturally social and it is way more fun to eat together then alone. Some communities even take turns to cook, one house hold is responsible for dinner then the next night the next one does the cook. Just make sure there is enough leftovers for everyone.
4. Read labels
If you can’t pronounce it, it probably is not good for you! There are many foods that contain hidden sugars, way too much salt, and chemicals dyes and additives. There are great resources online and apps that can help you understand what is written on the label.
5. Keep track of what you're eating
A great way to get started is by creating a list of foods that you currently eat, then add in foods that will provide more nutrition or will make the meal more nutritious. For example, instead of spaghetti noodles use a spaghetti squash and add diced veggies to the sauce. Adding an avocado to a smoothie instead of flavoured yogurt creates a creamy texture without the excess sugar.
Of course there will be days you do not eat optimally, we are all human after all and life happens. But try your best to have a great diet 80-90% of the time and be gentle on yourself the other times.
Exercise during pregnancy
Movement of any kind is beneficial during pregnancy and can improve many common pregnancy related symptoms. For example, exercising in the fresh air can be the best cure for morning sickness. If you are feeling extremely fatigued do not push yourself, even a light walk can make a huge difference. As the baby grows, the digestive system starts to slow down and the organs get pushed aside which can lead to constipation, congestion, edema, and nausea. Exercise improves blood flow preventing risk of gestation diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and varicose veins. Even as little as 20 minutes per day has been shown to increase happy hormones reducing feelings of depression or low mood. Improving your strength will also be beneficial during labour and delivery.
Working with a trainer or instructor who is certified in prenatal exercise is recommended. Higher impact sports should be avoided such as soccer, downhill skiing, basketball, horseback riding, and gymnastics. Swimming, cycling, brisk walks, yoga, and cardio equipment may be more tolerated and safer especially after the first trimester. For safe yoga practice during pregnancy see this post.
There are a few conditions where it is unsafe to exercise during pregnancy, including: women pregnant with twins as they are more at risk for premature labor, persistent second- or third-trimester bleeding, placenta previa after 26 weeks, ruptured membranes, diagnosed with preeclampsia/pregnancy induced hypertension, and possibly when severely anemic. Make sure you speak to your health provider on what type(s) of exercise is appropriate for you during the different phases of pregnancy.
Most of the pregnancy symptoms referred to in our chart are more annoying than they are dangerous to your health or the health of your unborn baby. However, pregnancy symptoms tend to come and go, which can make it difficult to determine whether or not you should be concerned. As a general rule, always trust your gut!
Consult your healthcare provider or seek immediate medical attention if you are concerned about a symptom you have. The following symptoms as it may be a sign of a complication:
your pregnancy symptoms suddenly disappear
a general feeling of being unwell
feeling depressed, fatigue, exhaustion, loss of appetite, or if you are dehydrated
severe or persistent headache, blurred vision, dizziness or faintness
sweating, chills and other flu-like symptoms, or a fever over 101 degrees °F (38.5 degrees °C)
severe nausea and vomiting
jaundice (yellow coloring of skin, eyes and mucous membranes)
swollen lymph nodes
sudden swelling of the face, hands or feet
swelling, redness or pain in one or both of your legs
abdominal or stomach pain, or a dull backache
severe pain in your abdomen or shoulder
abdominal cramping (especially if the cramping is more than slight period-like cramps)
vaginal discharge that has a foul odor
watery vaginal discharge, or a gush of fluid from the vagina
passage of tissue or mucus plug
painful or infrequent urination, or pain, burning or discomfort when urinating
regular contractions, or
a sudden decrease in your baby’s movements (based on daily kick count) (note 2).
We believe women should be aware of all the options available to them to assist with informed decision-making about their health and the health of their unborn baby. Your medical doctor may prescribe certain medications to help relieve your symptoms during pregnancy. However, there may also be natural or herbal remedies that are more effective or preferable to you for treating your ailment. Consult with a qualified midwife, Naturopathic Doctor or Homeopathic Physician about your options. A good medical doctor should be able to work with you to find a safe and suitable balance if you prefer to integrate natural remedies into your prevention and non-emergency treatment plan
Delivering a baby can be a beautiful experience. But it can also be terrifying, messy and unpredictable! If you've been through it once, twice or thrice before it can be even more daunting because you have an idea about what to expect. There are many things you can do to help prepare your body for childbirth both mentally and physically, and give you peace of mind as you get closer to your due date.
Things you may want to consider during pregnancy when preparing for childbirth include:
What type of birthing experience you would like to have, such as:
at home or in a hospital
with doctor or midwife
who will be present for the birth in terms of family members, your partner and/or a doula
Creating a birth plan that reflects your preferences to help guide your healthcare provider and birth partner (or doula) during labor and delivery
Getting your hospital bag packing checklist ready as well as a detailed hospital bag checklist and to do list for your birth partner, including installing your baby's car seat in advance of their arrival
Getting your home birth checklist in order (if you plan to have a home delivery)
Arranging for someone to care for your other children during labor, delivery and postpartum.
Read more about preparing for childbirth here.
Important things to know now for your and your new baby
There are a number of things to think about when it comes to the birth of your baby and getting your ducks in a row before the big day. Life will feel like a whirlwind when you have a newborn. The last thing you will want to do as a sleep deprived Mother recovering from childbirth is read in those few precious moments between feeding and snuggling with your baby, doing chores and handling all the other responsibilities on your plate.
Things to think ahead about for the care of you and your baby postpartum include:
Baby basics that you can buy during pregnancy to help prepare for when your baby arrives (essentials for newborn and beyond)
Baby proofing your home
Thinking about a baby feeding and sleep program that will work for you and your family
Prep work to avoid perineal tearing and getting your postpartum healing stuff and other support ready.
Read more about preparing for life with your newborn and postpartum care here.
1. Adapted from Eisenberg, Arlene, et al. What to Eat When You're Expecting. Workman Publishing Company: January 7, 1986.
2. Anne Douglas, The Mother of All Pregnancy Books: An All-Canadian Guide to Conception, Birth & Everything in Between. Wiley, 2000: Chapter 8: The Complaint Department (pp. 270-315); Pregnancy Concerns - Pregnancy Complications. American Pregnancy Association: http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancycomplications; and Mayo Clinic Staff, Pregnancy Symptoms. Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/getting-pregnant/basics/pregnancy-symptoms/hlv-20049462.