Although millions of women all over the world have given birth, many "Moms-to-be" still have plenty of questions about what to expect during pregnancy. Whether you are a first-time parent or are just curious about having children, this article will provide a wealth of information about what to expect during pregnancy and how to take care of yourself during this important time.
The first sign that most women experience when upon becoming pregnant is a missed menstrual cycle. This is often the first indicator that a woman is pregnant, although today’s pregnancy tests can often detect whether a woman is pregnant before she even misses her period. Some women might even notice certain signs of pregnancy before a missed period.
Many women experience different symptoms while they are pregnant. Some even have very different experiences from one pregnancy to the next. Some of the most common symptoms associated with pregnancy are:
- Nausea, especially early in the day (also known as “morning sickness”)
- Sore nipples or breasts
- Frequent urination
- Mood swings
- Food cravings/aversions
In addition to these signs of pregnancy, there are also the outward physical changes that a woman experiences while pregnant. These changes include larger breasts, weight gain, stretch marks and (of course) a growing belly. Some women also have swollen feet or ankles later on in their pregnancy.
There are five basic stages of pregnancy:
- Conception: Pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus.
- First trimester: This occurs during the first three months of pregnancy. A woman undergoes major hormonal shifts during this first trimester and will begin experiencing many of the symptoms listed above.
- Second trimester: This occurs during the fourth, fifth and sixth month of pregnancy. Many women feel better during this trimester compared to the first. It is also when physical changes start to become apparent.
- Third trimester: This occurs during the last three months of pregnancy. As the baby grows larger, a woman may experience more physical challenges as her body grows to accommodate the baby. Women can often feel and see the baby moving in their belly during these months.
- Birth: After about 40 weeks of pregnancy, the baby is finally born. If complications arise during a vaginal birth, doctors may opt to deliver the baby via C-section, or some women may opt for an elective C-section.
Prenatal care is important for providing the proper health and nutrition for a growing fetus. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the following steps should be taken while a woman is pregnant:
- Get a minimum of 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. This helps prevent certain birth defects. Women who are trying to conceive can start taking folic acid supplements even before they get pregnant.
- Maintain a healthy diet and weight.
- Get regular physical activity throughout the pregnancy.
- Do not smoke, use drugs or drink alcohol while pregnant.
- If possible, get vaccinations for diseases like chickenpox and rubella before getting pregnant.
Women should also see a doctor regularly throughout their pregnancy to check on the health of both the mother and the baby. Ultrasounds can be performed during some of these visits to check on the baby’s development. Women who are actively trying to get pregnant can see a doctor for preconception care as well.
Unfortunately, problems do develop in some pregnancies, even in women who were healthy before getting pregnant. Some women develop gestational diabetes, which is diabetes that occurs only during pregnancy. Others may get preeclampsia, which includes sharp rises in blood pressure of the mother. Luckily, these conditions along with many other pregnancy complications can be treated. However, it’s important to see a doctor regularly to ensure that these potential risks are being assessed.
Other risks of pregnancy are much more serious and sometimes cannot be treated. Preterm labor or birth can involve serious risks for the baby. Additionally, miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and stillbirths could potentially occur. Though these risks are rare, it is just one more reasons to make sure you see a doctor regularly during pregnancy and follow the recommended prenatal care steps.
Certain women are at a higher risk for developing problems during pregnancy, including those who:
- Are at a young or old maternal age.
- Are overweight or underweight.
- Have certain pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, HIV or high blood pressure.
- Have had problems with previous pregnancies, such as stillbirth, miscarriage or preterm labor or birth.
If you fall into one of these categories, it does not mean that you will necessarily develop pregnancy complications. However, it is important to make sure your doctor knows your medical history so that he or she can monitor your pregnancy accordingly. Sometimes, women who fall into a high-risk category like those described above are asked to schedule more doctors visits throughout their pregnancy in order to evaluate and track progress more carefully.