Whether your pregnancy is planned or a surprise, the minute you find out you’re pregnant you’re filled with excitement and a little anxiety.
Certainly, you’ll have many questions about what the stages of pregnancy are all about.
Please read on to get some helpful information on the different stages of pregnancy and what to expect.
Vital reading about what to expect and when you might feel your baby is in the article Pregnancy Symptoms Week By Week.
What are the stages of pregnancy?
Pregnancy begins with the conception of your baby, followed by the implantation of the embryo.
There are three stages of pregnancy:
- Weeks 1-12, called the first trimester
- The second trimester, weeks 13-26
- Finally, the third trimester, weeks 27-40.
At each stage, most women have a lot of questions, especially if it’s their first pregnancy.
Generally, by the time they get to the second or third baby, they’re much more relaxed about pregnancy and what to expect.
What is the first stage of pregnancy?
The first exciting stage of pregnancy is the first trimester. It starts from week 1 and ends after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
An interesting fact: for the first two weeks of pregnancy, you’re not actually pregnant.
Pregnancy is dated as starting from the first day of your last menstrual period. This is how your care provider will come up with your estimated due date.
Want to know what that date is?
Check out BellyBelly’s Due Date Calculator – When Is My Baby Due?
We’re going to start with conception. This happens after ovulation, where an egg is released from the ovary.
The process starts with sperm traveling through the vagina and uterus to find an egg in the Fallopian tube. Here, one sperm will penetrate the waiting egg and fertilize it. That’s conception!
Check out this amazing video about the miracle of conception.
It might surprise you to know conception and pregnancy involve a number of complicated steps. For a pregnancy to progress and a baby to be born, every little detail must fall into place.
It’s such an exciting time.
If you’re in the ‘planning a baby’ stage, check out Pre-Conception Checklist – How To Prepare For Pregnancy.
For pregnancy to happen, the fertilized egg must attach to the uterine lining. This is called implantation.
Implanting gives the fertilized egg a blood supply so it can start growing into a baby.
Implantation is an early stage of pregnancy and usually occurs 6 to 12 days after conception, or about day 25 of your cycle.
For more information, please read Implantation Cramps – Could Cramping Be Implantation?
What week do pregnancy symptoms start?
One of the first ways a woman knows she’s pregnant is that she’s missed her expected period.
Many women experience early pregnancy signs before that time, but might not know it. Early pregnancy symptoms can be quite similar to those you have just before your normal period arrives.
Exactly when these symptoms of pregnancy start vary between women, and even between pregnancies.
Some women will start to have some of the early signs of fatigue, nausea, and breast tenderness in the week before their expected period. Many won’t notice any signs until after their missed menstrual period when they might take a home pregnancy test.
You might or might not have morning sickness in the first trimester. In some women, it doesn’t happen just in the first 12 weeks but continues on for much longer.
You could even be one of those most envied women who have none of these symptoms.
Please read Pregnancy Symptoms | 16 Signs Of Pregnancy for more information.
Hyperemesis in pregnancy
A severe form of pregnancy sickness occurs in up to 2% of women. This is called hyperemesis gravidarum and it’s not the same as morning sickness. It’s severe, persistent nausea and vomiting that can cause weight loss and dehydration.
This article will help you to understand Hyperemesis Gravidarum – More Than Morning Sickness in more detail.
Your baby in the first stage of pregnancy
Baby development happens rapidly during the first trimester.
The baby develops a brain and spinal cord, and the sex organs begin to form.
The baby’s heartbeat will also begin to beat during the first trimester. Arms and legs develop in the first few weeks, and by the end of eight weeks, fingers and toes are forming.
This early in pregnancy, your baby will be moving, but you can’t feel it. Late in the first trimester, some women feel a flutter or a ‘quickening’ in their belly, but usually, movements are felt around 20 weeks.
Most women will have antenatal tests during the first trimester. Your doctor might offer you a dating scan in the first 6-8 weeks if you’re not sure of the date of your last menstrual period.
Remember, your due date is just an estimate, so look at it more like a due month. Only 3-5% of babies are born on their actual due date.
At the end of the first trimester, you will be offered a nuchal scan, which is done in conjunction with a blood test, to detect fetal abnormalities.
If you have a family history of genetic abnormalities and would like an early confirmation of the sex of your baby, you can also get further blood tests and scans.
Speak to your care provider about what’s appropriate for you.
For more in-depth information, check out Pregnancy Week By Week – The First Trimester.
How to choose a care provider that suits you
Some women might have already considered the care provider they want when they were planning for a baby – especially if they want a home birth with a private midwife.
Many women choose private midwifery and home birth – especially families who want to avoid restrictions and interventions in hospitals.
If this is your choice, check availability with your local midwives early, as they book out very quickly.
Most women will see their doctor, who will refer them to the public system, or a private obstetrician if they want to birth in a private hospital.
Be sure to read How Do I Choose A Care Provider? for more information.
What is the second stage of pregnancy?
The second trimester goes from 13-27 weeks.
This is traditionally the time most families announce to the world that they’re having a baby. Maybe you’re good at keeping a secret, or perhaps you decided to let everyone know earlier than 12 weeks.
It’s your choice when to announce your pregnancy.
The second trimester is usually the time when women feel amazing, especially if the first trimester was a rough journey. Goodbye morning sickness!
Generally, you don’t look pregnant yet, but you definitely have something in the middle there. It’s not until about mid-pregnancy you really get a baby bump.
When Do You Start To Look Pregnant? is a great read for women wondering where their cute little bump is.
If you haven’t already, it’s a good time to start thinking about what you will name your baby.
If you need any help choosing a name, be sure to check out BellyBelly’s section on baby names.
Second-trimester pregnancy symptoms
The pregnancy symptoms of the first trimester will ease up and you’ll start to experience more physical changes, as your body adapts to your growing baby.
You will probably start to feel aches and pains, as relaxin works its magic on your ligaments and joints.
You might experience pelvic girdle pain, which can be pretty hard to cope with. See a physical therapist such as an osteopath or chiropractor for advice and support on managing this.
As your baby grows and takes up more space, you’ll have bouts of heartburn and you’ll need to pee a lot!
Constipation will likely be a feature of this trimester, too.
Try to maintain a healthy diet and incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Your body will thank you, especially as exercise can shorten labor.
Some women might notice the production of colostrum and, due to the growth of their breasts, they might need to get fitted for new bras.
Have a read of 10 Ways You Know You’re In Your Second Trimester for a tongue-in-cheek perspective of the second stage of pregnancy.
Your baby in the second stage of pregnancy
The baby’s organs become fully developed during the second trimester and growth is happening rapidly.
The baby can also start to hear and swallow. A covering of small hairs, called lanugo, begins to grow on your baby.
Later on, in the second trimester, you might feel your baby moving. To feel your baby’s movements for the first time is the most wondrous feeling ever, and a moment most women never forget.
The second trimester is when a coating called vernix begins to form on your developing baby.
This is a white creamy substance that protects your baby’s skin from the amniotic fluid. After birth, delay your baby’s bath to allow the vernix to soak in, as it helps the skin to develop.
If you’re having a healthy pregnancy, you’ll probably see your doctor or midwife every 4-6 weeks during the second trimester.
More high-risk pregnancies might need closer monitoring until they reach full term.
As you head into the second trimester, please read 13 Weeks Pregnant | Belly, Ultrasound, And Symptoms.
What is the third stage of pregnancy?
The third and final trimester of pregnancy begins at 28 weeks and lasts until 40 weeks.
Remember, your due date is 40 weeks but your baby is more likely to be born before or after that date.
By the time you get to 40 weeks, you’ll be more than ready to have your baby!
There are so many benefits, though, in waiting until the baby is ready to be born.
Be sure to read 40 Reasons To Give Your Baby 40+ Weeks Of Pregnancy for more information.
Nesting kicks in for many women during the third trimester.
For you, this might mean getting everything ready for your baby, or it could be as random as needing to have every skirting board in your house spotless!
In the third trimester, many people will start asking you whether you’re about to have your baby any day now.
It’s rude, but everyone seems to think their opinion is worth hearing. You’ll soon get pretty tired of being asked if you’re having twins.
Read 7 Reasons Why Belly Size Doesn’t Always Equate To Baby Size, then try not to worry, and just ignore the negative comments.
When you get to the end of your pregnancy, the question ‘Is the baby here yet?’ will probably drive you mad.
To avoid this situation, you might consider not telling everyone the precise due date. That will keep them off your case and allow you to enjoy the last stage of your pregnancy.
Third-trimester pregnancy symptoms
The third trimester marks the home stretch but it can feel like it’s taking forever.
You start to feel more uncomfortable as the baby takes up more room. Your growing belly and weight gain have probably led to some stretch marks.
Aches and pains are a daily reminder that your body is doing an amazing job, stretching and preparing for birth. Massage and exercise can help alleviate this discomfort.
You might start noticing Braxton Hicks contractions are becoming a thing. These contractions are sometimes called practice contractions.
The difference between the real contractions and Braxton Hicks contractions is the real ones don’t stop until the baby is birthed. Practice contractions tighten your belly but they ease and go away.
What Do Contractions Feel Like? Our Best Explanation, Here! goes into detail about what to expect when the real thing happens.
You have passed the first and second trimesters, now read about 10 Ways You Know You’re In Your Third Trimester.
Preterm labor in the third trimester
As your midwife will inform you, a full-term pregnancy can be anywhere from 37 weeks onwards.
If your baby decides to arrive before 37 weeks he, or she, will be considered premature.
Be sure to read Premature Labour – Signs, Symptoms, and Management to find out more.
Your baby in the third stage of pregnancy
In the third trimester, your baby will decide to move into a head-down position. This is the optimal position for making birth easier.
Your baby continues to grow in weight and size. He can open his eyes and listen to everything going on in the outside world.
At this stage, babies are also laying down lots of brown fat, to keep them warm after birth and to provide some energy.
Your baby’s organs and systems are formed but the brain will continue to develop even after birth.
The lungs are the last organs to finish their development for life outside the womb. The readiness of the lungs is what causes labor to start!
Full-term babies are born after 37 weeks, and up to 42 weeks. After that, they’re considered post-term.
Postpartum / postnatal stage
Although technically it’s not pregnancy, we’re including the postpartum stage, which is also called the fourth trimester or ‘baby moon’. It covers the 12 weeks after you have had your baby.
Not everyone has heard of it, but every mother and her newborn baby will go through the fourth trimester.
It’s a time of change – both physical and emotional.
Your baby is adjusting to life outside the womb, and you’re transitioning into your new role as a mother.
It’s a time to spend with your newborn and partner and to get to know one other, as a family.
Many cultures around the world honor this time with special traditions and rituals that nourish the mother as she recovers from pregnancy and birth.
If you want to get prepped for your postnatal month, try these ideas, to help you during this busy time.
Some tips for postnatal prep:
- Hire a postnatal doula
- Stack away some frozen dinners.
- Don’t stress about the housework, or organize a cleaner
- Create a nest where you can just eat, sleep and feed the baby.
- Use your support networks and care providers.
- Be super kind to yourself.
For more information about the fourth trimester please read The Fourth Trimester – 8 Ways To Create One For Your Baby.