Finding out you’re pregnant is a momentous time in your life.
Whether it’s surprising or welcome news, most newly pregnant women immediately want to tell someone.
While many women know they are pregnant as early as a week after a missed period, social norms dictate pregnancy announcements should wait until after the all-important 12-week mark.
The early weeks of pregnancy are often filled with roller coaster style emotions, hormones and pregnancy symptoms. Despite all of these things, many women deal with them on their own, or with just their partner, rather than sharing with those around them.
When did we start waiting to announce pregnancy?
For millennia, women became aware of their pregnancies after several missed periods, but would usually wait for the first fetal movements before sharing their news. Known as ‘quickening’, these first movements happen around the four-month mark. In the days well before home pregnancy tests, the quickening was usually the most reliable confirmation of pregnancy. A missed period or two might be simply irregular cycles.
With the advent of prenatal care and testing in the 1900s, women began to know more about their pregnancies from a much earlier stage. Obstetric ultrasound was first used in the 1970s, as a screening test to identify babies who had higher risks of chromosomal conditions, such as Down’s syndrome, heart defects or genetic disorders.
This diagnostic ultrasound is performed between 11-14 weeks to improve the accuracy of the results. As a result, women began to keep their pregnancy news quiet until they had the results of their scan. Approximately 5% of pregnancies are continued when there is a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome. The emotional time after a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome or other chromosomal disorders is something parents will experience in a vacuum.
The risk of miscarriage became another societal taboo women were supposed to hide. It’s widely known that up to 25% of early pregnancies end in miscarriage (this includes very early miscarriage, before a woman realises she is pregnant). The risk of miscarriage after the fetal heartbeat is detected reduces as gestation increases:
- 9.4% at 6 weeks
- 4.2% at 7 weeks
- 1.5% at 8 weeks
- 0.5% at 9 weeks
- 0.7% at 10 weeks
If you turn those figures around, it may be more reassuring. At 6 weeks, the risk of miscarriage is 9.4%, but the risk of NOT miscarrying is 90.6%.
While many women do experience miscarriage, they do so silently because of the expectation to wait until the pregnancy is less likely to end.
There are a number of reasons why this social taboo on announcing a pregnancy before 12 weeks may need to change. Here are 4 of them:
#1: First trimester blues
The first 12 weeks of pregnancy can be hard. Your body is going through rapid changes, many of them unexpected and difficult to hide. Sore breasts, extreme mood swings, food aversions, food cravings – you name it there’s something going on at all times and you’re supposed to keep the cause under wraps!
Up to 90% of pregnant women experience morning sickness, which could be all day sickness. Approximately 2-5% of women experience a more severe form of nausea called hyperemesis gravidarum, which can result in severe dehydration and frequent hospital visits.
The first trimester is characterised by extreme fatigue and exhaustion, as your body begins the taxing work of growing another human being. All of the main developmental growth occurs in the first trimester as your baby forms organs, limbs, brain, skin, muscles, nervous system, and so on. There’s a lot going on inside that you can’t see but you can definitely feel the effects of it on your body.
Having support in place to help you with the daily chores, caring for your children and getting dinner on the table could be a lifesaver. If you’re working outside the home, when you share your news is up to you. Bear in mind if you work in an environment that may be toxic, stressful or involves heavy lifting, it could be worth having a quiet word to your employer.
#2: Sharing is caring
There are no rules to when you announce your pregnancy. Some women wait until they’re 20 weeks, others can’t wait for the home pregnancy test to dry! Social norms can change and adapt, if you want to unroll a banner on the bridge or put an announcement in the paper, it’s up to you.
Some women worry about how people will accept their news, especially if their pregnancy was unplanned, they already have children, or there’s someone close who is dealing with infertility. Except for the last, you owe no one an apology for being happy, thrilled or shocked yourself when you find out you’re pregnant. If you have a close relative or friend who is experiencing infertility, yes it can be hard for them to hear your news, but it will be hard whether you’re 6 weeks or 16 weeks pregnant.
#3: Build a village
Today’s mothers have less community around them than those of generations before. From the moments you know you are pregnant, you’ll want to know all you can about prenatal care, birth and what to expect once the baby is actually here. Sure, you can read about it but nothing replaces being in touch with other women you respect for their parenting values, knowledge about birth, or expertise with baby essentials.
If your first trimester is particularly rough, having that village to rally around and support you becomes a lifeline. Women who have been through what you are going through can give you the sort of support and encouragement you need, much like a doula supports a labouring woman. Online groups exist for women to seek out other like-minded people and this can be a lifesaver for many new mums as they navigate their way through early parenting.
#4: A shoulder to lean on
While it’s every woman’s hope they don’t experience pregnancy loss, the reality is it does happen and no one should suffer in silence. The biggest fear women have of announcing a pregnancy early, is having to ‘untell’ them if a miscarriage occurs. While this taboo around miscarriage continues, society forces women to keep their pain to themselves.
When speaking to friends or family about miscarriage, it may come as a shock how many of them have been through this experience. Being able to support one another as we deal with the grief of loss is invaluable. Miscarriage often occurs because sperm and egg weren’t chromosomally compatible in that particular instance. Around 80% of women go on to have healthy pregnancies afterwards. But grieving your lost baby is important and should be respected. Having your support network there for you can help you deal with your grief and pain.
Women who have suspect prenatal tests and need further investigation often describe this time as isolating and terrifying. Again, choosing people to be your support network to hold you up and help you process what you are going through can be invaluable. Many women feel it’s better not to cause others worry or stress, but in many cases, those people wish they could be of help. Trying to cope alone can be difficult to endure.
Announcing your pregnancy before the usual 12 weeks is not a hard and fast rule. You might choose to let people know at different stages and in a way you are most comfortable with. Having a support network in place to help you deal with the challenges of the first trimester may mean you are better prepared for birth and new parenthood. Being able to rely on family and friends if things get difficult can help you cope and get through.