Pregnancy in a woman lasts for 38 – 40 weeks and this period is divided into three stages…

Pregnancy is that period of a woman’s existence when she goes through certain life-changing experiences associated with having a child. The length of time that your baby is inside the body can look especially long for some moms because of the discomforts that often accompany pregnancy.

Pregnancy however for many have been a fulfilling experience, occurring without any major upheavals and the period is nothing but pleasurable and preparation for the baby. Pregnancy in a woman lasts for 38 – 40 weeks and this period is divided into three stages called trimesters – first, second and third trimesters. Each pregnancy stage comes with its own distinct changes and symptoms and a mother should be aware of them to be able to care for herself and the developing baby.

Conception to Implantation

The pregnancy event begins when an egg and a sperm meet together in the fallopian tube, then fusing to become one cell. In about 3 to 4 days the fertilized cell moves down the fallopian tube into the uterus where it attaches itself to the wall of the uterus. Here the fertilized cell starts to grow and is called an embryo. In previous months an unfertilized egg would travel to the uterus and is passed out along with the lining of the uterus in what you would normally experience as your period. Now that conception has taken place, your period stops until a time after giving birth.

First Trimester

From conception to the 12th week of pregnancy is considered the first trimester and you may consider this time the most important period of the pregnancy. It is during this period that the first signs of pregnancy will be manifested. A missed period is the first thing that will happen. At the very start you may experience spotting and cramping which may be mistaken at first for the impending period.

The breasts will feel fuller and areas around the nipples become darker. Between 50% and 90% of pregnant women will experience nausea and in some instances, vomiting (morning sickness) in the first trimester. Your bladder will be filling up faster due to the effects of hormones and you will be making more frequent trips to the bathroom. The first trimester is a time also when you may develop food cravings, a change in your sense of smell and distaste for certain things.

As soon as conception takes place, the body begins to produce the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). HCG is important in stimulating the production of estrogen and progesterone hormones that are important in maintaining the pregnancy. However, in doing good, the hormones cause various symptoms that may be uncomfortable.

You may get emotional for example and experience mood swings, sadness and depression. You may also have trouble with bowel movement and constipation sets in. Headache and heartburn may be accompanied by extreme tiredness as a result of the changes that may be taking place in your body. Fortunately, many of these symptoms will go away or decrease in the first trimester.

Within these 12 weeks also, the baby has grown rapidly and at just the size of a plum, its body is almost fully formed. The organs and limbs are distinct and begin to carry out their functions. Fingers, toes, and eyelids are formed and genitals are developed. The kidneys are secreting urine and the heart beats at a rapid rate.  The baby at this stage can almost respond to your touch.  From the 8th week the developing baby is now called a fetus. It is at this stage that harmful medication can affect him and you are prone to miscarriages. It is wise to quit habits like smoking and drinking which can cause developmental problems and that will put him at risk of health problems such as asthma and colic.

Second Trimester

The second trimester starts at week 13 and ends at week 27. This is a period when things have slowed down significantly for the mother. Hormone levels have dropped and previous unpleasant feelings may disappear or are significantly reduced. However, as the baby continues to grow and your uterus expands, plenty of pressure will be placed on the pelvic area and you may start to feel aches and pain in the abdomen, groin and back as the ligaments stretch to accommodate this.

As your tummy stretches you will start to itch in this area and stretch marks will appear. You will also notice a dark line – the linea negra that runs from just below the navel to the pubic area. You may also develop dark patches on the face called the mask of pregnancy.

The baby at this stage is developing rapidly, reaching about 3 – 5 inches in length. By about the 4th month or at 20 weeks, he will have grown some eyebrows and eyelashes, fingernails are noticeable and the neck is extended and formed. But by the fifth and sixth months the baby can bend his legs and arms and he can swallow and hear. He becomes more active and it is at this stage you will feel him kicking for the first time, a process called quickening. Hair will begin to grow, he can now open his eyes and his brain is developing at a fast rate.

Third Trimester

Third trimester starts at 28 weeks and lasts until birth. This is the final stage of pregnancy and the woman is looking towards her delivery date. During this period her belly gets progressively larger as the baby continues to grow and develop in her. Discomforts of the second trimester may continue. More pressure will be on the organs and so breathing may become more difficult and you feel short of breath.

You may also have a bit of difficulty finding a good sleeping position. Additionally, you may need to urinate more frequently as the uterus gets bigger and presses down on the bladder. There is also more pain and discomfort in the back, hips and pelvis areas as the ligaments and muscles relax to accommodate the growing baby and prepare for birth.

At this stage also you may experience swelling of the face, arms, ankles and feet because the body is retaining fluid and you have a slower blood circulation. If, however, the swellings develop suddenly and are extreme, contact your doctor right away. This may be a sign of preeclampsia, a condition marked by high blood pressure and a high level of protein in the urine which will put you and the baby at great risk.

In the third trimester also stretch marks may increase and you notice varicose veins on your legs. The yellow liquid, colostrum may leak from the breasts as they prepare for breastfeeding. As the time draws close to birth you could also experience false labor or Braxton-Hicks contractions.

The baby in this final stage of pregnancy is developing at a rapid rate, and gaining weight. His movements are more pronounced as he now kicks and stretches and responds to sound. He can also open and close the eyes. By the eighth month or about 37 weeks his bones have hardened except for the skull which remains soft and flexible to make delivery easier. By the 39th week in the ninth month, the fetus turns to a head-down position in readiness for birth. The lungs are fully developed by this time and are ready to function on their own. You are at the final stage of your pregnancy and no doubt are looking with great anticipation to the arrival of your son or daughter.