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Introduction to Pregnancy

Pregnancy

This document provides an overview of pregnancy; the reproductive process through which a new baby is conceived, incubated and ultimately born into the world. Many facets of pregnancy are covered starting with the preparation and planning stages, and moving through conception, fetal development, labor and delivery, and post-partum (or post-birth) stages. The document describes normal, uncomplicated pregnancy in some detail, and also contains information concerning more difficult pregnancies, including pregnancies for women with chronic illnesses and other health complications.

Pregnancy is a unique, exciting and often joyous time in a woman's life, as it highlights the woman's amazing creative and nurturing powers while providing a bridge to the future. Pregnancy comes with some cost, however, for a pregnant woman needs also to be a responsible woman so as to best support the health of her future child. The growing fetus (the term used to denote the baby-to-be prior to birth...More

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What are the basics of conception and how can I plan for a pregnancy?

  • A pregnancy occurs when reproductive cells from a man and a woman's body become combined inside a woman's uterus.
  • The normal way that this occurs is through sexual intercourse, where the man's penis enters the woman's vagina and ejaculates sperm (the male reproductive cells) into the vagina during the process of orgasm or sexual climax.
  • Though intercourse is the normal method through which an egg and a sperm get together, modern reproductive medicine has opened up new possibilities.
  • Despite the incredible fertility of some women, most women find that it takes a little effort to get pregnant.
  • The timing of that intercourse must be just right so that sperm and egg get to meet, there must be no significant obstacles that would prevent the sperm from reaching the egg, and the sperm and egg must be must both be of good-enough quality.
  • Having made the decision to become pregnant, there are a few things you can do to increase your likelihood of conceiving including predicting the best time of the month to try to become pregnant, with natural planning and over-the-counter options.

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What are the symptoms of pregnancy and how is it diagnosed?

  • For most women, the first signs of pregnancy are a missed period, breast fullness, breast tenderness, nausea, frequent headaches, and fatigue.
  • While some symptoms of pregnancy can occur as soon as one week after conception, the same symptoms can also indicate other non-pregnancy related conditions.
  • Once you have determined that your symptoms are not caused by illness, you may want to use a home pregnancy test to confirm that you are pregnant.
  • Although most tests claim to be able to detect pregnancy as soon as the first day of your missed period, you will obtain a more accurate result by waiting to take the test until 7 days after the day you expected your period to occur.
  • Although home pregnancy test results are generally accurate, they aren't as definitive as the blood test for pregnancy that your doctor can administer.
  • You should ask your doctor to perform a blood test a week after your missed period if you suspect you may be pregnant despite a negative home pregnancy test result, or if you want positive confirmation as to whether you are pregnant or not.

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What are common tests used during pregnancy?

  • Beginning with your first prenatal visit to your doctor, you may be asked to undergo various tests to monitor your health and the health of your developing baby.
  • Some of these tests are capable of detecting genetic or developmental problems in the fetus.
  • The following are some of the tests that are commonly performed during pregnancy.
  • The Triple Screen Test (or Triple Marker) is a blood test capable of determining whether or not your baby may be at risk for birth defects, such as Spina Bifida, or chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down Syndrome (a common form of mental retardation).
  • The Nuchal Translucency Screening Test, also known as the nuchal fold scan, uses ultrasound to measure the translucency, or clear space, at the back of the developing fetus's neck.
  • In Amniocentesis, a sample of the amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetus while it develops inside its mother is collected and analyzed so as to learn about the baby's genetic development or to check for infection.
  • Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) is another technique for testing the fetus' genetic development. CVS involves the removal of placental tissue and is generally recommended for the same reasons as Amniocentesis, and carries many of the same risks of associated miscarriage. It can be performed earlier than the Amniocentesis (between 10 and 12 weeks of gestation), and it offers better than 99% accuracy in detecting many genetic disorders and chromosomal abnormalities.
  • You should consider your age, your previous medical history, and the medical history of your family when deciding whether or not to go forward with genetic testing during your pregnancy.
  • Additionally, it is important to consider what positive results (indicating problems) would mean for you and your family.
  • Discuss the options and risks associated with each of these tests with your doctor to decide which might be important for you.

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What are the stages of pregnancy?

  • Pregnancy lasts about nine calendar months (about 40 weeks total). It is typically broken down into three "trimesters" or stages of fetal development.
  • The first trimester of pregnancy lasts from conception until 12 weeks gestation (pregnancy length) and during the first trimester, the growing baby is developing at an amazing rate.
  • The Second Trimester lasts from weeks 13-27, and for many women, this is the most comfortable trimester, and a good time to prepare yourself and your home for the arrival of the new baby.
  • The final stage of pregnancy, weeks 28 through 40, is often marked by excited expectation of the baby's arrival.

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How can I plan for labor and what pain management options can I use?

  • Labor is the process through which a pregnancy ends and a baby is born.
  • It is a good idea that you establish a plan for labor and delivery well in advance of your due date.
  • The first decision you need to make when thinking about the birth of your baby is where you would feel most comfortable delivering.
  • You'll also need to start thinking about who you want to be present throughout your labor and the delivery of your baby.
  • Another choice you will need to make in preparation for labor is whether or not you want to use pain medication.
  • In preparing for a delivery, you may choose to take relaxation and breathing technique classes, or to do exercises to help strengthen the muscles you will use during labor.
  • It is important to educate yourself about your options for pain management during labor, and to decide which methods will best fit your needs.
  • There are various methods, some common and some lesser-known that can help reduce pain during labor including the Lamaze technique, the Bradley Method, Acupuncture, Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS), massage, warm water tub, sedative medications, narcotic medications, and regional anesthesia (commonly called an epidural).

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What are the stages of labor?

  • The labor process has three stages.
  • Contractions occur during the first stage of labor, resulting in the opening (dilation) of your cervix (the opening between the vagina and the uterus).
  • This first stage usually lasts several hours, and has three phases.
  • "Active labor" (phase two) begins when the cervix reaches 3 to 4 cm in diameter. Contractions usually become stronger, more regular, and more frequent during this phase, and the cervix begins to dilate faster as well.
  • The third phase of stage one labor is called "transition". During transition, the cervix dilates to between 7 and 10 centimeters. This is often the most difficult phase, but it is also the shortest in duration.
  • The second stage of labor occurs when the baby moves through the birth canal and is delivered into the world. This stage typically lasts between 20 minutes and two hours.
  • The third and final labor stage occurs when the placenta (the sac of blood vessels that accompanied the baby in the uterus) is delivered. This final stage begins immediately after the birth of your baby, and continues until the placenta is removed from your body. The process is typically fairly brief, lasting between 5 and 30 minutes in duration.

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What are post-partum issues that can occur and decisions that need to be made?

  • The weeks and months that follow after the initial excitement of the new baby's birth can be an emotion roller coaster for new mothers.
  • Many women experience the "baby blues", a mild form of depression that lasts one week to ten days after the baby is born.
  • However, for some women (especially young moms) these blues can become more severe and long-term and are then called Postpartum depression, which can occur anytime within six months of giving birth, and if left untreated, can last longer than one year.
  • One difficult decision you may face during your pregnancy is deciding whether or not to breastfeed your newborn baby.
  • There are several options available to you should you choose to bank (save) your baby's cord blood and you should speak to your doctor about the various pros and cons regarding chord blood banking.

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What medical conditions can complicate pregnancy or require special care?

  • Not every woman who gets pregnant is necessarily healthy or young.
  • When medical conditions exist prior to pregnancy, doctors will need to modify prenatal care recommendations.
  • These conditions include:
    • Hyperthyroidism
    • Hypothyroidism
    • Diabetes mellitus
    • Lupus
    • Herpes
    • AIDS
    • Heart Disease
    • Paralysis
    • Obesity

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News Articles

  • Skipping COVID Vaccine in Pregnancy Brings Big Risks to Mothers, Babies

    Unvaccinated pregnant women are putting themselves and their baby at risk for serious complications of COVID-19, according to new research out of Scotland. More...

  • Fertility Treatments Don't Raise Odds for Smaller, Preemie Babies

    Babies conceived through infertility treatment are more likely to be born early and small. But there are reasons other than medically assisted reproduction to explain this difference, a new study concludes. More...

  • AHA News: Pregnant Women Living Under Negative Social Conditions May Face Higher Heart Disease Risk

    Pregnant women in the U.S. who face adverse social conditions where they live, work, learn and play are at higher risk for poor heart health, a new study suggests. More...

  • Could New Blood Test Predict Pregnancy Complications?

    A simple blood test may help spot pregnant women who are at risk for developing preeclampsia -- dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy -- before it becomes a threat to both mother and child. More...

  • COVID Vaccine in Pregnancy Won't Raise Odds for Preemie Birth

    Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is safe in pregnancy, experts have been saying for months. Now, a new study adds evidence to support that advice. More...

  • 45 More
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      The number of American women with chronic high blood pressure who are dying during and after pregnancy is up sharply, a new study warns. More...

    • Anytime Is the Right Time for COVID Vaccine in Pregnancy

      A new study found that antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in nearly 1,400 women and their babies at the time of delivery didn't vary dramatically based on when a woman got her vaccine during pregnancy. More...

    • No Health Issues for Babies Born to Women Who Had COVID in Pregnancy

      Moms who had COVID-19 in pregnancy can breathe easier thanks to a small, new study that found no growth or development problems in 6-month-old babies whose mothers had the virus while expecting. More...

    • Why Are More Women Using Pot, Other Cannabis Products During Pregnancy?

      A growing number of pregnant women are using marijuana or other cannabis products, and a new study suggests that relief of symptoms such as morning sickness may be a primary reason. More...

    • Chemicals in Hair, Beauty Products May Interfere With Hormones During Pregnancy

      Pregnant women who use hair dyes or straighteners may have relatively lower levels of pregnancy-supporting hormones, a recent study suggests. More...

    • Could Pollution Help Decide Your Baby's Sex?

      A boy or a girl? New research suggests that the air pregnant women breathe or the water they drink could play a role in their baby's sex. More...

    • Merck's COVID Pill Appears Effective, But May Pose Pregnancy Risks: FDA

      Merck's experimental COVID-19 antiviral pill appears effective, but may pose risks for pregnant women, including birth defects and toxicity to developing fetuses, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. More...

    • Fetal Infection With COVID-19 Possible, But Unlikely

      There is a very low risk that pregnant women with COVID-19 will pass the virus to their unborn babies, researchers say. The study should reassure expectant parents, said the British investigators. More...

    • Delta Variant Ups Risk of Stillbirth, Death During Pregnancy, Reports Show

      The Delta variant is proving to be dangerous for pregnant women, raising the odds of both stillbirth and death, new government reports reveal. More...

    • Mom's Pre-Pregnancy Weight Could Affect Odds for Child's Asthma, Allergies

      Can your weight before pregnancy determine your baby's chances of developing asthma or allergies? More...

    • Pot Use in Pregnancy May Harm the Fetus

      Marijuana use in pregnancy may increase your child's risk for stress and anxiety, a new study suggests. More...

    • 'Forever Chemicals' Might Raise Risk of Pregnancy Complication

      So-called "forever chemicals" might increase pregnant women's risk of a dangerous condition known as preeclampsia, researchers say. More...

    • A New Way to Spot Pregnancy Risks?

      Two placenta-related markers could reveal older women's risk of serious pregnancy problems such as stillbirth and premature or very small babies, British researchers say. More...

    • A Faster, Cheaper Test to Gauge the Risk of Premature Delivery?

      A two-minute test can accurately detect vaginal bacteria associated with preterm birth, researchers have found, pointing to a possible way to identify pregnant women at increased risk of early delivery. More...

    • COVID Vaccination Does Not Raise Odds of Miscarriage: Study

      COVID-19 vaccines don't increase the risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy, according to a study that adds to previous research showing the vaccines are safe for pregnant women. More...

    • Depression, Anxiety Could Raise a Pregnant Woman's Odds for C-Section

      While anxiety and depression in pregnant women have already been linked to low birth weight and preterm birth, they may also contribute to higher rates of cesarean deliveries. More...

    • Sex of Fetus May Matter When COVID Strikes in Pregnancy

      When a pregnant woman is infected with COVID-19, the sex of the fetus may influence immune system activity, researchers say. More...

    • Pregnancy, Delivery Safe for Women Born With Heart Defects

      Women who were born with heart defects may get some reassurance from a new study that finds they face no heightened risk to health during a pregnancy and delivery. More...

    • Symptomatic COVID Could Bring on Emergency Delivery in Pregnant Women

      Pregnant women suffering from COVID-19 with symptoms are more likely to experience complications that call for an emergency delivery, a new study suggests. More...

    • COVID Hospitalizations Are Rising Among Unvaccinated Pregnant Women

      Last year, the percentage of pregnant patients who required hospitalization hovered around 5%. By August and early September of this year, that had risen to between 10% and 15%. More...

    • Breastfeeding Longer May Lower Postpartum Depression Risk

      It is linked to a lower risk for postpartum depression -- the so-called "baby blues" -- and nursing for a longer time may further ease depression symptoms, according to the findings. More...

    • CDC Pushes Hard on Vaccination for Pregnant Women in New Advisory

      The country's leading health agency on Wednesday implored all Americans who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning to become pregnant to get a coronavirus vaccine. More...

    • Epidurals Not Linked to Autism in Children

      Pregnant women who receive an epidural to ease their pain during labor aren't any more likely than others to have kids with autism, two new studies show. More...

    • Pot Use by Pregnant Women Rose During Pandemic: Study

      Marijuana use by mothers-to-be may have increased by as much as one-quarter during the pandemic, a new study suggests. More...

    • AHA News: What Doctors Say About Pregnancy, Vaccines and COVID-19

      COVID-19 can be bad for anyone. For pregnant women, scientific research shows it can be worse: The disease significantly raises their odds of needing ICU care, giving birth prematurely and of dying. More...

    • Low-Dose Aspirin Guards Against Preeclampsia: Task Force

      Pregnant women at risk for a serious high blood pressure disorder called preeclampsia should take low-dose aspirin after their first trimester, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). More...

    • Depression During Pregnancy Raises Risk of Mood Disorder in Kids

      When mothers suffer depression during or after pregnancy, their kids may be at heightened risk, too -- all the way into young adulthood, a new study suggests. More...

    • Diabetes Drug Might Help Women With Preeclampsia Prolong Their Pregnancy

      Metformin, a commonly prescribed diabetes drug, may help stave off preterm birth among women who develop pregnancy-related high blood pressure. More...

    • Pregnant Women Who Get COVID Vaccine Pass Antibodies to Newborns

      One way to help protect newborns from COVID-19 is for women to get their COVID vaccine while pregnant. More...

    • AHA News: Clot-Removing Procedure Appears Safe for Pregnant Stroke Patients

      Physically removing a blood clot in the brain is a safe and effective treatment for pregnant women having a stroke, a new study suggests. More...

    • HPV Infection Tied to Higher Odds of Premature Delivery

      Pregnant women infected with certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) may have a heightened risk of preterm birth, a new study suggests. More...

    • Pandemic Has Many Women Holding Back on Motherhood, NYC Study Finds

      The COVID-19 pandemic has many women thinking twice about having more kids. More...

    • Mom-to-Be's 'Leaky' Heart Valves May Pose More Danger Than Thought

      Leaky heart valves can put pregnant women at serious risk, according to a large study that runs counter to established practice. More...

    • Mom's Exercise in Pregnancy May Help Baby's Lungs

      Exercising during pregnancy can benefit babies' lungs, Scandinavian researchers report. More...

    • More College-Educated Women Are Having Children Outside of Marriage

      College-educated women in the United States are now more likely than ever to have a first baby outside marriage. They're also more likely than other women to have a wedding ring by the time they have their second baby. More...

    • Wildfire Smoke Could Raise Odds for Preterm Delivery

      The health impact of wildfires is already huge, and new research suggests it might also raise a mom-to-be's risk for preterm birth, according to a new study. More...

    • Pregnant Women Show No Worse Symptoms After COVID Vaccines

      If you're pregnant and worried that getting a COVID-19 vaccine might trigger severe side effects, you can relax. More...

    • Dangerous Diabetes Tied to Pregnancy Is on the Rise

      Growing numbers of pregnant women are developing gestational diabetes, putting them and their babies at risk for complications later on. More...

    • COVID Vaccine in Pregnancy Means Healthier Births, Babies: Studies

      "Vaccination is the best method to reduce maternal and fetal complications of SARS-CoV-2 infection," said Dr. Jennifer Jolley, co-author of the new study on outcomes for expectant moms. More...

    • COVID Vaccine Safe, Recommended for Pregnant Women, CDC Says

      Pregnant women should not hesitate to get coronavirus vaccines, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated guidance issued Wednesday. More...

    • No Sign COVID Raises Odds for Preterm Delivery, Stillbirths

      A new Canadian study suggests there was no increase in preterm births or stillbirths during the first year of the pandemic. More...

    • Leading U.S. Ob-Gyn Groups Urge COVID Vaccines for All Pregnant Women

      All pregnant women should be vaccinated "without delay" against COVID-19, two leading groups of U.S. obstetric specialists recommend. More...

    • Premature Delivery Raises Odds for Cerebral Palsy

      Extremely premature babies have a much higher risk of cerebral palsy and other neurological conditions than full-term infants, a large Israeli study affirms. More...

    • Mom's Weight-Loss Surgery Lowers Many Pregnancy Complications, Raises Others

      Weight-loss surgery can be a double-edged sword for obese women who want to shed pounds before becoming pregnant: New research shows it lowers the risk of some complications, but it may increase the risk of others. More...

    • Pregnant Women Need to Take Care in Sweltering Summer Heat

      Mothers-to-be need to stay cool to avoid heat exhaustion and its complications, according to an expert at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston. More...

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