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What to expect during your pregnancy

Duncan Reid: Patient Safety & Professional Services Manager | minute read

Although each pregnancy is different, there are some key milestones you can look forward to throughout your pregnancy. Different stages of your pregnancy are referred to as trimesters. Each trimester involves foetal development stages as well as different scans and clinical appointments you’ll be invited to. In this article, we'll outline what to expect at each stage, including changes to you and your body as your baby grows.

1-12 weeks (First trimester)

Congratulations! The first sign of pregnancy for many women is a missed period. If you've been trying for a baby, this will be a welcome sign and you'll want to take a pregnancy test to confirm. Once your pregnancy is confirmed, you can work out roughly how many weeks pregnant you are by using the date of your last period. The NHS offers a handy due date calculator you can use. Make an appointment to see your GP or midwife at this point so you can familiarise yourself with the antenatal care you'll receive throughout your pregnancy. If you're not already taking a folic acid supplement, start taking one daily as per the NHS guidelines.

Your baby at 1-12 weeks

The group of cells including the fertilised egg is called the embryo. At this stage of pregnancy, the embryo begins to split into multiple cells and starts to form the beginnings of your baby's organs. By 12 weeks, the foundations of all body parts are formed, and your baby is ready to start growing!

You at 1-12 weeks

In the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, you might notice a range of symptoms that can be common at this stage. These include ‘morning sickness’ (which can occur at any time of day), sore or tender breasts, headaches, a need to pass urine more often, and constipation. Although it's considered normal during this stage of pregnancy to have a little spotting (light bleeding), always mention it to your GP or midwife, and if you experience heavier bleeding, seek medical advice as soon as you can.

Key events

You'll be invited for a 12-week scan, also known as the dating scan. This is an ultrasound scan that will clarify how many weeks you are, check on baby's development, and tell you if you're having one baby, or possibly two! According to the NHS, the chance of having identical twins is 1 in 250. Non-identical twins are more likely in couples with a family history of multiple births, or couples who have IVF treatment to help them conceive.

This NHS pregnancy to-do list is a helpful resource to keep you organised throughout your pregnancy.

13-27 weeks (Second trimester)

The second trimester of your pregnancy will bring new things to consider if you haven't already thought about them. You’ll want to start getting your birthing plan ready. This will include things like where you want to have your baby, how you'd like them to be delivered, and who you'll want to have with you as your birthing partner. You may need to be flexible with your plan as things can change as labour progresses, but it's good to have a rough idea of how you'd like things to happen if it's possible. This will be the time to decide whether you'd like to find out if you're having a boy or a girl, or if you'd prefer their gender to be a surprise when they arrive. This is a personal decision for you and your partner, and it comes down to your preferences. To help you prepare for labour, the NHS recommends a range of safe exercises you can enjoy during pregnancy. Stomach-strengthening and pelvic floor exercises can help reduce symptoms like backache and mild incontinence as your pregnancy progresses.  

Your baby at 13-27 weeks

By the time you reach the second trimester, your baby is fully formed. This stage of your pregnancy will see your baby go through a rapid growth phase. They'll weigh approximately 25g in week 13 but by week 17, they'll weigh close to 5 times that. They'll have their own fingerprints by week 17 and eyebrows and eyelashes are beginning to form. Their hearing will have developed, and they can hear sounds like your heartbeat and your voice.

You at 13-27 weeks

You’ll most likely feel your baby move for the first time at this stage (usually between 16-24 weeks). If you’ve experienced the symptoms we talked about in the first trimester of your pregnancy such as tiredness, feeling sick, and needing to pee more often than usual, many women find that these start to ease in their second trimester. You might experience some discomfort in your tummy area. This can be a result of your body changing to accommodate your growing baby, or it could be due to constipation or trapped gas. If the pain is prolonged or you have any concerns, seek medical advice as soon as possible so any serious causes can be ruled out. You might start to notice stretch marks around the breast, thigh, and tummy area. These are common in pregnancy and don't pose any health risk to you or your baby. They will often fade over time.

Key events

You'll be invited to have a 20-week scan in your second trimester. This is also known as the screening scan as it checks for a range of medical conditions. It also tracks how your baby's heart, lung, bone, kidney, spinal, facial, and abdominal development is progressing. Your 20-week scan might give you a chance to find out the gender of your baby too. Just let the sonographer know before your ultrasound if this is something you want to know.

28-40 weeks (Third trimester)

By your third trimester, you'll be preparing for the arrival of your new baby. If you're working, you'll be getting ready to take maternity leave over this time. You might want to consider how you'd like to feed your baby. The NHS offers guidance and support for new mums around breastfeeding and bottle feeding. Familiarise yourself with signs of labour at this stage, so you know when it's time to contact your midwife or local hospital.

Your baby at 28-40 weeks

By 28 weeks, your baby will weigh around 1kg, the equivalent of a bag of sugar. Throughout the third trimester, their development continues, and they gain the ability to suck their thumb. Their organs and body systems strengthen in preparation for being born and by 37 weeks, your baby weighs approximately 3-4kg. At this stage, your pregnancy is considered to be full term, meaning your baby could arrive any time from this point.

You at 28-40 weeks

You might find that your emotions fluctuate during the third trimester, with excitement and worry switching from day to day, or even from hour to hour. This is normal and you might find that talking to other parents-to-be can alleviate any feelings of isolation. Physically, you may experience more tiredness than usual, and getting comfortable at night could be difficult. Consider trying a pregnancy pillow for support and try to go to sleep on your side rather than on your back. Although gradual swelling of the feet, ankles, hands, and fingers is considered normal in the later stages of pregnancy, keep an eye out for any sudden swelling of the feet, face, or hands, and seek medical advice as this could be a sign of pre-eclampsia.

Key dates

You’ll be invited for a 28-week check-up at the start of your third trimester. At this appointment, you'll have a urine test and the doctor or midwife will want to check your blood pressure. You’ll have the opportunity to discuss any results from your screening scan and ask any questions you might have since your last appointment.

If you've decided to attend antenatal classes, you'll usually start these when you're around 30-32 weeks pregnant. These sessions are offered locally for free by the NHS and offer guidance on a healthy pregnancy, caring for your newborn, and checking your birth plan has the information in it you'll need. Have a chat with your doctor or midwife at your 28-week check-up about attending your local antenatal class.

When you go past the 40-week mark of your pregnancy, your healthcare professionals will discuss options with you to try and stimulate natural labour. One procedure is known as a membrane sweep which is a vaginal examination that can encourage your cervix to initiate natural labour by releasing certain hormones. You'll also have the option to discuss having labour medically induced if your pregnancy progresses beyond 40 weeks. There's a lot to consider with induced labour and your doctor or midwife will talk you through everything you need to know.

NHS support with Start for Life

With so much to take in over the course of your pregnancy, the NHS offers an email subscription service called Start for Life which sends you regular content tailored to your stage of pregnancy. Just enter your email address and a couple of details to receive weekly updates with useful information, guidance, and advice.