Pregnant? Think you are? Find out when the baby is due and the key dates for your pregnancy.
Preparing for Your Due Date: First Trimester
Whether it was a surprise or you’ve been trying for a long time, you’ve taken a pregnancy test and gotten a positive result! Once you get over the initial shock and informed the father of the wonderful news, it’s time for you to call your women’s health care provider. From your first appointment to your last, your prenatal visits are going to be an important part of your pregnancy. It is important for you to have a good understanding of basic prenatal care, and it may ease your mind to know what to expect for the next couple of months.
The first trimester is generally considered to last from conception (which technically occurs during the second week of pregnancy) to week 14. Women who are planning pregnancy generally take a pregnancy test around week 4 or 5. Women who are not planning pregnancy may wait a little longer, but most pregnant women will get a positive result before week 8. You should call the doctor as soon as you have a positive result so that they can schedule your first appointment.
The first prenatal appointment, often called the ‘missed menses’ appointment, is an eventful one. This appointment will consist of a great deal of laboratory testing and an examination by your health care provider. Pregnancy can be verified via urine test or, in the case of very early pregnancy, a blood test. A blood sample will also be used to test for infectious diseases such as HIV, syphilis, and rubella, to determine blood type, and to identify problems like anemia. A urine sample will be used to screen for a urinary tract infection, which is a common finding in early pregnancy. If you are considered to be ‘high risk’ due to advanced maternal age or previous pregnancy losses, your doctor may also want to check your hormone levels.
In the examination room, a nurse or doctor will talk to you extensively about your lifestyle. If you smoke, drink, use drugs, or engage in other behaviors that are risky for your baby your doctor will discuss this with you. You will be asked about family history of certain genetic diseases, such as Down syndrome and trisomy 18, so be prepared with that information. Your doctor will establish a due date for your baby by counting ahead 40 weeks from the first day of your last menstrual period. Your health care provider will perform a pelvic exam, which involves examination of the vagina and cervix for abnormalities. A swab from your cervix will likely be taken to perform a Pap smear, which screens for cervical cancer, and also to screen for certain sexually transmitted diseases, like chlamydia and gonorrhea.
Sometimes an early ultrasound will be performed in the first trimester. If you are unsure of the date of your last period or if you have an irregular menstrual cycle, an early ultrasound can help to establish a due date. If your pregnancy is considered high risk or if you have spotting or other concerning signs, an ultrasound can be performed to verify the viability of the pregnancy.
Certain types of fetal testing may occur in the first trimester. While most tests for genetic defects take place in the second trimester, the nuchal translucency scan must be done in the first trimester, between 11 and 14 weeks. The nuchal translucency scan is a specialized ultrasound during which fetal measurements are taken that help to define the fetus’s risk of genetic diseases. The nuchal translucency test is often combined with other types of testing. Chorionic villus sampling also takes place in the first trimester, most often between 10 and 12 weeks gestation. Chorionic villus sampling involves taking a blood sample from the placenta to test for genetic disease and birth defects. Chorionic Villus sampling is not routinely done for a normal pregnancy, as it does pose potential risks to the fetus. If you are interested in or concerned about prenatal testing, you should discuss it with your doctor.
The first trimester is an exciting time for an expectant mother. Typically pregnancy is not detected until at least week 4, making the first trimester short but eventful. The first prenatal appointment is an especially important one. It is your chance to discuss your lifestyle and family history, and it is also a time for your doctor to collect samples for extensive laboratory testing. You may also discuss further prenatal testing and, depending on what you decide with your doctor, you may be back for further testing in the first trimester or the first appointment may be your only one until the second trimester.
Preparing for Your Due Date: Second Trimester
The second trimester of pregnancy is generally considered to last from week 14 to week 28. Once you’ve made it to the second trimester, you will probably be breathing a sigh of relief. Your morning sickness will likely soon be coming to a halt and you are out of the period of time that is most risky for miscarriage. During the early second trimester you will probably be starting to announce your pregnancy to those outside of your immediate family, although it still may not even feel completely real to you yet. A couple of very exciting things will happen at your prenatal visits over the next few months, so get ready!
During the early second trimester, or anytime after 12-14 weeks, you will hear your baby’s heartbeat for the first time. Your doctor or nurse practitioner will use a device called a fetal Doppler monitor which uses sound waves to detect the baby’s heartbeat and then reproduces the rhythm. Sometimes the heartbeat cannot be detected this early, in which case the doctor may order an ultrasound to verify the viability of the pregnancy. If the heartbeat of your baby cannot be detected right away try not to panic. In many cases, it just takes a lot of searching to find, and may even have to be delayed until the next visit.
If you do not want to have to wait for your monthly appointments to hear your baby’s heartbeat, purchasing your own Doppler unit is always an option. A Doppler unit is not difficult to operate, costs around 50 to 60 dollars, and can provide you with peace of mind between prenatal appointments. If you decide to purchase your own Doppler unit be sure that the unit you are purchasing is approved by the FDA, read all directions before use, and do not use more than a few times per week. It is also important to understand that you may not be able to detect the heartbeat yourself until 14-16 weeks, so try to be patient.
The second trimester is also the period when the majority of fetal testing takes place. Many women will have blood drawn between weeks 15 and 21 to perform a screening test known as either the ‘triple screen’ or ‘quadruple screen’. The two tests measure the amounts of certain markers in the mother’s blood and use those levels to determine the fetus’s relative probability of having certain defects, such as Down syndrome, trisomy 18, and neural tube defects. The two tests are the same except that the quad screen tests and additional marker that the triple screen does not. These screening tests are not mandatory, but may be desired in some cases where advanced maternal age or family history may be of concern.
If the quad screen or triple screen indicates an elevated risk for a defect, then further testing may be recommended. An amniocentesis is typically the next step in this case. During an amniocentesis, a small needle is inserted through the mother’s abdomen and into the amniotic sac where a sample of amniotic fluid is collected. Analysis of this fluid can much more accurately determine the likelihood of fetal defects, but there is also a risk of miscarriage with the procedure. If amniocentesis is indicated for you, your doctor should have a detailed conversation with you about the risks versus benefits of the procedure.
The highlight of the second trimester that every pregnant mother looks forward to is the ultrasound that occurs between weeks 18 and 22. This ultrasound, often called the ‘anatomy scan’ will be the only sneak peek that most mothers will get of their little one prior to birth. The ultrasound technician will scan your fetus’s major organs and take measurements to ensure that your fetus is growing proportionately and appropriately. You will likely see your fetus moving around, and you will see arms, legs, hands, and feet. You may also get to see a clear profile image of your baby’s face, though it will be at least a little blurry. If you want to know the sex of your baby ahead of time, the technician should be able to tell you that as well.
The second trimester is an eventful and exciting time during pregnancy, from hearing your baby’s heartbeat for the first time to seeing your baby in action during your anatomy ultrasound. Knowing what to expect from your visits ahead of time can help you to maximize your experience and ensure that all of your concerns are addressed.
Preparing for Your Due Date: Things to Do in the Third Trimester
The third trimester is the perfect time to tie up loose ends and really start preparing for motherhood. During these last three months of pregnancy, have fun preparing for your baby and try to enjoy relaxing activities while you can. Below are some fun and useful things to do during the third trimester of pregnancy.
The third trimester is the perfect time to plan a fun baby shower with all of your friends and family. Even a small baby shower is an enjoyable way to celebrate your pregnancy. Celebrate with your favorite foods and a fun theme, and enjoy being the center of attention for a day. Most expectant moms find that registering for gifts is a fun way to pass the time, even if you don’t end up getting everything on your list.
Organizing all the baby clothes and toys you receive while you are pregnant is a good way to use nesting energy, and it will also help you to have things in order ahead of time. Make sure to wash all of the baby clothes in gentle detergent designed especially for babies. Sort the clothes by size so it will be easy to find what you need later on. Go ahead and assemble the baby toys and carriers so they will be ready as soon as your baby arrives. You can also set up a diaper changing area with diapers, wipes, diaper rash ointment, baby powder, and a diaper pail.
The last trimester of pregnancy is also an excellent time to pack your hospital bag and also a diaper bag for when you’re out with your new baby. Make sure your diaper bag is roomy enough to fit the necessities, but not so large that it’s cumbersome and in the way.
When you are pregnant, it never hurts to put your feet up and read a good book. The last three months of pregnancy are a good time to put those reading skills to use and find some good books on childbirth and parenting.
During the last month or two of pregnancy, you can also bake some of your favorite meals to store in the freezer. You will thank yourself later when you have plenty of good meals that can be popped right into the microwave or oven and served within minutes. Have fun baking: you might not have time for it for a while after your baby is born.
Of all the preparing you can do in the last trimester of pregnancy, the most important thing to remember is to relax and get the rest you need. While it’s great to be prepared, it’s even better to keep your stress levels low and make sure your body has the energy it needs for your baby. You can have a blast preparing for your baby, but you shouldn’t overexert yourself.
Only 5% of women have their baby on their due date. If you are trying to get pregnant, use the Ovulation Calculator to determine your most fertile days.