Pregnancy is a beautiful biological process that leads to the formation of a baby, a new life. No wonder, they call it the “ordinary miracle”.
During pregnancy, women observe changes in almost every part of their body, externally and internally.
It also impacts the psychology of a woman in a big way. It is beautiful to watch a woman slowly transition into motherhood and make adjustments and accommodations for her growing baby.
How Pregnancy Occurs
Pregnancy occurs in multiple steps. After sexual intercourse, the sperm enters the mature egg in the fallopian tube. This process is known as fertilization but pregnancy is not established there. This fused and fertilized cell is known as a zygote.
After fertilization, the zygote continues to divide and grow to form a mass of cells called the blastocyst.
Once the blastocyst has formed, it gets attached to the walls of the uterus by the process known as implantation, and pregnancy is established.
Credits: foter Caption: fertilization
How Your Body Prepares For Pregnancy Every Month
The menstrual cycle is a female body’s way of preparing for fertilization and pregnancy every month.
At the start of the cycle, the uterine walls start to thicken and regenerate to prepare the uterus for implantation.
The egg-containing Graafian follicle in the ovary continues to mature and is finally released during the time of ovulation.
The released eggs are then picked up by the fimbriae and enter the fallopian tube.
The next step can proceed in two ways:
There happens to be a sperm present in the fallopian tube
and fertilization successfully takes place. Then, the uterine walls continue to thicken for implantation and the uterus prepares for the foetus and the levels of progesterone increases.
Fertilization does not occur and the uterine wall starts shedding and is released out in the form of menstrual discharge. The body then enters the first phase again and the cycle continues.
Credits: unsplash Caption: Foetus formation
The time-period of pregnancy, that is between the last menstrual period and labour, is around 40 weeks.
The pregnancy cycle is divided into three stages termed as trimesters:
Duration: Week 1- 12
Here the mother’s body will show early signs and symptoms of pregnancy after ovulation has ceased and your period has been missed.
During the start of the trimester, the foetus’ heart, nervous system, arm and leg buds begin to develop.
By the end of this trimester, nerves and muscles begin to function, sex organs develop, eye and eyelids are formed and the head grows considerably.
Duration: Week 13-28
In this trimester, more symptoms start to show. The “baby bump” will start to develop and show. Pregnant women will start experiencing vomiting and morning sickness.
At the start of the trimester, the skin begins to form, the musculoskeletal system continues to form and the baby’s intestinal tract develops.
The baby is now about 4 inches long and weighs almost 2.5 – 3 ounces.
By the end of the trimester, the bone marrow begins to make blood cells, tastes buds, footprints and fingerprints are formed, hair and lungs begin to grow.
Sex organs continue to develop and the baby is now about 12 inches long.
Credits: unsplash Caption: Baby bump
Third trimester (final stage of pregnancy)
Duration: Week 29-40
At the start of the trimester, bones are fully formed but are not strong enough. The mother will experience movement and a lot of kicking. The eyelids begin to move and the body begins to store minerals.
The baby is now around 12 inches and weighs about 1.8 KGs.
By week 37, the baby is fully formed and functional. The head begins to position itself for delivery.
Labor and Delivery
It is the process of passing the baby out of the uterus, through the vagina. It is then followed by the passage of the placenta.
The onset of labour is marked when a woman starts to experience strong contractions.
Contractions are the body’s way to prepare the uterine muscles for delivery.
Stages of labour
First stage: This stage lasts until the cervix has been fully dilated to accommodate the passage of the foetus.
It becomes thinner and starts to stretch as the baby’s head continues to approach the opening.
It is considered the longest and the most painful stage and lasts upto 4-8 hours.
Second stage : After the cervix is fully dilated, the head starts to descend. This is known as the ” pushing phase” as the mother has to apply pressure to push her baby out of her uterus.
It lasts upto 20 minutes before the baby is delivered.
Then the umbilical cord gets cut and the baby is free.
Third stage: After the baby has been delivered, the placenta gets unattached to the uterus and eventually falls off and is passed through the vagina.
To avoid complications the placenta should ideally fall off on it’s own without assistance.
Credit: unsplash Caption: Vaginal Birth
Types of birth delivery
Natural Birth or Vaginal Birth
It is the delivery of the baby through the vagina through the process of labour mentioned above.
Also known as the C-section, is the method of delivering a child through surgery.
It is done by making a small incision on the mother’s stomach and uterus and the baby is delivered through cuts.
A C-section is usually opted by mothers who cannot physically handle the stress and pain of vaginal birth for whatever reason.
Sometimes C-sections are the only option, like when the baby’s head is not in position for vaginal birth or the baby is wrapped around the umbilical cord or any other complications.
Credits: unsplash Caption: C-section
Early Signs and Symptoms Of Pregnancy
Tender and swollen breast
Raised basal body temperature
Slight bleeding due to implantation
However, these symptoms are very similar to premenstrual symptoms. The only way to be sure is to take a pregnancy test after your period has been missed.
Credits: foter Caption: Home pregnancy test
There are various tests to determine if one is pregnant or not:
Home pregnancy test
This test is used to detect the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), that is found in the body only during pregnancy.
This hormone is detected by testing its levels in the urine by the use of a chemical stick.
The test is usually used on the first day of your missed period.
Although these tests are quite accurate when taken correctly, sometimes there could be an error at the earlier stages when the hormone is not yet produced.
Medical urine test
This test is very similar to the home pregnancy test.
The only advantage is that there will be a doctor at every step assisting you to reduce any chances of error in the test.
The test is the most effective as it checks for the hGC hormone directly from your blood.
Blood is drawn from the patient and is then taken to the laboratory for analysis.
There are two types of tests:
Qualitative blood tests will only detect the presence of hCG in your blood and confirm if you are pregnant or not.
Quantitative blood tests will check the level and amount of hCG in your blood to determine how long the woman has been pregnant.
Credits: pexel Caption: pregnancy yoga
It is very important to look after your health and lifestyle during your pregnancy to ensure your baby is safe and healthy.
Nutritional needs – Whatever you eat is the main source of nutrient for your baby. Hence, it is important to maintain a healthy diet consisting of calcium, iron, vitamins, folic acid etc.
Prenatal vitamin supplements can also be taken if recommended by doctors.
Exercise – Exercising improves your health which, in turn, improves your baby’s health. It is also good to maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy.
Lastly, exercise helps ease the mother’s back pains and aches and has also proven to make delivery less painful.
Thus, various forms of exercise like walking, yoga, swimming and aerobics is advisable during pregnancy.
Regular check ups- It is important to do your routine check ups, tests and ultrasound scans as advised by your doctor. This step is very crucial to ensure your baby is healthy.
Moreover, if any complication is found, it is most treatable at earlier stages.
Credits: unsplash Caption: Artificial insemination
Fertility Treatment Options
Sometimes, even after having unprotected sex multiple times, couples either cannot conceive a child or undergo several miscarriages.
This is either because the male or the female or both are infertile.
Infertility in females is usually due to problems with ovulation, hormonal changes with age, damaged fallopian tube or any vital reproductive organ.
Infertility in males is due to sperm abnormalities, low sperm count or motility.
Luckily science has come up with multiple solutions and alternatives to problems linked with fertility:
Fertility drugs are taken by women whose body does not ovulate normally, on a monthly basis.
These drugs are designed to treat problems that prevent ovulation, like decreasing insulin resistance and reducing hormones like prolactin.
Other drugs simply just trigger or stimulate the activities of the ovary. For example, gonadotropin hormones, letrozole and clomid.
High-tech assisted reproductive technology (ART)
In vitro fertilization (IVF) – In this method, the mature egg from the Graafian follicle is extracted from the ovary, just prior to ovulation, and the sperm is collected from the male semen.
They are then artificially fertilized in the laboratory and then transferred into the uterus for implantation.
The upside to IVF is that it can help prevent genetic problems.
The only downside to this method is that it is time consuming and expensive. Moreover, it often results in multiple pregnancies, meaning formation of more than one uterus.
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) – It is a process in which the male sperm is artificially introduced into the female’s uterus without any sexual contact.
In IUI, the sperm is isolated from the seminal fluid to ensure maximum effectiveness. It is then inserted into the uterus through a catheter.
It is the easiest and the most convenient method for males whose sperms are less fertile and motile or for females with thick cervical mucus.
This method is extremely successful as the female’s menstrual cycle is thoroughly studied and the sperm is introduced inside the uterus during ovulation, when the chances of fertilization is the highest.
Surrogacy- In this process, a woman (surrogate) carries another woman’s baby.
This is done by using the mother’s eggs and the father’s sperm, fertilizing and inserting it into the uterus of the surrogate through the IVF method.
It is best for women who can’t carry a baby because of infertility or are suffering from a disease that could transfer to the foetus.
Credits: foter Caption: sex determination
Sex Determination Of The Baby
The gender of the baby is strictly determined by the male gamete, sperm cells.
The human body consists of 23 pairs of chromosomes. Out of 23 pairs, 22 are autosomal chromosomes, meaning they translate bodily features and the last pair remaining is known as the sex chromosome which translates the gender of the embryo.
Sex chromosomes in humans are of two types: XX and XY
Females have the XX pair and males have the XY pair.
Males have 44 + XY chromosomes and since their reproductive cells are haploid, every sperm can only have 23 chromosomes.
This means that sperms can either have 22+X or 22+Y.
Thus, depending on the sperm that fuses it egg, the sex of the baby is determined.
If the egg fuses with the 22+X sperm, the baby will be a girl and with 22+ Y it will be a boy.