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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

  • COVID in Pregnancy Tied to Higher Odds for 'Preemie' Delivery

    Pregnant women with COVID-19 may be more likely to have a preterm birth. But they don't have an increased risk of stillbirth or baby death soon after birth, researchers found. More...

  • Pregnant Women Face Higher Odds of Coronavirus Infection

    Pregnant women have high COVID-19 infection rates -- especially women of color -- and they should be near the front of the line for vaccines across the United States, researchers say. More...

  • Mom's Heart Health While Pregnant Could Influence Her Child's Health for Years

    In a finding that suggests heart health starts in the womb, a new study shows that the state of a woman's heart during pregnancy may predict her kids' health by the time they reach adolescence. More...

  • Is Any Amount of Coffee Safe for Baby During Pregnancy?

    Too much coffee during pregnancy could lead to kids with behavior problems later on. More...

  • Antibiotics in Pregnancy Tied to Higher Odds for Asthma in Kids

    Children whose mothers used antibiotics in pregnancy may have a slightly heightened risk of asthma, a new study suggests. More...

  • 45 More
    • Prescription Opioids, Antibiotics in Pregnancy Won't Raise Birth Defect Risk: Studies

      Taking prescription opioid painkillers or a common class of antibiotics during pregnancy doesn't increase the risk of major birth defects, according to two new studies. More...

    • AHA News: Why Black Women Are Less Likely to Survive Pregnancy, and What's Being Done About It

      Being Black and pregnant in the U.S. was already a risky combination, and health experts now worry the pandemic is making things worse. More...

    • Fetal Surgery Is Changing Lives for Kids With Spina Bifida

      Spina bifida is a diagnosis no parents-to-be want to hear as they await their child's birth, and the idea of performing surgery on a baby while it is still in the womb can be terrifying. But new research shows that performing the delicate procedure before the baby is born, and not after, is worth it. More...

    • Diabetes While Pregnant Ups Odds for Heart Disease Later

      Developing diabetes during pregnancy may increase a woman's risk for heart disease later in life, according to a new study. More...

    • AHA News: Statistics Report Puts Spotlight on Pregnancy and Heart Health

      Complications during pregnancy are widespread, becoming more common and often overlooked as warning signs about a woman's heart health. More...

    • For Women Who've Miscarried, Aspirin Before, During Pregnancy Could Improve Outcomes

      Could something as simple as taking a low-dose aspirin once a day guard against pregnancy loss among women who have already suffered miscarriages? More...

    • COVID-19 Ups Complication Risks During Childbirth

      Women who have COVID-19 during childbirth are more likely to face complications than moms-to-be without the coronavirus, researchers say. More...

    • Fresh Embryos Beat Frozen for IVF: Study

      When it comes to in vitro fertilization, new research suggests fresh is best. More...

    • 'Awareness' Under C-Section Anesthesia May Be Less Rare Than Thought

      It's a woman's worst nightmare: You're having a C-section under anesthesia, but you suddenly become aware of what is happening during your surgery. More...

    • Study Finds No Benefit From Supplemental Oxygen During Labor

      The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women be given supplemental oxygen when fetal heart monitoring shows an abnormal heart rate. That's based on the possibility that oxygen deprivation is causing the problem. More...

    • High Blood Pressure While Pregnant Linked to Poorer Memory Years Later

      High blood pressure and pre-eclampsia during pregnancy may follow women through the years, causing lower scores on tests of memory and thinking skills, a Dutch study suggests. More...

    • As Lockdowns Keep Pregnant Women From Exercise, Depression Rates Rise: Study

      The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on the emotional health of pregnant women whose exercise routines have been disrupted because of the coronavirus, new research shows. More...

    • Toxic Metals Might Affect Pregnancy, Study Finds

      Exposure to metals may disrupt pregnant women's hormones and boost the odds of complications such as preeclampsia, preterm birth and low birth weight, according to a new study. More...

    • Dads' Health Linked to Odds of Pregnancy Loss in Moms-to-Be

      Researchers found that when fathers-to-be had health conditions like high blood pressure or obesity, the odds that their partner might experience miscarriage or stillbirth increased. More...

    • COVID Doesn't Pass From Mom to Fetus During Pregnancy: Study

      A new study may prove reassuring for expectant moms: Pregnant women who are infected with COVID-19 during their third trimester appear unlikely to pass the infection to their fetuses. More...

    • Most Pregnant Women With COVID Are Asymptomatic

      Of the women who tested positive, 72% didn't have any COVID-19 symptoms, according to the Mount Sinai Health System study. More...

    • Black Women at Higher Heart Risk During Pregnancy

      Although heart problems are rare complications of pregnancy, Black women face a heightened risk -- even if they have comfortable incomes and health insurance, a new study finds. More...

    • U.S. Moms-to-Be Are Much Less Healthy Now

      In the past 30 years, U.S. women have been in progressively worse physical shape as they become pregnant, a new study finds. More...

    • Too Many, Too Few Babies May Speed Aging in Women

      Pregnancy can be exhilarating or exhausting, and sometimes both at the same time. It may not come as a surprise to a woman who has experienced pregnancy once, twice or many times, that it can age her. More...

    • COVID in Pregnancy Won't Affect Obstetric Outcomes: Study

      Pregnant women with COVID-19 have little risk of developing severe symptoms, as do their newborns, a new study finds. More...

    • U.S. Leads Wealthy Nations in Pregnancy-Related Deaths

      American women are far more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than women in other wealthy countries -- and a national shortage of maternity care providers bodes ill for the future. More...

    • Pre-Pregnancy High Blood Pressure Rates Rising

      The number of women entering pregnancy with high blood pressure has nearly doubled in a decade, new research finds. More...

    • Global Warming Could Bring Added Risks for Pregnant Women

      They analyzed 70 studies from 27 countries that reported associations between high temperatures and preterm birth, birth weight and stillbirths. More...

    • Obamacare Boosted Health of Poor Women Before, After Pregnancy

      The health of low-income women before they become pregnant has improved in states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), researchers report. More...

    • Epilepsy Meds During Pregnancy May Raise Autism Risk in Child

      Women who take the epilepsy medication valproic acid during pregnancy have more than twice the risk of having a child with autism, new research suggests. More...

    • AHA News: Heart Attacks Linked to Pregnancy on the Rise, Most Often in Women 30 and Older

      Pregnancy-related heart attacks — especially in the period after childbirth — are on the rise in women who are 30 or older, according to new research. More...

    • Could Mom's Thyroid Levels Influence ADHD in Kids?

      Low levels of thyroid hormone during pregnancy may contribute to the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the child, new research suggests. More...

    • FDA Warns of Dangers of Common Painkillers During Pregnancy

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned on Thursday that taking these widely used painkillers -- which include Advil, Motrin, Aleve and Celebrex -- at 20 weeks or later in a pregnancy could raise the risk of complications. More...

    • Severe Morning Sickness Linked to Depression Before and After Birth

      Women who suffer severe morning sickness may have higher risk of depression during and after pregnancy, according to a new British study. More...

    • For Many Pregnant Women, COVID-19 Has Prolonged Effect

      COVID-19 symptoms can last a long time in pregnant women, researchers say. More...

    • Air Pollutants, Metals Are Reaching The Placenta, Study Finds

      Metals and other air pollutants have been found in the placentas of new mothers, which means such pollutants may be able to reach the fetus, researchers report. More...

    • Diabetes During Pregnancy Could Raise Lifelong Heart Risks for Children

      The foundation for early heart disease might begin not during childhood or in the years that follow, but in the womb. More...

    • Mom-to-Be's Pot Use Linked With Higher Odds for Kids' Mental Woes

      Expectant mothers who smoke pot in pregnancy could increase their baby's risk for mental or emotional problems later in childhood, a new study finds. More...

    • 1 Woman in 5 With Migraine Avoiding Pregnancy: Study

      Many women with severe migraines don't want to get pregnant because of concerns about their headaches, a new study finds. More...

    • Pregnant Women With COVID-19 at High Risk for Complications

      COVID-19 may hit pregnant women especially hard, U.S. health officials warned in two reports. More...

    • Narcolepsy Drug Doesn't Raise Odds for Birth Defects: Study

      The narcolepsy medicine modafinil doesn't appear to increase the risk of birth defects, according to a new study that contradicts earlier research. More...

    • COVID-19 in Pregnancy: Here's What's Known So Far

      Pregnant women with COVID-19 are less likely to have symptoms than those who aren't expecting -- but they're more likely to require critical care, according to the study. More...

    • Study Zeroes in on How Zika Virus Is Passed From Mom to Fetus

      New insight into how pregnant women can pass the Zika virus to their fetus could point to ways to prevent it, researchers say. More...

    • Mom-to-Be's Flu Shot Doesn't Raise Autism Risk

      Pregnant women are understandably worried about everything that goes into their bodies. But here's one worry they can cross off that list: flu shots. More...

    • Texas Mother Transmitted COVID-19 to Unborn Baby: Study

      A new case study adds to growing evidence that the new coronavirus can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her fetus. More...

    • There's No Safe Amount of Caffeine in Pregnancy: Report

      Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant may need to forgo coffee, tea, sodas and other sources of caffeine. A new data analysis finds no safe level of the drug during this time. More...

    • In-Person Pregnancy Checks Won't Raise COVID Risk

      Here's some reassuring news for pregnant women: In-person doctor visits don't appear to make them vulnerable to COVID-19, a new study indicates. More...

    • 'Morning Sickness' Doesn't Stick to the A.M., Study Confirms

      As many expectant mothers can unhappily attest, the nausea and vomiting known as "morning sickness" can occur at any time of the day. More...

    • Gallbladder Surgery During Pregnancy May Be Safer Than Waiting

      For pregnant women experiencing painful gallstones, immediate surgery to remove the infected gallbladder may be better than postponing the operation until after childbirth, a new study suggests. More...

    • Moms' Obesity May Affect Fetal Brain Development

      Obesity during pregnancy may hinder fetal brain development, a new study suggests. More...

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