How to Prepare
Estimating Due Date
Pregnancy Diet Plan
Exercise in Pregnancy
Flu while Pregnant
Taking Tylenol in Pregnancy
Pregnancy After 35
Books on Pregnancy
Pregnancy is defined as a state a woman is in when she is carrying a fertilized egg inside her body which develops first into an embryo and then a fetus. There are about 6 million pregnancies every year in America, of which nearly 50 percent are estimated to be unplanned. If you are thinking about having a baby in the future, it may be worth paying attention to your health today. Basic pre-conception healthcare - that is healthcare before you fall pregnant - covers the area of nutrition, body weight, exercise and unhealthy habits like smoking and excess alcohol intake. Of course these are important health goals for all women, even for those not planning on conceiving immediately (or at all!). If you are planning a pregnancy other prenatal steps may also involve tracking your menstrual cycle, using an ovulation calendar and charting your basal body temperature.
If you are trying for a baby, then ideally you should prepare your body at least 3 months in advance of conception. Your prenatal care will start with a visit to a healthcare provider, your doctor or OB/GYN, the formation of your pregnancy healthcare team. Talk to them about your plans, and go through your medical history. If there have been any past issues with infertility you may be asked to keep an ovulation calendar. Your doctor will probably also carry out a physical examination, including a Pap test, pelvic examination and blood and urine test. This is worth doing because it highlights any potential issues which should be treated before pregnancy. You may also be advised to start taking prenatal vitamins which include folic acid. In preparing for pregnancy lifestyle options will also need to be addressed including diet, smoking and alcohol intake.
Confirmation of pregnancy is the next exciting step on the journey. You may already be experiencing some early signs of pregnancy or have questions about the likelihood of being pregnant. Most home pregnancy test kits are designed to work from the first day of your missed period, although there are certain brands on the market that offer results a few days before this. Alternatively, a blood test carried out by a doctor or nurse, based on HCG pregnancy hormones can indicate with 100 percent accuracy within 2 weeks of conception. If you receive a confirmation, the next step is to calculate your pregnancy due date which can be based on either date of conception (if you know it) or the first day of your last period.
The gestational period from conception to birth lasts about 40 weeks. This is divided into three fairly equal stages called pregnancy trimesters. Each trimester lasts about 3 months and each trimester brings with it significant developments in the mother’s body and the development of the baby. Complex changes take place almost instantly. Genetic DNA from the mother and father fuse resulting in the creation of a distinctly individual new little person.
First Trimester: The first trimester of pregnancy begins with fertilization of an ovum (egg) and its implantation into the uterus (womb) (image). The egg develops into an embryo, which after eight weeks becomes known as the fetus. At this stage, the fetus is already recognizable as a human being having developed all its vital organs, including the brain and heart. During this period of growth (known as fetal cell differentiation) any harm to the fetus is likely to result in miscarriage or serious disability. The early part of the first trimester, as a result, is one of the most important periods of pregnancy. Meantime mom's hormone levels are sky-rocketing in preparation for the physical changes ahead. First menstruation stops and then ligaments and joints in the pelvis soften and become more flexible in preparation for the eventual birth. After the first month, many pregnancy symptoms kick in. These vary from woman to woman and include pregnancy breast changes, morning sickness, fluid retention (edema), tiredness, cravings, back pain, constipation, varicose veins in pregnancy, piles and hot flashes. But don’t worry, this will pale into insignificance when you have your first ultrasound scan, and see your baby for the first time.
Second Trimester: As you move into the second trimester of pregnancy, you will feel your baby move for the first time. Many women describe it as a fluttering sensation. Most women find this trimester the most enjoyable of pregnancy because many of the earlier symptoms such as nausea and tender breasts have subsided or disappeared, and the baby is still manageably small. During this trimester, the hands of your baby become fully developed and he/she can suck their thumb for the first time. Your baby has also developed hearing and a unique set of fingerprints.
Third Trimester: In the third trimester of pregnancy your baby enters the final phase of development for birth. It rapidly starts gaining weight, as do you. Some earlier symptoms of pregnancy may return with a vengeance including lower backache or pelvic pain, constipation, edema - along with new issues like dizziness and clumsiness. You will continue your prenatal visits to the OB/GYN, and start participating in birthing classes. At week 40, you will be due for delivery and childbirth. But there is no need to worry if you are late. Only about 5 percent of babies are born on their due date. This probably has more to do with the often inaccurate science of estimating due dates, rather than babies being late. In fact, it is quite common for a baby to be born 2 weeks either side of their allocated due date.
Birthing classes (image) will help you prepare for labor. There are different types of classes which usually teach either the Lamaze or Bradley method. Courses are commonly started in the third trimester. The average labor for a first time mother is about 12 to 18 hours. Support during birth is very important, whether this is your partner, friend or mother. A doula (image) is a type of birth assistant which are becoming popular. Studies show that a doula may help reduce the likelihood of labor complications or labor inductions. Read about the classic early signs of labor, as well as a home birth, waterbirths and birthing centers.
Scientific studies show that 20 percent of couples in America have difficulties conceiving. Infertility is usually easily diagnosed, although the causes are varied. Some cases are due to medical problems or diseases and usually respond to drugs and treatment. Others may be caused by lifestyle issues such as bad diet, alcoholism or recreational drug use. Whatever the situation, most couples can be reassured that statistically, fertility problems are highly treatable when the woman is under the age of 38. Causes of infertility, fertility testing and treatments (including IVF and egg donation) are discussed in detail in our infertility guide.
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