Last Updated October 23rd, 2019
What is Pregnancy?
Mammals, such as humans, are those animals that give birth to live young and feed them with milk produced by the mothers’ bodies. Offspring are conceived by sexual reproduction, following which they spend the earliest period of their development within the bodies of their mothers. They are only brought into the external environment once they have achieved a certain degree of growth and development.
This early period of growth spent being nurtured within the mother’s body is known as gestation or pregnancy. The length of pregnancy is variable across species. Human babies normally require a period of nine months from conception before they are ready to be born.
During the nine months of a full-term pregnancy, the woman’s body undergoes a number of biological and physical changes to accommodate and provide for the needs of the growing fetus. It must also prepare for the event of childbirth and for feeding the baby afterward. The entire process is marked by a range of hormonal changes.
How Does a Woman Become Pregnant?
In a fertile premenstrual woman, the ovaries take turns to release one mature ovum every month in order for it to become fertilized by a sperm. When the ovum becomes fertilized in this way (conception), it gets implanted in the specially prepared lining of the uterus or womb. Successful implantation marks the beginning of pregnancy. From this time, until the end of the pregnancy, the woman will no longer experience menstrual bleeding.
What Happens During Pregnancy?
The fetus develops in the womb within a fluid-filled enclosure known as the amniotic sac. The placenta is a structure that transfers nutrients and oxygen from the mother’s body to the developing embryo (fetus) through the umbilical cord.
Pregnancy in humans is broken into three equal stages or trimesters. Each of these stages involves certain changes in the woman’s body. This also involves hormonal changes which are responsible for some noticeable symptoms such as mood swings and changes in libido.
The First Trimester
The onset of pregnancy brings the following signs:
- Missed menstrual period.
- Slight spotting or minor bleeding is observed in some cases.
- Nausea and vomiting. This is known as morning sickness.
- Strong food cravings and aversions.
- Frequent urges to urinate.
- Milky vaginal discharge.
- Sore breasts.
- Acid reflux and heartburn.
- Mood changes.
- Changes in libido.
- Weight gain.
The Second Trimester
During this phase, the growth of the fetus causes a bulge in the mother’s belly. Symptoms such as morning sickness will no longer appear in this phase. As the fetus grows it begins to put pressure on other organs such as the stomach, causing acidic stomach contents to flow back up the esophagus. This is what causes heartburn. Increased weight and pressure from the growing fetus is also responsible for the appearance of varicose veins in the mother’s legs. Symptoms include:
- Increased appetite.
- Further weight gain.
- The mother is able to feel some movements of the fetus.
- Increased libido.
- A backache.
- Enlargement of breasts.
- Acid reflux and heartburn.
- Varicose veins.
The Third Trimester
As the fetus grows even larger, the pressure on the mother’s spine, bladder and other organs increases. Towards the end of the third trimester, the mother’s body begins to prepare for labor and childbirth. The final trimester produces the following symptoms:
- More weight gain.
- Feeling short of breath.
- Further enlargement of breasts.
- Vaginal discharge.
- Increased frequency of urination.
- Lack of sleep.
- Mild contractions.
- Swollen ankles.
- Swollen face.
Are There Different Types of Pregnancies?
Yes, there are. The different types of pregnancy are:
- Singlet pregnancy involves a single fetus developing in the womb.
- When there is more than one fetus at a time, whether two, three or more, this is known as multiple pregnancies.
- Normal pregnancies are also known as intrauterine This means that the embryo has become implanted within the uterus and this is where it develops until it is ready to be born.
- Implantation of the embryo in locations other than the uterine cavity, such as the fallopian tubes, gives rise to an ectopic pregnancy. This can be fatal.
Excessive bleeding, dizziness and abdominal pain at any stage of pregnancy warrant urgent medical attention. These are not normal symptoms. Pregnancy does not always reach full term and end in successful childbirth. There are many different problems that can occur during the process. The list below includes a few examples:
- Gestational diabetes. Some women develop abnormally high levels of blood sugar during pregnancy. This can affect the mother as well as the fetus. Children born of such pregnancy are more likely to be obese and diabetic themselves.
- Abortion or miscarriage is the termination of pregnancy before it reaches full term. This may be a spontaneous abortion or an artificial/induced abortion. Spontaneous abortions occur when the mother’s body rejects the embryo or fetus for a variety of reasons. The fetus may be incompatible with the mother’s body, for instance. Abortion can also occur on account of trauma or malnutrition. Artificial abortion by means of drugs or surgical intervention is a topic of much debate worldwide. It is legal in some places and illegal in others. In some countries, artificial abortion is considered a criminal offense after the fetus has attained a certain stage of development. However, depending on the specific legal provisions, some mitigating factors may be taken into account.
- Preeclampsia is a condition usually involving high blood pressure and kidney damage. This can have fatal consequences for both mother and child.
- Placenta previa refers to a condition where the placenta is positioned such that it partially or completely obstructs the cervix. There can be severe bleeding both before and after delivery. In order to avoid such complications, a Caesarean section may be performed.
What Tests Should Pregnant Women Undergo?
A urine test or blood test can confirm whether or not a woman is pregnant. Once pregnancy is confirmed, women must take care to go in for routine prenatal tests from time to time as well as any specialized tests that may be recommended. Typical tests include:
- Physical examination.
- Medical history and family history.
- Blood tests to check hormone levels and blood sugar. These tests can also help diagnose conditions such as anemia or nutritional deficiencies.
- Blood pressure. Hypertension is a common complication during pregnancy and needs to be monitored routinely once diagnosed.
- Ultrasound to monitor the progress of the fetus.
- Pap smear to check for cervical cancer or sexually transmitted infections.
- Genetic amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling to look for genetic abnormalities in the fetus.
Management of Symptoms
- Breast tenderness – This is one of the most common symptoms of pregnancy. Finding a well-fitting bra can help in easing the discomfort.
- Fatigue – Getting a few naps in during the day, mild exercise and consuming protein snacks can help ward off this symptom.
- Hemorrhoids – Increasing fiber intake and staying hydrated can help in managing this symptom.
- Constipation – Due to the excess production of progestin in the body, pregnant women will feel bloated and gassy. Consuming fluids and moderate exercise can help in easing constipation.
- Heartburn – Sitting in an upright position after meals, going for a walk can help in easing these symptoms.
- Nausea and vomiting – To aid in the management of this symptom, pregnant women must consume bland foods, monitor their blood sugar levels and eat small meals can help curb this symptom.
- Doctors recommend that pregnant women with gestational diabetes keep a close eye on their blood sugar levels. Checking their blood sugar early in the morning and after every meal, to make sure that it is in the normal range will help keep a track on the blood sugar levels in the body.
- Maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy is important. As eating foods that may increase the pregnant woman’s blood sugar can become a risk factor for the baby as well.
- Regular exercise is important before and during pregnancy. This helps in maintaining a healthy body weight and ensuring that there is proper blood circulation throughout the body.
- In case exercise and diet do not reduce the blood sugar levels in the body, insulin injections will be given to help bring back the blood sugar levels to their normal range.
- The baby must be closely monitored, to ensure that there are no complications during the pregnancy.
- Maintain a clean and healthy diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy body weight, before pregnancy.
- When healthcare specialists have determined the end of a pregnancy, miscarriages are left to carry out on their own, if there is no sign of infection. This process takes 3-4 weeks.
- In some cases, medications can be prescribed for those who would like to speed up the process. These medications are given orally or inserted into the female body. Generally, doctors recommend inserting the medication to expel the pregnancy tissue.
- In cases where the pregnancy tissue does not come out on its own, a surgical procedure is performed to remove a tissue from the cervix.
- Visit the doctor regularly.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol consumption.
- Take the adequate multivitamins.
- Restrict caffeine intake.
- Medication to lower blood pressure levels and avoid seizures will be prescribed.
- Medications to help mature the baby’s lungs and improve placenta function to maintain the pregnancy will be prescribed.
- In cases of mild bleeding, bed rest will be recommended along with a restriction on excessive physical activities.
- If the bleeding is moderate, health care providers will monitor the condition of the baby and conduct a C-section if necessary.
- If the bleeding does not stop, and the baby is in distress – an emergency C-section will be conducted.
- Do not smoke.
- Do not consume alcohol.
- Refrain from the use of illicit drugs such as cocaine.
- The uterus expands up to 500 times its original size during the course of pregnancy.
- Pregnant women have a 40-50% higher blood plasma volume.
- The longest pregnancy was 1 year and 10 days.
- Pregnant women and mothers can lactate immediately if they hear a baby cry, even if it’s not their own baby.
- 1 in every 2,000 babies is born with a tooth.
- Pregnant women’s placenta tends to produce more estrogen in a day than what a non-pregnant woman would produce in 3 years.
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Dos and Don'ts
- Consume prenatal vitamins, these vitamins help in assisting fetus growth and development.
- Partake in mild exercise; being active can cut down the risk of weight gain and gestational diabetes.
- Consume seafood, it provides the baby and the mother with heart-healthy vitamins such as omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and iron.
- Indulge in smoking; doing so can harm the baby.
- Consume alcohol as it can have a negative effect on the baby’s development.
- Consume raw meat. Doing so can lead to serious infections causing birth defects and even miscarriages.
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