Google “What does being pregnant feel like?” and you’ll get upward of 12 million results. No surprise there. After all, pregnancy is an intensely physical experience, one that is utterly unlike any other. It’s a time of excitement and wonder—and maybe even a little trepidation—as you discover the pinnacle of what your body is capable of: creating, nurturing and delivering new life into the world.
The very first feels
Think you might be pregnant? Getting stood up by your period is usually a reliable indication of it, but you might notice a host of other physical symptoms as well. “You may experience nausea and vomiting that don’t have any obvious explanation,” explains Karyn Markley, MD, OB/GYN at Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
You may be making more frequent trips to the bathroom, and your breasts may be incredibly tender. (And by tender, we mean the spray in the shower will feel like an assault.) “You may also have profound fatigue,” says Markley. “You’ll notice you’re ready to clock out by 6 or 7 p.m.”
Light spotting and cramping are also normal, according to Markley, as these could be signs of the egg implanting in the wall of the uterus.
On the other hand, it’s also normal not to notice anything at all in the beginning. “Some women don’t feel any significant symptoms,” says Markley. “But if your period is late, you really should take a pregnancy test, even if you have no other symptoms. My policy is that all women are pregnant until proven otherwise. If you have the slightest suspicion you may be pregnant, take the test.”
The first trimester of pregnancy is the mom-to-be’s equivalent of the terrible 2’s. You’re either going to sail right through it, or you’re going to hit every exhausting, stomach-churning symptom in the book. Some women say they’ve never felt better; the rest of us aren’t quite so lucky. “I usually spent my first trimesters feeling nauseous or with terrible food cravings that had to be satiated,” says Kelli Bayless, a mother of three who lives in Commerce, Georgia. “All of a sudden I had the characteristics of a hound dog. All I wanted to do was eat and sleep.”
Bayless also recalls that her “smell radar was going crazy,” a symptom I can attest to as well. During the first trimester of my first pregnancy, the smell of soda (of all things) was utterly revolting. Many women notice that the odor of foods they once loved—or at least tolerated—can send them running from the room.
“As you get closer to the three-month mark, you may start to sense a feeling of fullness in your pelvis,” shares Markley. Clothes that once fit will become noticeably snug and uncomfortable. When you lie on your back, you might be able to feel a firm little swell just beneath your belly button; this is your baby’s new home taking shape.
On the move
Feeling your little gymnast flip and kick inside you could be the first moment your pregnancy goes from being an abstract idea to a wonderful reality. Every woman describes the magical sensation slightly differently. For me, I didn’t feel so much of a “kick” as I did a supple little roll very low in my abdomen.
Lucille Sears, a mom in Bloomfield, New Jersey, says, “In my fourth month I felt my first flutter, which felt like a butterfly’s wings, a very soft butterfly.” Markley has heard women describe their babies’ movements as “tiny bursting bubbles or little pops, almost like the last bits of popcorn popping in a bag.”
You may feel your baby start wriggling as early as 15 weeks, as I did with each of my three children. Or you might not feel anything until 23 weeks. It depends on a variety of factors, including how many times you’ve been pregnant and where the placenta is located in your uterus.
“If the placenta is in the front, it can act as a cushion,” explains Markley, which may prevent you from noticing your baby move until she’s bigger. If you’re worried about not being able to feel your baby’s movements, talk to your doctor or midwife. An ultrasound can give you both a peek at baby to make sure everything is all right.
The uncomfortable symptoms of the first trimester usually dissipate after the third month, though every woman is different. “I have to say my fourth, fifth and sixth months I felt great,” says Sears. “I had so much energy and not a pain in my body. Sometimes I wish I could feel like that today!” As your belly gets rounder and your baby becomes more active, you might notice an increase in your energy and a general sense of well-being and content- ment. You may even experience the much-touted gorgeous hair, glowing skin and healthy nails.
As you progress into the third trimester, you’re definitely going to start feeling truly pregnant. Your breasts will become heavier, your belly will toy with your center of gravity, and your baby’s movements will be vigorous enough to be seen, let alone felt.
You may also notice things you weren’t really looking forward to, like stretch marks, swelling and weight gain. But don’t let these affect your joy. Your body is performing a miraculous feat; be proud of what you’re capable of and look forward to the moment you get to hold your baby in arms.
Is it time yet?
As your pregnancy reaches its summit, every little twinge will have you wondering, Is this it? To add to the confusion, you’ve probably been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions for a while. (Braxton Hicks are those seemingly random “practice contractions” that turn your belly into a rock for several moments but don’t get you any closer to delivery.) They’re usually painless, although they can be uncomfortable at times, and will subside if you change positions and drink plenty of water.
True labor contractions happen at regular intervals, become more frequent and more intense as time passes, and let’s face it, they hurt—a lot. The pain is similar to intense period cramps and could be accompanied by your water breaking.
When I went into labor with my third child, the first symptom I had was my water breaking. I was snuggled up under the covers on a Sunday morning while my partner was out playing golf. I didn’t feel great, but that wasn’t news for a woman who was 41 weeks pregnant. I shifted to try to ease a slight ache in my back, and that was it: I felt an unmistakable rush of warm fluid. My beautiful daughter was born later that day.
The grand finale
I didn’t have an epidural with either of my first two children, and even though the exact memory of the pain is fuzzy, I haven’t entirely forgotten it. With my third baby, I was open to having an epidural if I needed one. As it turns out, I did, and I can safely say there are pros and cons whichever way you choose to go.
Beyond the jab of a needle in your back, an epidural can make labor absolutely painless. It will also numb your legs so much you can’t move them, making a catheter mandatory, as you can’t walk to the bath- room. An epidural can stall the urgency of natural labor, as it did with mine, resulting in a 10-hour labor for a woman whose first two had each been born in under five. And my pushing wasn’t quite as effective, so I wound up having my first episiotomy.
That said, birth with an epidural was a far less painful, tiring event than birth without one. However, going sans epidural was faster, and I was more engaged in my body’s processes. No matter the route you take, remember that this isn’t a contest and you don’t have to prove anything. You’re having your baby, plain and simple. Do it the way that makes you most happy, and then love that little baby to pieces when she gets here.