Week 1 - Menstruation
By the end of each menstrual period, your body prepares to release another egg in around a fortnight’s time. The lining of your womb will build up in readiness to nurture the egg in case it becomes fertilised. If this doesn’t happen, the lining will be shed with your next period.
We’ve had an overview of what’s involved in the first trimester and how it relates to the full 40 weeks of pregnancy. But what’s really happening inside your body and to your baby in these first few months? What can you do to support your baby through the earliest weeks and provide the best possible environment for your baby to thrive?
Let’s look at the first week, where it all begins and why it’s as important as any of the others to follow:
In the first week
This is when you will have your period and, for now, there isn’t even a baby present. This is because it is still a couple of weeks away from being conceived. That doesn’t mean that you can just ignore this first week though. You still have some early planning and date keeping to do.
Each time you have a period, your body is preparing itself for a potential pregnancy. A lot of complex hormonal changes are going on inside your body, in readiness to support fertilisation if it happens in around a fortnight’s time. This is why we count the first day of a woman’s period as a starting point for the countdown towards the expected due date. Although it may not seem to make sense, it is standard practice to include the first 2 weeks.
Mark on a calendar the day and date you started bleeding and for how long your period lasted. If you can, keep a record for a couple of months, so you know the length of your menstrual cycles. For most women this is around 28 days, though a few days either side of this is still considered within a normal range. Becoming familiar with your own body’s rhythms and cycles will help you plan for conception and to time when you are most likely to fall pregnant.
When will I ovulate?
Most women ovulate around 12-14 days after the first day of their period. If you want to fall pregnant, try conceiving just before or during ovulation.
Conception: how and when does it happen?
We can never know exactly when conception or fertilisation occurs. Although the earth may have moved for you both when you had sex, nothing as momentous happens when a sperm and egg meet. Conception usually occurs without fanfare or any outward signs that it has happened.
There is a small window of time when an egg (ova) can survive after it has been released from the ovary. It takes around 12-24 hours for the egg to migrate from the ovary down the fallopian tube. This is where fertilisation of an egg with a sperm usually happens. Sperm can generally survive for longer than an egg, but only the hardiest and most mobile of sperm can find their way up through the cervix and the womb to the fallopian tube.
Some women will have a light bleed at the time when the fertilised egg burrows into the lining of their womb. This show of blood shouldn’t be confused with a period.
Week 1: what you can do
Keep a record of when your period starts and for how long you bleed. This will help you to determine the length of your cycles and when you are most likely to conceive.
If you want to conceive, stop using contraception. If you have been using a hormone-based contraceptive such as the Pill, it may take some time for your body to readjust to its normal cycles.
Start taking pre-natal vitamins, which include a folic acid supplement. The recommended dose in early pregnancy is 500 mcg/day. If possible, start taking this a couple of months before you fall pregnant. Low folic acid intake has been linked with a higher incidence of neural tube defects in babies.
Try to stay healthy and active. Aim to do some exercise each day and eat sensibly.
Have a medical check-up to make sure you are in the best possible shape to conceive. Smoking, taking drugs, being overweight or generally having an unhealthy lifestyle can all interfere with, or delay, conception.
Make sure your immunisations are up to date. Check with your doctor to ensure that you are covered and your baby is protected.
Try not to take any medication unless it has been prescribed specifically for you. Some medications are harmful to babies, especially in the early weeks of their development.
Hint for the week
Aim for a healthy life. Try to focus on what’s good for you and what will help your body stay strong and healthy.
Go to week 2 to find out what happens next!