Pregnancy is the process of carrying a developing embryo or fetus in the uterus from the time on conception onwards. An embryo is a fertilized egg from the time of conception until the 8th week of pregnancy. A fetus is a developing human that is inside the mother from the end of the 8th week to birth. The uterus is a hollow organ in a female's body where the egg is implanted and the baby develops. Multiple pegnancies can also occur. WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF PREGNANCY?
The general signs and symptoms of pregnancy include increased breast size, increased skin discoloration or darkening (especially of the nipples), increased belly size, and temporary stoppage of the menstrual cycle. A menstrual cycle (also known as the period) is the shedding of the lining of the uterus that generally occurs once every 28 days in women who are not pregnant.
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HOW DOES ONE TEST FOR PREGNANCY?
There are many pregnancy tests that one can purchase over the counter (OTC). OTC pregnancy tests involve testing for a specific type of hormone (human chorionic gonadotropin; HCG) in the urine. Hormones are natural chemicals produced by the body and released into the blood that have a specific effect on tissues in the body. OTC pregnancy tests are generally as effective as tests performed in a doctorís office but must be used correctly to avoid misleading results. Technically, blood pregnancy tests are more sensitive than urine pregnancy tests.
If a woman feels she is pregnant even though the OTC pregnancy test came back negative, then she can make a doctorís appointment for additional testing. This will likely involve additional urine tests as well as blood tests. The doctor can also perform an examination of the pelvis can to detect pregnancy. The doctor will likely ask the woman the first day of her last period because the length in which a woman has not had her period can be used as an indicator of possible pregnancy. This information will also be used to estimate a delivery date or due date.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT STAGES OF PREGNANCY?
A normal pregnancy is 40 weeks long, which is divided into three distinct stages called trimesters. Each trimester lasts about three months. A womanís body changes in dramatic predictable ways during each trimester as the developing fetus grows. Below is a description of each trimester. FIRST TRIMESTER (months 1 to 3):This is the most important time of the development of the embryo/fetus. It is the stage where the fetus is most likely to be harmed by substances known to cause birth defects or defects. These substances include viruses, legal and illegal drugs, bacteria, chemicals, and other harmful substances in the environment. During the first trimester, the womanís breasts enlarge and become more tender. Increased fatigue, nausea, and vomiting (morning sickness) are common. As the baby grows, the uterus presses on the bladder, which often causes the mother to feel the urge to urinate.
At the end of the first trimester, the arms, legs, and major organs of the fetus are fully formed. At the end of the first trimester, fetus only weighs one ounce (there are 16 ounces in a pound) and is four inches long. SECOND TRIMESTER (months 4 to 6): This stage is generally the most comfortable for the mother because the nausea and vomiting from the first trimester is usually gone and because there is not as much weight gain (which enlarges the uterus) as occurs in the third trimester.
The womanís belly will continue to increase during the second trimester as the fetus grows even larger. Back pain may occur, the breasts and nipples enlarge, and the nipples get darker. Women may also experience indigestion, heartburn, gas, and constipation. A type of skin pigmentation that occurs is the linea nigra (which means, the dark line). The linea nigra is a thin, dark line that runs from the belly-button to the pubic hair.
Around week sixteen, the woman may feel the fetus move. This may feel like little gas bubbles. Between 18 to 20 weeks, the gender of the baby can be detected at the doctorís office with an ultrasound. An ultrasound is a procedure that uses types of sound waves to produce images of the body.
By the end of six months, the fetus can move around, sleep, wake, kick, hear, and urinate into the amniotic fluid. Amniotic fluid is a clear, watery, slightly yellowish fluid that surrounds and protects the fetus in the uterus. At the end of the second trimester, the fetus is about 11 to 14 inches long. The fetus weighs one to one and a half pounds. A fetus can survive if delivered at this time, but this would require very specialized medical care. THIRD TRIMESTER (months 7 to 9): This will be an uncomfortable time, as the motherís belly continues to expand to make room for the rapidly growing baby to be. The increased weight makes many basic activities more difficult, such as sleeping, sitting, and general movement. Shortness of breath is common and it will likely be difficult to eat large meals. Kicks and punches from the fetus become more powerful, adding another source of discomfort.
As the skin expands, stretch marks appear on the belly. The breasts also enlarge to prepare for possible breast-feeding, but the increased size may become uncomfortable. The breasts may also leak a small amount of colostrum in preparation for breast-feeding. Colostrum is a yellowish, milky substance that comes out before true breast milk does.
After 38 weeks, the pregnancy is considered full term since the fetus is fully developed. The uterus expands to the bottom of the diaphragm by the end of the third trimester. The diaphragm is a muscular-fibrous area that separates the chest and abdomen that assists in breathing.
Before birth, the fetus can suck its thumb and open and close its eyes. Hiccups are also common in the fetus as the fetus swallows some of the amniotic fluid. However, hiccups may also serve to strengthen the diaphragm muscles so the fetus can breather properly upon birth. The fetus often moves into birth position towards the end of the third trimester, which involves the head being turned towards the vagina, facing the motherís back, with the arms and legs flexed. When the fetus is in birth position, breathing and eating may become more comfortable. If the legs of the fetus are turned towards the vagina, the fetus is said to be breeched.
A term pregnant women will come to know towards the end of the third trimester is Braxton-Hicks contractions. These are mild, unpredictable, non-rhythmic contractions that may last for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, yet do not represent true labor. True labor contractions are longer, more painful, and occur on a more predictable basis. Labor will usually begin between the 37th and 42nd week of pregnancy.
WHAT TYPE OF MEDICAL DOCTOR SHOULD YOU SEE IF YOU ARE PREGNANT?
Women who are pregnant follow up with an OB/GYN, which stands for obstetrician and gynecologist. An obstetrician is a physician (medical doctor) who specializes in obstetrics, which is the science that deals with the care of women and their fetuses during pregnancy and childbirth, and during the events that come before and soon after birth. A gynceologist is a physician who specializes in gynecology, which is the science that deals with the health care of women, including diseases and normal physical care of the female reproductive system.
IS SMOKING DURING PREGNANCY BAD?
Yes. Smoking during pregnancy is bad, which is why doctors recommend that mothers quit the habit during pregnancy. Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have babies with low birth weight and increased medical problems. Babies born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the sudden and unexpected death of an apparently healthy baby, while the baby is sleeping. There is also an increased rate of miscarriage, stillborn births (when a baby is born deceased), and premature delivery for babies of mothers who smoke during pregnancy.
WHAT ELSE IS PREGNANCY KNOWN AS?
Pregnancy is also known as fetation, gestation, gravidism, and graviditas.
WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF THE TERM, PREGNANCY?
Pregnancy comes from the Latin word "prae" meaning "before," and the Latin word "natus" meaning "to be born." Put the words together and you get "before to be born."