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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

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    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...

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

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

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    • 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...

    • Stronger Hearts, Better Outcomes in Pregnancy: Study

      Thinking of starting a family? Start getting your heart in shape. New research suggests that how healthy a woman's heart is before conception affects outcomes in her pregnancy. More...

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      A pregnant woman's diet and other lifestyle factors may change how her baby's genes work in a way that can affect the child's cardiovascular health by age 8 or 9, new research has found. More...

    • Vaping During Pregnancy Could Raise Odds for 'Preemie' Babies

      Women who use electronic cigarettes during pregnancy may be at heightened risk of having an underweight or preterm baby, a new study suggests. More...

    • Alcohol Still a Threat in Too Many American Pregnancies: Study

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    • $10,000: What New Parents Might Pay for Childbirth, Even With Insurance

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    • Mom's Blood Pressure in Pregnancy Could Affect Child's Stroke Risk Decades Later

      Expectant mothers' high blood pressure heightens kids' risk of stroke later in life, a Swedish study finds. More...

    • Global Warming Could Bring More Stillbirths, Study Warns

      Rising temperatures caused by climate change could trigger a worldwide increase in stillbirths, researchers warn. More...

    • AHA News: Surprisingly Few Women May Have Good Heart Health Before Pregnancy

      Less than half of U.S. women entering pregnancy have good heart health, and those rates are falling, according to new research. More...

    • Fetal Exposure to Ultra-Fine Air Pollution Could Raise Asthma Risks

      Exposure to a certain type of air pollution while pregnant may up the odds that your child will develop asthma, a new study says. More...

    • When Diabetes Strikes in Pregnancy, Do Women Eat Healthier?

      Women who develop diabetes in pregnancy don't tend to make healthy diet or exercise changes to help fight it, a new study finds. More...

    • Even Secondhand Smoke in Pregnancy Might Raise Baby's Breathing Risks

      Infants exposed to secondhand smoke in the womb and early childhood are likely to have weaker lungs, a new study suggests. More...

    • Debunking Social Media Myth, Study Finds COVID Vaccine Won't Harm Placenta

      Contrary to misleading reports spread on social media, a new study finds the COVID-19 vaccine does no damage to the placenta in pregnancy. More...

    • AHA News: Preterm Deliveries May Pose Long-Term Stroke Risk for Mothers

      It's not surprising that babies born prematurely may face more health issues than those who were carried to term. But new research suggests the same may apply to their mothers. More...

    • Pregnancy Within 1 Year of Weight-Loss Surgery Carries Added Risks

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    • AHA News: Prenatal Stress Can Program a Child's Brain for Later Health Issues

      High levels of maternal stress during pregnancy can predispose a developing fetus to psychiatric and cardiovascular illnesses decades later. More...

    • U.S. Birth Rates Continue to Fall

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    • Giving Birth During the Pandemic? Facts You Need to Know

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