Pregnancy, as most of us know, is the duration of time during which the fertilised foetus grows within the uterus until it is fully formed. But what a lot of us aren’t aware of, are the exact processes that occur inside the womb and the woman’s internal organs during that time period. Pregnancy begins when the fertilised egg moves down the fallopian tube, divides into more cells, and eventually attaches itself to the lining of your uterus. This usually starts about 6 days after fertilization and takes about 3–4 days to be complete. The average duration of a pregnancy is about 266 days (38 weeks) from the date of conception, or 40 weeks from the first day of the last menstrual period.
Pregnancy is a time when a lot of changes occur in a woman´s body. These changes, affecting virtually every part of the body, are all geared towards keeping the foetus healthy and make the process of childbirth easier, while simultaneously making sure that the mother is protected. These changes begin within days of conception, and though they’re minor at first, they can still be felt in various ways. Hence, to keep a track of these various changes, the duration of pregnancy is divided into three periods of three months each, known as ‘trimesters’.
The first trimester is counted from the first through the thirteenth week of pregnancy, indicating the earliest stages of the process. Even if the changes to your body during this period aren’t clearly visible, it doesn’t mean they aren’t significant enough. In the first few weeks following conception, hormone levels begin to constantly fluctuate. Your uterus begins to support the growth of the placenta and the fetus through these hormonal changes and the blood supply increases in order to supply added oxygen and nutrients to the developing fetus which increases the heart rate. Other than this, common pregnancy symptoms include headaches, fatigue, morning sickness and sometimes, constipation.
The first trimester is vital for the development of the foetus, because, by the end of the third month, the foetus more or less begins forming most of its organs.
Maintaining a healthy diet, containing the right amount of folic acid, is important for the growth of the foetus as well as the prevention of neural tube defects. Smoking and the consumption of alcohol are strictly prohibited during this time, as it may damage the child.
During the first trimester, there is an increased risk of miscarriage. If the body doesn’t have enough nutrients or if there is any other kind of complication in the internal organs, the fertilisation of the foetus could be hampered, leading to a miscarriage. This is also usually the window in which abortions should be ideally carried out, if the mother chooses to terminate the pregnancy.
The second trimester (weeks 13-27) is usually the most comfortable period of time for during one’s pregnancy. Most of the early pregnancy symptoms – like dizziness, or morning sickness, or random hormonal surges — will gradually disappear. The energy levels remain active, and there’s also less chances of feeling easily fatigued.
The abdomen will start looking inflated due to the uterus growing in size (to accommodate the growth of the foetus). It’s important to wear the right kind of clothing during this period, because anything too tight or restrictive may cause excess pain or cut blood flow to the uterus. This is also the time during which one starts to feel the foetus moving around – which usually happens at the 20 week mark.
During the second trimester, pregnant women are privy to something called gestational diabetes, which is a spike in the blood sugar due to the added blood circulation. The symptoms for this condition begin to manifest itself within week 26 or 27 of the pregnancy, so it’s important to get oneself tested for this disease around this time, and to seek appropriate medical care for the same.
The third trimester lasts from the 28th week to the birth of the baby. During the third trimester, your gynaecologist will conduct a lot more tests, among which include: a urine test (for protein), regular blood pressure checks, monitoring the fetal heart rate, regularly measuring the size of the uterus, and checking for any unwanted swelling.
During this time, your rapidly enlarging uterus stretches to the level of to the lower rib cage by 36 weeks. The space taken up by the enlarging uterus and the increased production of the progesterone can cause the lungs to function differently because more oxygen is required for the foetus. Hence, a pregnant woman breathes a lot faster. The hormonal changes may also cause mood swings, irritability and erratic behaviour.
Sometimes, pregnant women may develop pigmentation changes in their skin during this stage. A common complaint is the appearance of a blotchy, brownish pigment on the skin of the forehead and cheeks, which is medically known as ‘melasma’, and many a times, a dark line may also appear down the middle of the abdomen. But these quickly fade after the delivery.
The due date is nothing but an estimated date of delivery (also known as EDD), which approximately determines the actual date of childbirth. It is usually calculated from the first day of your last period, even though the conception happens two weeks or so after this date. However, this dating works well only for women who have fairly regular menstrual cycles and the date of whose next period can be easily determined. This is why, the doctor-stipulated due date one is given at the beginning of the pregnancy may not end up being accurate.
Pregnancy is an important time in a woman’s life, and hence, it is equally important for one to seek constant help and care from their gynaecologist during this time. As we can see, the body undergoes humongous changes during this time to accommodate for the foetus, so it’s important to ease the process, to be aware of the various risks, and to lead a healthier lifestyle to ensure a healthier childbirth.