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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

  • Stress in Pregnancy May Affect Baby's Sex, Preterm Delivery Risk: Study

    Physical and mental stress during pregnancy may influence the baby's sex, and physical stress may increase the risk of preterm birth, a new study suggests. More...

  • Breast Milk Combats Growth of Bad Bacteria

    Researchers say they have identified a compound in breast milk that combats the growth of infection-causing bacteria in infants. More...

  • Health Tip: Pregnancy and Amusement Park Rides

    Pregnant women should not ride roller coasters or other jarring rides at the amusement park, says the American Pregnancy Association. More...

  • Frequent Male Pot Use Linked to Early Miscarriages

    Men who use marijuana at least once a week are twice as likely to see their partner's pregnancy end in miscarriage, compared to those who use no pot, new research suggests. More...

  • Only a Third of Pregnant Women Getting Vaccinations They Need

    About two-thirds of pregnant women in the United States don't get vaccinated against both flu and whooping cough, putting them and their newborns at risk, a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. More...

  • 45 More
    • High Lead Levels in Pregnancy Linked to Obesity in Kids Years Later

      Children whose moms had high levels of lead in their blood during pregnancy are more likely than others to carry excess weight by age 8, new research reveals. More...

    • Trying to Conceive? Both Dad and Mom Should Give Up Drinking in Months Before

      If would-be moms and dads drink in the three months before pregnancy, and if mom drinks during the first trimester, they run the risk of having a baby with congenital heart disease. Men's drinking boosts the risk 44%, and women's, 16%. More...

    • Severe Morning Sickness Tied to Autism Risk in Kids

      Many pregnant women suffer from morning sickness early in pregnancy. But a new study suggests that a small minority who suffer a more severe form of the illness may be at higher odds of having a child with autism. More...

    • Twins Are Becoming Less Common in U.S., for Good Reasons

      No, you're not seeing double as often these days: After decades of rising, twin births are declining in the United States. More...

    • Antidepressants Might Raise Odds for Serious Pregnancy Complication

      Treating depression during pregnancy can be vital to the health of both mother and child, but new research suggests that taking antidepressants may make a woman more vulnerable to gestational diabetes. More...

    • How Safe is Vaginal Delivery After a Cesarean Birth?

      Once a woman gives birth by cesarean section, attempting a vaginal delivery is far riskier for mother and baby alike, a new study finds. More...

    • Why You Should Ask to Be Screened for Postpartum Depression

      It's not uncommon for new moms to feel an emotional letdown shortly after baby is born. Though symptoms of these so-called "baby blues" can be wide-ranging, they last no more than two weeks and go away on their own. More...

    • Anemia During Pregnancy Tied to Higher Odds for Autism, ADHD in Kids

      Women who suffer from anemia early in pregnancy are at risk for having a child with autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and intellectual disabilities, a study by Swedish researchers suggests. More...

    • C-Section Delivery Might Alter Newborn's 'Microbiome'

      New research reveals that the bacterial composition of a newborn's gut may be dependent on how the baby is delivered. More...

    • Study Finds Smog Particles Can Reach Developing Fetus

      Air pollution can penetrate a pregnant woman's placenta and potentially threaten the health of a developing fetus, new research warns. More...

    • Links Between Smog, 2nd Pregnancies and Preterm Birth

      Exposure to higher levels of air pollution in a second pregnancy than in a first may increase the risk of preterm birth, a new study says. More...

    • Sleep Position Unlikely to Affect Baby's Health in Pregnancy, Study Finds

      Pregnant women are often told to sleep on their left side to reduce the risk of stillbirth, but new research suggests they can choose whatever position is most comfortable through most of the pregnancy. More...

    • 40-Year Study Sees Steady Rise in Pregnant Women's Blood Pressure

      Over the past four decades, the U.S. has seen a sharp rise in the number of pregnant women with high blood pressure, new research reveals. More...

    • Pregnancy-Related Deaths Still Higher With Some Minorities

      Pregnancy is a far riskier undertaking for many minority women than it is for white women in the United States, a new government study shows. More...

    • The Benefits of Strength Training During Pregnancy

      While low-impact aerobic activities like walking are often emphasized, research has found a surprising benefit to working out in the weight room. More...

    • Even a Little Drinking While Pregnant Ups Miscarriage Odds: Study

      They found that drinking alcohol during pregnancy -- even small amounts -- increases odds of miscarriage by 19%. Among women who have fewer than five drinks a week, each additional drink a week during pregnancy was linked with a 6% higher risk of miscarriage. More...

    • AHA News: A Mineral, a Metal and a Deadly Pregnancy Condition

      Pregnant women with lower concentrations of the trace mineral manganese or higher amounts of the metal cadmium in their blood may be more likely to develop preeclampsia, according to a new study. More...

    • Study Points to Harms From MRI 'Dye' in Early Pregnancy

      A concerning number of U.S. women are exposed to the MRI contrast agent gadolinium early in pregnancy, a new study reveals. More...

    • Could Fluoride Be Bad for Your Baby During Pregnancy?

      Fluoride exposure from drinking water during pregnancy could be making children less intelligent, a new Canadian study argues. More...

    • Health Tip: What to Expect While Breastfeeding

      Breastfeeding is a unique experience for every mother. As you begin, your baby's actions will cue your body to make milk, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you are concerned about this process, talk to a doctor or lactation consultant. More...

    • New Moms Can Save a Life By Donating Cord Blood

      Pregnant women should keep in mind that donating their umbilical cord blood could save lives, a clinical cell therapy expert says. More...

    • Pregnancy Weight Gain: What's Right for You?

      Gaining too much weight during pregnancy can lead to unhealthy post-pregnancy weight for moms, and a higher risk of obesity and related conditions in their children. But not gaining enough weight has consequences, too. More...

    • AHA News: Cigarette Smoke in Pregnancy May Impair Healing of Newborns' Hearts

      Exposure to cigarette smoke in utero strongly harms a newborn heart's ability to repair itself after injury, according to a preliminary study of mice. More...

    • Go Easy on Caffeine During Pregnancy, for the Sake of Your Baby's Liver

      No matter how tired you get during your pregnancy, a new animal study suggests that countering your fatigue with too much coffee might harm your baby. More...

    • Could Exercise in Pregnancy Boost Baby's Health, Too?

      Women who keep moving during pregnancy may have infants with more advanced motor skills, a small study suggests. More...

    • A Change of Address During Early Pregnancy May Not Be Best for Baby

      If moving is never easy, then moving while you are pregnant has got to be a grueling experience. But could it actually harm your baby? More...

    • Stress Takes Toll in Very Complicated Births

      A "dual burden" of serious maternal complications and premature birth occurs in about one in 270 births, a new study finds. More...

    • High Levels of Estrogen in Womb Might Raise Autism Risk

      New British research is bolstering the theory that elevated levels of sex hormones in the uterus could play a role in autism risk. More...

    • Many U.S. Women Get Opioids After Giving Birth

      Opioid painkillers were prescribed to nearly half of U.S. women who gave birth in recent years. More...

    • Pregnant Women Exposed to More Risky CT Scans

      Use of risky CT scans during pregnancy has risen significantly in North America in the past two decades, a new study finds. More...

    • Mediterranean Diet Has Big Benefits for Expectant Moms: Study

      Could following a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy help head off gestational diabetes and excess weight gain? More...

    • AHA News: Early Pregnancy May Be a Prime Time to Promote Heart Health

      Improving cardiovascular health during the early stages of pregnancy can lead not only to a healthier pregnancy, it also can greatly improve a woman's long-term heart health, new research shows. More...

    • Screen Every Pregnant Woman for Hep B: Task Force

      All pregnant women should be screened early for hepatitis B, to prevent the viral infection from being passed to newborns. More...

    • Some Women Still Getting Pregnant While on Acne Drug Tied to Birth Defects

      Hundreds of pregnancies still occur every year among U.S. women taking an acne medication that carries a high risk of birth defects, a new study finds. More...

    • Pot Use During Early Pregnancy on the Rise

      Pot use and pregnancy hardly go hand-in-hand for health reasons, but more American women are using marijuana just before and right after they become pregnant, new research warns. More...

    • AHA News: Pregnancy Complications Could Be Early Sign of Heart Disease Risk in Black Women

      A new study confirms that when it comes to assessing heart health, an important question a doctor can ask an African American woman is, "Did you have complications during a pregnancy?" More...

    • High-Fiber Diets Might Shield Against a Common Pregnancy Complication

      More vegetables, more whole grains: New research finds that diets rich in fiber might help pregnant women avoid a dangerous spike in blood pressure. More...

    • Flu Vaccine Safe During Pregnancy

      Pregnant women can take comfort in new findings that suggest flu vaccines won't harm their fetuses. More...

    • In a U.S. First, Baby Is Delivered From Womb Transplanted From Deceased Donor

      Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic announced that they've achieved a first in North America: delivering a baby from a uterus that had been transplanted from a deceased donor. More...

    • Stillbirth Risk Rises With Prolonged Pregnancies

      The longer a pregnancy continues past term, the higher the risk of stillbirth, according to a new study that analyzed 15 million pregnancies. More...

    • AHA News: Air Pollution Means Pregnant Women Can't Breathe Easy

      Researchers have long been concerned about air pollution's effects on pregnancy, with possible consequences ranging from premature births and low birth weight to elevated blood pressure later in the child's life. More...

    • How Does Sunshine During Pregnancy Affect Learning?

      Kids whose moms don't get enough sunshine during pregnancy may be more likely to develop learning difficulties, researchers report. More...

    • AHA News: Summer Heat Brings Special Health Risks for Pregnant Women

      Hot summer weather impacts some people more than others, and pregnant women are among those most likely to become overheated. More...

    • Prenatal Opioid Exposure Could Bring Long-Term Harm to Kids

      Children exposed to opioids in the womb may have heightened risks of long-term mental and physical health issues, a new study suggests. More...

    • Even Slightly Elevated Blood Pressure Early in Pregnancy a Bad Sign

      Even a small increase in blood pressure during your first trimester could spell bigger trouble later in your pregnancy, new research suggests. More...

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