Prepare yourself for a long list! But once that second line showed up on the test I realised there was a lot of things I should start considering. I’ve found myself in unchartered waters! I set about googling, and put together this list from a wide range of advice I found online. Hopefully it will help you too. Also included are some of the very best pregnancy memes to make you smile. Let me know how many trips to the loo it takes before you get to the end.
Food & Drink
Let’s start with the rules on eating and drinking during pregnancy – probably the most depressing part of the whole nine month shenanigans.
Alcohol during pregnancy – pretty much a definite no no. Not worth the risk. Sorry.
Meat – all meat needs to be cooked thoroughly. Don’t get me wrong, my miracle baby is just that, but I had never quite prepared myself to wave goodbye to the juicy blue steak I liked to eat. And why can’t we eat uncooked meat? Well, thanks to the uncertainty around whether or not it a carries a toxoplasmosis infection, which could cause miscarriage or stillbirth.
No brainer alert: ALWAYS wash your hands after touching raw meat.
One I didn’t know: Steer well clear of liver, liver pâté and liver sausage – these things are all very high in vitamin A which can damage your baby. Pâté in general should be avoided because it can contain listeria (even vegetable pâté).
Avoid cured meats like salami and Parma ham, because of a higher risk of listeriosis and toxoplasmosis.
Dairy – avoid soft cheeses with a white-mould rind. These include Brie, Camembert (noooooooooo, surely not my beloved Camembert with garlic and rosemary and an onion chutney with warm french bread?) and goat’s cheese, or soft cheese with blue mould such as Roquefort, Danish blue, Gorgonzola. This is also because of the risk of infection from listeria. Hard cheeses are fine as they do not provide the right soft environment for listeria to grow. Other types of cheeses should be fine but check that they are made with pasteurised milk. Goat and sheep cheeses are often unpasteurised. Don’t drink unpasteurised milk. Or have fun. No fun allowed.
Oh, but, PS – news just in – you can enjoy your Brie and Camembert if you bake it’s cooked and heated thoroughly. Hallelujah! There is a God.
Eggs – I’ve seen the rules have changed slightly on this, if you’re sure it’s got the lion mark, you can pretty be confident that it’s OK to eat raw. But, you will hear a lot of people advice against eating raw or undercooked eggs – so if you’re going to steer clear, remember, no runny yolks or scoffing raw cake mixture. Homemade mayonnaise often contains raw egg, so, best avoid that too. Raw eggs have the risk of giving you food poisoning from salmonella.
Fish and shellfish – marlin, swordfish and shark are out because of high levels of mercury, which might affect your baby’s developing nervous system. Stick to white fish and keep oily fish intake (mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines) to 2-3 portions a week. Stay away from those Chelsea oyster bars unless you like your oysters cooked. All shellfish should be thoroughly cooked to avoid food poisoning. Be careful with sushi and only eat it if the fish has been previously frozen. This can be difficult to know for certain, so opt for vegetarian or cooked sushi instead. Yet again – sage advice that hurts my soul.
You should be eating… during pregnancy you should eat plenty of starchy foods (wholegrains, pasta, rice, pulses, fruit and vegetables) for the usual reasons but also to prevent, or at least limit, constipation (a bane of pregnancy). You need plenty of calcium (milk, cheese, yoghurt), protein (lean meat, chicken and fish, eggs and pulses) and iron (fortified cereals, red meat, pulses, bread, green veg).
Your body is changing…
Exercise – what’s allowed. Exercise is allowed. Sigh. I was hoping for a clear 9 months off. Keep it low-impact, walking or swimming. Short sessions to begin with, say 15 minutes building up to 30 minutes at a time is what’s generally recommended. Always check with your GP or midwife. If you’ve had IVF or ICSI like me, you may find you’ll be banned from exercising in the first 12 weeks, with my acupuncturist advising me to avoid even the smallest flight of stairs.
Cravings – you know, personally, I didn’t have these, and I feel quite left out. Nearly all expectant mothers experience cravings, and even aversions to foods they previously loved. I wish the latter applied to me, sushi, camembert, charcuterie and blue steak. But no.
Watch out and pay attention to whatever it is you’re craving, could be an indication of a deficiency – particularly iron.
The constant need to pee trips to the bathroom every hour on the hour. But think of the cardio involved.
Mood swings – yes. I’m completely qualified in this one so far. Not so much the tears, but the bouts of rage, especially for me before bedtime, when I’m tired and it seems like years before I can get into bed and turn the lights off. Mood swings are most common during the first trimester, when hormones are in their greatest state of flux, and the good news it that this does settle down somewhat. But, buckle up, emotions can run high throughout pregnancy. Just remember, count to five, and breeeeathe.
Breast pain – oooooouch! Mine KILLED! So sore they kept me awake, probably until about week 8, when it suddenly disappeared and I wondered whether I was even still pregnant. It’s all hormones, but one of the earliest indicators of pregnancy is breast tenderness. This can start around 4-6 weeks and lasts throughout the first trimester.
Breast growth – the good news! Did you know your breasts will increase a cup size of two? Especially if it’s your first baby. You may notice your breasts getting bigger from around 6-8 weeks. They will continue to grow during your pregnancy. I’m personally still waiting for breasts to grow. With breath that is bated. Jamie took one look the other night, and said ‘ooh – they are bigger!’ in a congratulatory tone that made me feel like slapping him.
Stretch marks, veins and pigment changes on your breasts – there’s no two ways about it. Your skin is going to stretch, and it might feel itchy when it does. There’s a chance you’ll develop stretch marks on your breasts, or be able to see veins under the skin. Your nipples and areolas will probably get bigger and darker, with more pronounced little bumps. These bumps are a type of oil-producing gland called Montgomery’s tubercles.
Here’s some science – because when it happens, you’re gonna wanna know why: Stretch marks happen whenever the skin is stretched. Hormonal changes in pregnancy can affect your skin and make you more likely to get stretch marks. Skin is made up of three main layers: the epidermis (the outer layer), the dermis (the middle layer) and the subcutis (the inner layer). Stretch marks happen in the middle layer, when the skin is stretched quite a bit over a short time. This stretching can break the dermis in places, forming stretch marks. I’ve taken advice from many of the followers of our IVF diary and I am slathering, yes, slathering myself twice daily with oils and creams. I’ve gone through three large Mama Mio pots already.
Apparently 90% of women WILL get stretch marks, whether they moisturise or not. It’s largely down to genetics: whether or not you get stretch marks depends on your skin type, as some people’s skin is more elastic. My sister had them, my mum didn’t. I don’t think either used cream. There is some good news – the marks should gradually fade and become less noticeable, but they won’t go away completely.
Itchy skin – stretching and oestrogen are often to blame for itchy skin. It’s pretty common during pregnancy. The sides of my boobs in particular itched the most during the first trimester. During the second, my scalp has been so itchy I can’t do anything but scratch it, pretty much 24/7. And no, it’s not nits. The advice? Keep moisturising! I’ve found that advice a little futile, when it’s your scalp you need to access under a full head of hair. If you notice your palms and feet are especially itchy, make an appointment with your GP. They’ll want to make sure your liver is happy.
Hair – my hairdresser reckons that your hair growth speeds up during early pregnancy, and then slows right down at the end of pregnancy /when the baby comes, which is why some women notice hair loss, as it’s not producing as much as it was. I’ll let you know what happens to mine, fingers crossed it doesn’t all fall out.
In fact… hair growth, all over – ah the joys of pregnancy. Those dreaded hormones are responsible for hair growing in unwanted places during your pregnancy. You’ll be pleased to know that you’ll probably be sporting a beautiful mane of hair very soon, but don’t get too excited, wait until you wake up sporting a beard.
Nails – it’s true that pregnancy hormones and an increase in blood pressure make your nails grow faster, but sometimes they can grow out brittle, flaky and weak. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Body temp – feeling hot in pregnancy is a really common symptom as your body temperature is naturally higher. Your baby is basically generating heat, which makes you warmer. And the fact that the larger you get, the extra energy you’ll need to move, which will generate even more heat! Being pregnant over winter is a big plus… (she says, 13 weeks in December, with the start of the summer coinciding with the bigger belly months!)
Back pain – your body is stretching to prepare you for labour. This means the ligaments in your body are becoming softer. This means there’s potential for strain on the joints of your lower back and pelvis. Take heed of the following tips:
- Avoid lifting heavy objects
- Bend your knees and keep your back straight when lifting or picking up something from the floor
- Move your feet when turning round to avoid twisting your spine
- Wear flat shoes as these allow your weight to be evenly distributed
- Work at a surface high enough to prevent you stooping
- Try to balance the weight between two bags when carrying shopping
- Sit with your back straight and well supported
- Make sure you get enough rest, particularly later in pregnancy
Vivid dreams – it’s a thing during pregnancy. Especially as you’ll be taking lots of toilet trips, so your sleep patterns will be lighter, meaning you’ll remember more dreams. Enjoy them! I’ve had a few eye-openers so far! Which leads me nicely on to…
Sex dreams – happens to us all! There’s an increased blood flow to the erogenous zones, including the breasts and groin. When your oestrogen levels rise you’ll experience increased vaginal secretions, which they say make orgasm-inducing dreams more likely. Bonus!
Did you know? According to Bustle magazine, pregnant women often fantasise in their slumber about doing the deed with a variety of different bed partners, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re thinking about straying. Picturing yourself in different sexual scenarios could simply mean you’re craving intimacy with your partner. Or Brad Pitt.
Swollen hands, feet and ankles – believe it or not, this swelling is no cause for alarm. Known as ‘edema’, it’s another crappy common symptom, especially in the heat of summer. It’s possible your face and neck can puff too, especially after week 20th. The science bit – well, the short bit, is that due to the pressure of the weight on your uterus, fluid retention happens below the knees.
Belly button pops out – how exciting and a bit gross all at once! Around week 26 or sometime in the second trimester of pregnancy, many women find they have a protruding navel – a “popping” out of the belly button. Your uterus has expanded so much it pushes your abdomen forward. You can’t do anything about it, it’s quite normal, and they say it will return to it’s original position after the baby is born… but it may look a little different after being stretched.
Leaky breasts – around your third month of pregnancy, your breasts start producing colostrum, the special milk your baby will get when he first starts nursing. Well, it had to happen some time, right? During the last few months of pregnancy, you may begin to leak a small amount of this thick yellowish substance, although some women start to leak earlier and the good news – some never leak at all.
Nose bleeds and stuffiness – along with stuffiness, pregnancy can leave you prone to nose bleeds because of the capillaries in your nose being softened by – yep, you’ve guessed it, hormones. I had my first ever nose bleed at Christmas, I didn’t even realise – I was in the middle of blow drying my hair and noticed my nose seemed a bit runny, thought nothing of it until Jamie walked in and said ‘Christ, you’re bleeding everywhere!’ Yuck.
You may have extra spit /saliva – nobody’s quite sure why this one happens. I think we’re blaming hormones again.
Heartburn Remember that awesome hormone, progesterone that relaxes your uterus so it doesn’t eject your baby like a 007 car? Well, it’s also relaxing a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter. This loosening can cause stomach acid to back up into your oesophagus. Whether it’s called acid indigestion, acid reflex or heartburn, it can feel like you’re gargling battery acid and it’s awful. Thankfully this throat valve goes back to keeping the fires at bay once you’ve given birth.
Cramps – the jury is out on this one too. Possible culprits: blood vessels or pressure of carrying around more weight.
Restless leg syndrome – it’s not dangerous, but it’s bloody annoying. Happens usually at night affecting the lower legs, but it can occur in feet and arms. If it becomes a problem, tell your GP or midwife, in case you’re deficient in something. Acupuncture can help with this too.
Varicose veins, heamorrhoids, and constipation – yes, yes, and yes. And don’t even thing about using Anusol when pregnant.
Teeth and pregnancy – some pregnant women get swollen and sore gums, which can bleed. Bleeding gums are caused by a build-up of plaque on the teeth. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can make your gums more vulnerable to plaque, leading to inflammation and bleeding. This is also called pregnancy gingivitis or gum disease. Invest in an electric tooth brush – such as Braun Oral B. I had non-pregnant gum disease (not the exact medical term, I’m sure) and after taking advice from my dentist and switching to a decent brush, it cleared up within months.
If you are vomiting during pregnancy, rinse with plain water after. This helps prevent the acid attacking your teeth. Wait an hour before brushing.
Dental X-rays – these are definitely out. You should have a card from your GP that gets your free dental treatment though. Bonus. Take it with you and make sure they know ahead of time that you’re pregnant.
A heightened sense of smell – I’m so glad that last year we moved five blocks away from our neighbour in the flat downstairs way before I got pregnant. She stank. I swear now I’m pregnant, I can now faintly detect the odour wafting from across the village into my street and up my nostrils.
Morning sickness. Morning, noon, and night. They say chew gum. I found satsumas worked for me. Typically occurring during the weeks you’re trying to keep the pregnancy quiet, the good news is, it’s harmless to baby and clears by up weeks 16 – 20. Half of all pregnant women are physically sick, which does seem high as I don’t think anyone I’ve asked has been, but – 80% experience the nausea and one in ten women continue to feel sick after week 20. Ladies, I feel for you! We’re blaming hormones again.
Farting and burping. Progesterone and relaxin slow everything down and loosen everything up. Your gastrointestinal muscles slow down your digestion, which forms gas. We’re talking explosive smelly gas here. Beware of crop dusting your husband in the bedroom. (Sorry Jamie).
Vaginal discharge – normal, nothing to worry about. Down to extra oestrogen and should be milky white in colour. Invest in a job lot of pantie liners.
PUPPP, or Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy, which is a benign but somewhat rare pregnancy “rash.” Cause unknown, but apparently it’s horridly uncomfortable, and dead itchy that some women have to be induced early. The rash disappears after giving birth, and doesn’t always come back if you have more children. Sounds delightful!
Lightning crotch – yep, it’s as drastic as it sounds! It’s when your unborn baby kicks you in the vagina. It can be as painful as it sounds. Happens to all of us pregnant women apparently, and not necessarily a sign of anything wrong. Baby probably just repositioning, or can be a sign of Braxton Hicks. We’re talking awkward if this happens in public. Be warned.
Your vagina will grow – how lovely! As the nine month mark draws near your labia (vagina lips!) will most likely get bigger due to blood flow, and perhaps even swell. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but the good news is, it doesn’t last too long. It can leave you tender and sore.
Pigment changes to skin – if you’re dark-skinned, the area around your tummy button may darken, as well as your armpits and inner thighs. These areas will lighten again with time, after the birth, although your nipples may remain slightly darker than they were before.
Brown patches of pigmentation on your forehead, cheeks, and neck are known as chloasma, melasma or mask of pregnancy. Chloasma is caused by your body making extra melanin, the tanning hormone, which protects your skin against ultraviolet (UV) light. It’s estimated that around two out of three mums-to-be are thought to experience this in pregnancy.
Being in the sun may darken your patches, making them more noticeable. You should look to protect your skin, by wearing a sunscreen (SPF15 or more) or a hat whenever you go out. The good news is that these pigments should fade within about three months of your baby being born. Any unevenness can be disguised by a good tinted moisturiser, foundation and concealer.
Acne – Thank you hormones! Some mothers are struck with bouts of acne that rival breakouts from their teenage years, thanks to hormonal changes. This can be mega frustrating as certain treatments for monster breakouts such as salicylic acid aren’t recommended during pregnancy. I developed a whopper of a spot on my chin just in time for Christmas Day, and it lasted weeks, brutal, tight, sore, right under the skin. It was proper nasty, and gave the size of my baby bump a run for its money.
Skin tags – these are gross at the best of times, and there’s not a lot you can do during pregnancy. Even Kim K has them. Common in areas where the skin rubs against itself – we’re talking underarms or boobs. Sometimes they’ll disappear on their own, if they don’t, get them zapped.
Moles – if you had skin moles before pregnancy, they may get bigger or darker while you’re pregnant. This most likely happens on your face, nipples, armpits, thighs, and vaginal area. You may also notice new moles, which happen because of the changing hormones. Usually, new moles that appear during pregnancy are harmless. They often go away after your baby is born. I hate moles.
The Dos and The Don’ts
Does sex harm the baby? If you’ve been through IVF or for whatever reason had a unstable pregnancy, it’s always worth checking. We were told by Nuffield sex was absolutely fine, but I’ve read advice written by other fertility experts who advise against it during the first trimester if you’ve undergone IVF or ICSI.
The general advice is that it’s perfectly safe to have sex during a normal healthy pregnancy. Your partner’s penis can’t penetrate beyond your vagina, and the baby cannot tell what’s going on. However, what with the mood swings and the overwhelming tiredness, you might just prefer an early night. Alooooone.
Better sex during pregnancy – it might be difficult to believe, and I don’t know about you, but my ever growing belly doesn’t seem like the biggest turn on, but the fact is, pregnancy makes some mums-to-be more sensitive down below leading to better sex, and best case scenario, even better orgasms! Get in!
Can I clean the cat litter? No. This is husband’s job now. And one he can keep. One word: toxoplasmosis.
Ibuprofen, no. Avoid. Especially during the 3rd trimester. Paracetamol – yes, I had to take two last night at 3.30am. Mind bending migraine. Do consult your doc if you have to take more than a couple and definitely avoid the ones with caffeine in.
Household products and pregnancy – most cleaning products, including bleach, are safe to use. Make sure you ventilate the area you’re cleaning, and wear gloves to protect your skin. Always read the labels before use and avoid mixing chemicals, such as ammonia and bleach, which can produce toxic fumes. But really, if you can get away with telling your hubbie that it’s a no-go area, I’d run with that story. You’ve been doing the lion’s share of the cleaning for far too long.
Be aware of over heating, hot tubs or hot yoga. Just in general. Pregnancy or not. Hot tubs are sooooooooo 2013.
Can I use hair removal cream? The consensus online is yes, products like Nair and Veet are safe, but if you’re anything like me, at 18 weeks I’ve steered clear of all my usual routines involved creams and bleach. Probably why my arms resemble that of a skinny chimp. I’m so glad it’s winter. Come back to me in Spring.
Is hair laser removal safe? The general consensus seems to be to wait until after the baby is born. I did ask my laser nurse this question, and there’s no real evidence to support NOT having it done, but really, it’s a risk you don’t need to take. Embrace it, rock the Big Foot look!
Can I wax? Waxing can cause bruising, as skin can be a lot more sensitive during pregnancy – but what’s that I hear you say? No pain, no gain? Sadly waxing has always been useless on me. But luckily I’ve spent the last five years lasering the majority of my bits.
Can I bleach or dye my hair? Many women decide to wait to dye their hair until after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when the risk of chemical substances harming the baby is much lower. It says online that if you’re colouring your hair yourself, you can reduce the risk further by making sure you:
- wear gloves
- leave the dye on for the minimum time
- work in a well-ventilated room
- rinse your scalp once the dye is applied
Highlighting your hair, by putting the dye only on to strands of hair, also reduces any risk. The chemicals used are only absorbed by your hair, and not by your scalp or bloodstream.
Semi-permanent pure vegetable dyes, such as henna, are a safe alternative.
Do remember that pregnancy can affect your hair’s normal condition. For example, your hair may:
- react differently to colouring or perming than it usually does
- become more or less absorbent, frizzy or unpredictable
It’s always a good idea to do a strand test first, using the hair dye or treatment you intend to use. Speak to your hairdresser for advice, and really, I’d also advise most definitely checking with your midwife too before you bleach or dye anything. You just never know.
Can I fake tan? Okay, so there’s no evidence that tanning beds are harmful to a developing fetus, BUT, as you’ll already know, there’s so much evidence to suggest tanning beds are dangerous to you. It’s worth noting that lying in a tanning booth can raise your body temperature to a level that may be hazardous to your baby, especially in your first trimester. Don’t forget, during pregnancy, hormone levels change, so your skin may tan unevenly, or you may be susceptible to developing large brown patches called melasma. If you’re looking for an artificial glow, try a self-tanner, the good news is that they’re safe to use during pregnancy.
Can I whiten my teeth? It’s difficult to know if teeth-whitening is harmful to your or your developing baby because there simply isn’t enough research in this area. Did you know, it’s actually against the law for dentists to carry out whitening treatments on women who are pregnant or breastfeeding? For that reason, I’d probably just work on ways to hide your teeth. You have 9 months to perfect this. Start by practising talking with your mouth closed.
So – go forth and embrace your growing belly. And all the ailments that come with it!