Early pregnancy

Written by SHFPACT on . Posted in Sexual Health


How is the length of a pregnancy calculated?
Pregnancy is counted from the first day of your last normal menstrual period and lasts about 40 weeks from that time.             

It is divided into 3 trimesters:

  • First trimester – conception to 12 weeks
  • Second trimester – 12 to 24 weeks
  • Third trimester – 24 to 40 weeks

Health in early pregnancy:
Diet in pregnancy: Good nutrition during pregnancy is important for the health of both the mother and the developing baby. An increase in the amount of food or calories is not required; it is the quality of the diet which really matters.  A healthy balanced diet including all food groups is what is needed.

A vegetarian diet can meet the needs of your pregnancy as long as you take care to include enough protein, iron, vitamin B12 and calcium-containing foods.  For further information on diet in pregnancy talk to your GP or a nutritionist and take a look — Click here! (betterhealth.vic.gov.au)

Weight gain in pregnancy:  Weight gain in pregnancy varies between women. Average weight gain is usually between 10 and 13 kilos. Most women gain around 1 to 2 kilos in the first 3 months and 1 to 2 kilos a month for the last 6 months. It is important to not try to lose weight in pregnancy as this can affect the health of the baby, however gaining too much weight can cause also health problems for you. If you are concerned about weight talk discuss this with your GP or a dietician.

Guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy are:

  • Underweight women (BMI < 18.5) should gain 12-18 kilos.
  • Normal-weight women (BMI, 18.5-24.9) should gain 11-16 kilos.
  • Overweight women (BMI, 25-29.9) should gain 7-11 kilos.
  • Obese women (BMI, 30 or higher) should gain 5-9 kilos.
    Institute of Medicine 2009

Exercise in early pregnancy: Exercise in early pregnancy can be very beneficial, however if you have any physical problems or conditions which may interfere with you exercising always discuss it with your GP first. As an unusually high body temperature has been shown to affect the developing foetus, avoid exercising to the point of heavy sweating, or exercising on hot or humid days. It is also advisable not to start a vigorous form of exercise for the first time  in pregnancy. For more information on pregnancy and exercise CLICK HERE.

Folate: Folate (also known as folic acid) is one of the B-group vitamins and is essential for the healthy development of a foetus in early pregnancy.  In the growing foetus, there is something called the neural tube, which later develops into the baby’s spinal cord, brain and the bones that enclose them. If something goes wrong in development, the result is called a neural tube defect. A neural tube defect  can cause a wide range of disabilities some of which can be very serious. Over 600 pregnancies in Australia every year are affected by neural tube defects.                   

Folic acid taken before conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy can prevent seven out of ten cases of neural tube defects.  It is in tablet form from pharmacies and a daily dose of 0.5 mg (500mcg) recommended. It  is also found naturally in leafy green vegetables, wholegrain breads, cereals, and legumes such as peas, dried beans and lentils. Even women who aren’t planning to have a baby should increase their folate intake because about half of all pregnancies in Australia are unplanned. 
For further information CLICK HERE.

Iodine: Iodine is an essential nutrient for humans. It is especially important for the development of a baby’s brain and the nervous system during pregnancy and infancy. It is recommended that all pregnant and breastfeeding women take an iodine supplement of 150 micrograms a day. Discuss this with your GP to make sure that you have no contraindications. For further information CLICK HERE.

Iron: Iron is an essential nutrient needed by the body to make red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body. Iron requirements increase during pregnancy and a deficiency can lead to tiredness, dizziness and decreased resistance to infection, It is found in varying amounts in different foods.

Pregnant women can usually get enough iron from food; however there are some women may find that they need iron supplementation, such as those who have a vegetarian or vegan diet, a history of iron deficiency, or who have a multiple pregnancy.  If these issues are relevant to you discuss it with your GP. For further information CLICK HERE.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a nutrient that helps to maintain the strength of bone and muscle, and assist you to absorb calcium. It also helps the baby to develop strong bones during pregnancy. The most important source of vitamin D is sunlight. In summer, normal daily exposure to sunlight should supply adequate vitamin D without putting you at increased risk of skin cancer. In winter the recommended exposure is 2-3 hours a week. Darker skinned people require longer exposure to sunlight to get enough vitamin D. For more information see: Vitamin D and pregnancy CLICK HERE.

Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 one of the B group vitamins and is found in meat and eggs. It is essential for the development of the brain and nervous system of babies. Some women are at an increased risk of B12 deficiency, including women with a family history of B12 deficiency, with conditions affection absorption or who are strict vegetarians or vegan. These women should consider supplementation with Vitamin B12 in pregnancy and during breastfeeding.  If you are at risk of deficiency discuss this with your GP. For more information CLICK HERE.

Calcium: Calcium is an essential mineral and is important during pregnancy and breastfeeding because it is needed for the formation of the baby’s bones.  Calcium supplements are not considered necessary in pregnancy; just make sure that you are getting enough calcium as part of a healthy diet.  Dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, and calcium-fortified soymilk are excellent dietary sources of calcium.  3 serves a day are recommended. For more information see: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Pregnancy_and_diet

Vitamin supplements: While a healthy balanced diet should be adequate for most women there are specifically developed multivitamin formulas available which are considered safe and suitable for pregnant women to take.  These contain lower levels of certain vitamins such as A and E which can be toxic if taken in excess during pregnancy, and should also contain the appropriate amounts of folic acid, iodine and iron. If you wish to take a multivitamin discuss this with your GP first, and talk to a pharmacist about the most suitable pregnancy formula available. Never take more than the recommended dose.
Mercury in fish: Mercury can cause developmental delays in children who have been exposed during pregnancy. Pregnant women need to limit the amount of fish they eat which contain high levels of mercury. Fish which contain higher levels of mercury are: flake, ray, swordfish, barramundi, gemfish, orange roughy, ling and southern blue fin tuna.

Listeria: This is a food poisoning illness caused by the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. It is a mild illness in most people but can become serious and most importantly can be very dangerous to unborn babies. There are certain foods which are high risk for Listeria infection and need to be avoided in pregnancy, these are:

  • Ready-to-eat seafood such as smoked fish or mussels, oysters or raw seafood such as sashimi or sushi
  • Pre-prepared or pre-packaged fruit and vegetable salads including those available from buffets, salad bars and sandwich bars
  • Drinks made from fresh fruit and vegetables where washing procedures are unknown (excluding pasteurised or canned juices)
  • Deli meats which are eaten without further cooking or heating, such as pate, ham, Strasbourg (Stras) and salami and cooked and diced chicken (as used in sandwich shops)
  • Any unpasteurised milk or foods made from unpasteurised milk
  • Soft-serve icecreams
  • Soft cheeses, such as brie, camembert, ricotta and feta (these are safe if cooked and served hot)
  • Ready-to-eat foods, including leftover meats, which have been refrigerated for more than one day
  • Dips and salad dressings in which vegetables may have been dipped
  • Raw vegetable garnishes.

For more information CLICK HERE.
Salmonella: This is a bacteria which causes food poisoning, it can trigger miscarriage. Salmonella most commonly occurs in raw eggs and undercooked meat and poultry. Toxoplasmosis: This is a parasite normally found in birds and mammals(mainly cats). It is also found in raw pork and lamb. Infection during pregnancy can cause birth defects in the foetus. Good food hygiene:
Good food hygiene is the best way to reduce the risk of salmonella, listeria and toxoplasmosis infections.

  • Always wash your hands before and after preparing food.
  • Keep your kitchen surfaces clean and keep pets off surfaces.
  • Wash cutting boards immediately after preparing meat
  • Store food at correct temperatures. 
  • Do not let uncooked food contaminate cooked food.
  • Wash fruit, vegetables and salad before eating.
  • Cook food thoroughly.
  • Avoid eating rare or raw meats- cook meat until juices run clear.
  • Avoid close contact with cats.
  • Ensure litter trays are changed daily. 
  • Do not change litter trays yourself or wear gloves if you have to change them.
  • Wear gloves while gardening.
  • Avoid uncovered sandpits.

Caffeine: Drinking high amounts of caffeine may make becoming pregnant more difficult and may increase the risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy.  Limit drinks that contain caffeine to two per day for coffee and 6 per day for tea.

Medications/drugs: There are many medications and prescription drugs that can be harmful to unborn babies. You need to discuss any prescription medications with your doctor if you are thinking of becoming pregnant, or as soon as you are pregnant. Do not take any over the counter medications without first checking with your doctor, pharmacist or midwife. This includes common drugs such as asprin or ibuprofen (which is now known to be associated with miscarriage). It is better to avoid taking any non essential medication during pregnancy, however if you need analgesia then paracetamol  is considered safe during pregnancy providing the recommended dose is not exceeded. For more information CLICK HERE.

Alcohol: Alcohol consumed during pregnancy passes directly into the unborn babies blood supply. It can have serious affects on an unborn baby and may even result in a condition called foetal alcohol spectrum disorder which has a range of physical, behavioural and mental effects. The safe level of alcohol during pregnancy is unknown and even a small amount drunk at the wrong time can cause problems. For this reason women are advised not to drink any alcohol during pregnancy. For more information CLICK HERE.

Illegal drugs: There are many illegal drugs that can seriously affect your baby’s health if used during pregnancy. These include marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, amphetamines, LSD and heroin. It is best to avoid all illegal drugs during pregnancy, however  if you are using any drugs be sure to talk to your GP or midwife so they can help you and your baby to stay as healthy and as safe as possible. There is a program in the ACT that can assist pregnant mothers in this situation-the 'SUPS' program – (substance use in pregnancy support). This program provides pregnancy care by a known midwife, and includes social worker and drug & alcohol worker support.

For more information about the SUPS program phone (02) 6244 3470.                   

Environmental Toxins:There are some common substances that are known to be potentially toxic during pregnancy and are best  avoided completely, these are: dry cleaning products and oven cleaners, paint thinners or paint strippers; Insecticides; herbicides and any products or materials which may contain lead or mercury.

Morning sickness: Morning sickness during pregnancy is common. Symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.  Despite its name it can occur any time of day or night. There are things you can do to lessen the effects of morning sickness, such as eating very small frequent meals and always avoiding an empty stomach, eating a few dry crackers before getting out of bed in the morning and avoiding fatty or spicy foods. Occasionally morning sickness can become severe, and in some cases may require hospitalisation. If you find that you are vomiting it becomes persistent, see your GP. For more information and tips CLICK HERE.

Pregnancy and birth care: Health care during pregnancy: Care during pregnancy is called antenatal care. Regular antenatal care is very important for the health of you and your baby. This care can be provided by a GP, a midwife an obstetrician or a combination of these. Whether or not your own GP is able to provide antenatal care it is important to establish and maintain contact with them throughout the pregnancy.

Tests in early pregnancy: There are some routine blood tests that are advised during early pregnancy as part of the health care for you and your baby. You will need to discuss these with your GP. For further information see: Routine Antenatal tests CLICK HERE.

Birth options: There are a number of choices available for women regarding care during pregnancy and birth. Carers may include a midwife, GP, obstetrician or a combination of these. You may need to book in early for some of these choices- particularly if you wish to attend the birth centre or would like your choice of private obstetrician. Discuss your options with your GP. For more information on birth options in Canberra see: ‘Having a Baby in Canberra’ wchm.org.au

What to do next: The next step is to make an appointment to see your GP, or find a GP if you don’t have one. Recommended websites:  For reliable evidence based health information on pregnancy, birth & beyond see:

Download: Early-Pregnancy-2012.pdf

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