Early pregnancy symptoms
Some women feel those delightful early symptoms quite dramatically at this stage. Others just feel a bit off-colour and wonder what all the fuss is about. It depends on how well your body adapts to the fluctuating hormone levels, and everyone is different, but there's a range of early pregnancy symptoms you could reasonably expect to feel:
- Morning sickness
- Sore breasts
- Extreme fatigue
- Peeing more than usual
- Period-like cramps
When does morning sickness start?
Pregnancy sickness is often one of the first noticeable symptoms to show up to the party, usually starting around week six. The 'morning' bit is a cruel misnomer though, as it can strike at any time of day and varies from mild nausea for some women to full on exorcist-style experiences for others. For some, smells – like cigarette smoke or fresh coffee – can trigger it. Eating little and often, avoiding fatty foods, and eating foods that quell nausea, such as ginger, may all help.
An unlucky few will suffer from hyperemesis, a severe and debilitating condition that causes almost constant nausea and affects one in 100 pregnancies.
Pregnancy tiredness seems to spread from your ankles up through your entire body and feels overwhelming at times. It can make you thankful you're pregnant because, otherwise, you'd think you were dying. It's the result of your body working overtime to produce all the necessary hormones to support your growing baby and placenta until the placenta takes over hormone production and baby support, which happens at the end of the trimester. Coupled with the fact that so many things are changing, including your metabolism and blood pressure, it's no wonder you feel wiped out during the first few weeks.
If you thought your boobs were tender when you had your period, you should know that pregnancy brings a whole new world of discomfort. The merest brush against them can make you scream. But they will be bigger which, for some of us, is some consolation. In fact, this is the window of opportunity where your breasts may be larger than usual but your stomach isn't – so enjoy it.
What if you don't have any symptoms?
It's important to remember that each body is different, and one woman's experience of pregnancy will often be totally different from another's – and that's OK. Having no symptoms doesn't automatically mean something's wrong. It could just be that you're incredibly lucky, though the worry means you probably won't feel that way. If you're really worried about something, it's important to contact your midwife or GP, as they'll be able to check you over and put your mind at rest.
I had virtually no symptoms throughout my pregnancy – sore boobs, tiredness, a little nausea but nothing I couldn't have explained away. When we went for our 12-week scan I even commented to the sonographer, 'Oh there is something in there, then!' because I had had no indication apart from the pregnancy test. My pregnancy was perfectly healthy and DD was born well and a good weight so I really believe it is not something you can predict.
"I wasn't sick at all with my DS, just tired at times. It stressed me out! It doesn't mean there's anything wrong."
"I'm 8 weeks, 5 days and although I'm tired, expanding and my boobs have grown, that's about it. I've had two scans so I know there's a baby in there."
“I hear everyone say that morning sickness is a sign of a 'good strong pregnancy' don't listen to these people – they are talking arse."
Bleeding and cramping – is this normal?
If you experience some light spotting or brown discharge in the first weeks, try not to panic. Easier said than done, we know, but bleeding in early pregnancy is actually quite common (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) found that bleeding occurred in one in five early pregnancies) and doesn't always mean the worst. What is important, is that you see your GP or midwife as soon as possible so they can check it out for you and hopefully set your mind at rest. If the bleeding is heavy, however, it's best to go straight to A&E.
Your baby at 6 weeks
If you’re feeling a bit knackered at the six-week mark, it’s no wonder – your baby has been far from idle in there. Just four weeks since sperm met egg, here’s what she’s already been up to:
- She has tiny buds shaped like paddles that will eventually become arms and legs. Grooves develop in the paddles that will one day grow into fingers and toes.
- She'll have a big head with a bump on the top – that's her developing brain.
- Little dark spots can be seen on her face, which will develop into your baby's nose and eyes. She also has tiny dimples in the sides of her head that will become ear canals.
- Her nervous system is developing from a neural plate – a layer of cells you can see on the 16th day of development. It forms a groove down the middle and the edges of the groove will curl up and meet to make the neural tube. The front bit of tube becomes the brain; the rest becomes the spinal cord. The neural tube closes at six weeks. If it doesn't close, the baby develops a neural tube defect (such as spina bifida) or cleft lip or palate, where the roof of the mouth hasn’t fused together. Taking folic acid supplements can help protect your baby against these.
- Your baby's heart is dividing into four chambers and is beating at a rate of around 150 beats per minute. As her blood vessels grow all around the body, the heart starts pushing blood through them.
- Her lungs, liver and kidneys are all beginning to develop.
- She's starting to grow muscles and, during the sixth week, will start to use these to twitch her body and arms. The arms tend to develop a little earlier than the legs.
- She will be joined to you through the umbilical cord, which will do the job of sending in food and getting rid of waste products. Be grateful for that umbilical cord. In seven months’ time, and for the next 18 years at least, the job of putting food on the table and taking out the bins is all yours, so enjoy this period of rest while you can.
What size is your baby at 6 weeks?
From the top of her head to the middle of her bottom – what doctors call the crown-to-rump length – your baby will be a tiny 8-10mm long at six weeks: the size of a small bean or lentil.
How is your body changing at 6 weeks?
No one would know you’re pregnant yet just to look at you, though if you’re rushing to the loo with nausea or eating like a half-starved horse at a sugar lump festival, they might have an inkling.
What is changing is that your body is awash with hormones, such as HcG (human chorionic gonadotrophin), progesterone and relaxin, which, as well as doing their jobs in keeping the pregnancy going and softening everything up ready for birth, can also contribute to things like pregnancy headaches, nausea and heartburn.
Your womb is getting bigger and starting to press down on your bladder, which can make you need to wee more frequently. In a few weeks, the womb will rise up out of the pelvis, which will relieve this sensation briefly until the baby is big enough to start kicking you square in the bladder.
Things to think about during week six of pregnancy
If you want to shout your news to the world (or perhaps just have a moan about how dog tired you are) and can’t yet spill the beans, use the time instead to gen up on some of the things you need to get on top of.
Free prescriptions and maternity exemption certificates
Now that you're pregnant, you're actually eligible for free NHS prescriptions and dental care – in fact, any mother with a child under one year old qualifies. A new campaign from NHS England aims to help people including new and expectant mothers to understand their eligibility for free prescriptions, so make sure you don't miss out on these perks and do claim your maternity exemption certificate.
Be aware that from 25 February 2019 paper or digital certificates will be issued instead of plastic cards. However, if you already have a plastic maternity exemption certificate it will still be an acceptable form of proof (as long as the certificate is valid when you collect prescriptions).
What supplements do I need to take during pregnancy?
Folic acid reduces the risk of your baby having spina bifida or cleft palate. It’s recommended you take a 400mcg folic acid supplement every day for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and also while trying to conceive, but if you haven’t so far, start today.
It’s also a good idea to take 10mcg of vitamin D a day, too. This is essential for absorbing calcium, which is needed for healthy bones – both yours and your baby's – and some women may not get enough in their diet.
A multivitamin designed for pregnancy should cover both of these along with anything else you may need, too. Remember that you should avoid supplements containing vitamin A because it can cause your baby to develop abnormally – things like liver and pâté can be high in vitamin A so they’re a no-no, too. Speaking of which…
What foods should I avoid during pregnancy?
The list of foods to avoid in pregnancy often changes – so you should ask your midwife what current advice is. Two of the main concerns are listeria, a bacteria that can cause miscarriage or stillbirth, and salmonella, which can give you sickness and diarrhoea and also potentially harm the baby.
- Listeria – Avoid soft and mould-ripened cheeses such as brie and camembert, as well as pâté, raw or undercooked meat (so no steak tartare) and unpasteurised dairy. Shellfish must be thoroughly cooked, too. Listeria can be found in soil and mud so you should ask your midwife what the latest views are about gardening or mud wrestling in pregnancy.
- Salmonella – Avoid partially cooked food (especially poultry). The advice used to be to avoid raw or undercooked eggs but now they are thought to be fine as long as they are stamped with the ‘lion mark’ – hurrah for dippy eggs being back on the menu.
- Toxoplasmosis – This is a parasite infection that can harm your baby's sight, hearing and brain. It can be avoided by making sure you thoroughly cook meat and poultry. But also avoid changing cat litter, as the parasite is often found in cat faeces, and taking care when gardening.
Do I need to stop drinking now I’m pregnant?
If you haven’t already, then yes. It's during the first eight weeks of pregnancy (so up to week 10) that your baby is most sensitive to any harmful effects from alcohol but government guidelines state that the safest level of alcohol is none at all. Many women do indulge in the odd glass now and again later in pregnancy but at this early stage, it’s best to err on the side of caution and say ‘non’ to the vin rouge, and all other forms of booze. It's also time to knock the cigarettes on the head if you haven't already and obviously any recreational drugs you may have taken prior to pregnancy.
The reality is many women don't realise they're pregnant at this stage and carry on drinking and smoking through the first few weeks of their baby's development. As long as you stop as soon as you realise, then it's extremely unlikely your baby will be affected. Babies seem to be remarkably robust, fortunately.
What Mumsnetters say…
"I am 6w+4 and, for the past couple of days, the nausea has really worsened, as well as sore boobs, constipation, food aversion… But a lot of women in my antenatal club have almost no symptoms."
"At six weeks I was feeling pretty good and was deciding pregnancy was easy! Coffee tasted odd, but that was the only real symptom. About a week later the nausea, tender boobs and tiredness kicked in. I'm now 21 + 4 and feeling fab again!"
"The only sign of pregnancy I had at six weeks was no period and a positive pregnancy test."
"Six weeks was when my insomnia kicked in! I started to expand too – ribcage and shoulder areas. Nobody tells you that will happen, especially in the early stage. I felt exhausted and although I wasn't sick, I had nausea and started craving tomatoes."
"I felt queasy if I got too hungry. I also felt dead on my feet and had faint, dizzy spells a lot."