Pregnancy occurs when a sperm fertilizes an egg after it’s released from the ovary during ovulation. The fertilized egg then travels down into the uterus, where implantation occurs. A successful implantation results in pregnancy.
On average, a full-term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. There are many factors that can affect a pregnancy. Women who receive an early pregnancy diagnosis and prenatal care are more likely to experience a healthy pregnancy and give birth to a healthy baby.
Knowing what to expect during the full pregnancy term is important for monitoring both your health and the health of the baby. If you’d like to prevent pregnancy, there are also effective forms of birth control you should keep in mind.
You may notice some signs and symptoms before you even take a pregnancy test. Others will appear weeks later, as your hormone levels change.
A missed period is one of the earliest symptoms of pregnancy (and maybe the most classic one). However, a missed period doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pregnant, especially if your cycle tends to be irregular.
There are many health conditions other than pregnancy that can cause a late or missed period.
Headaches are common in early pregnancy. They’re usually caused by altered hormone levels and increased blood volume. Contact your doctor if your headaches don’t go away or are especially painful.
Some women may experience light bleeding and spotting in early pregnancy. This bleeding is most often the result of implantation. Implantation usually occurs one to two weeks after fertilization.
Early pregnancy bleeding can also result from relatively minor conditions such as an infection or irritation. The latter often affects the surface of the cervix (which is very sensitive during pregnancy).
Bleeding can also sometimes signal a serious pregnancy complication, such as miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or placenta previa. Always contact your doctor if you’re concerned.
You can expect to gain between 1 and 4 pounds in your first few months of pregnancy. Weight gain becomes more noticeable toward the beginning of your second trimester.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, sometimes develops during pregnancy. A number of factors can increase your risk, including:
- being overweight or obese
- having a prior history or a family history of pregnancy-induced hypertension
Hormones released during pregnancy can sometimes relax the valve between your stomach and esophagus. When stomach acid leaks out, this can result in heartburn.
Hormone changes during early pregnancy can slow down your digestive system. As a result, you may become constipated.
As the muscles in your uterus begin to stretch and expand, you may feel a pulling sensation that resembles menstrual cramps. If spotting or bleeding occurs alongside your cramps, it could signal a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.
Hormones and stress on the muscles are the biggest causes of back pain in early pregnancy. Later on, your increased weight and shifted center of gravity may add to your back pain. Around half of all pregnant women report back pain during their pregnancy.
Pregnant women have an increased risk of anemia, which causes symptoms such as lightheadedness and dizziness.
The condition can lead to premature birth and low birth weight. Prenatal care usually involves screening for anemia.
Between 14 and 23 percent of all pregnant women develop depression during their pregnancy. The many biological and emotional changes you experience can be contributing causes.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you don’t feel like your usual self.
Insomnia is another common symptom of early pregnancy. Stress, physical discomfort, and hormonal changes can be contributing causes. A balanced diet, good sleep habits, and yoga stretches can all help you get a good night’s sleep.
Breast changes are one of the first noticeable signs of pregnancy. Even before you’re far enough along for a positive test, your breasts may begin to feel tender, swollen, and generally heavy or full. Your nipples may also become larger and more sensitive, and the areolae may darken.
Because of increased androgen hormones, many women experience acne in early pregnancy. These hormones can make your skin oilier, which can clog pores. Pregnancy acne is usually temporary and clears up after the baby is born.
Vomiting is a component of “morning sickness,” a common symptom that usually appears within the first four months. Morning sickness is often the first sign that you’re pregnant. Increased hormones during early pregnancy are the main cause.
Hip pain is common during pregnancy and tends to increase in late pregnancy. It can have a variety of causes, including:
- pressure on your ligaments
- changes in your posture
- a heavier uterus
Diarrhea and other digestive difficulties occur frequently during pregnancy. Hormone changes, a different diet, and added stress are all possible explanations. If diarrhea lasts more than a few days, contact your doctor to make sure you don’t become dehydrated.
Stress and pregnancy
While pregnancy is usually a happy time, it can also be a source of stress. A new baby means big changes to your body, your personal relationships, and even your finances. Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor for help if you begin to feel overwhelmed.
You’re likely to move through each week of your pregnancy without too much trouble. Pregnancy brings with it many changes to your body, but those changes don’t always have a serious impact on your health.
However, certain lifestyle choices can either help or actively harm your baby’s development.
Some actions that can keep you and your baby healthy include:
- taking a multivitamin
- getting sufficient sleep
- practicing safe sex
- getting a flu shot
- visiting your dentist
Some things you’ll want to avoid include:
- drinking alcohol
- eating raw meat, deli meat, or unpasteurized dairy products
- sitting in a hot tub or sauna
- gaining too much weight
It can be hard to determine which medications you can take during pregnancy and which ones you should avoid. You’ll have to weigh the benefits to your health against potential risks to the developing baby.
Ask your healthcare provider about any drugs you may take, even OTC ones for minor ailments such as headaches.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)Trusted SourceTrusted Source, each year 50 percent of pregnant women in the United States report taking at least one medication.
In the 1970s, the FDA created a letter systemTrusted SourceTrusted Source to categorize drugs and their perceived risk to pregnant women. However, they began to phase out this letter system (and use updated drug labeling) in 2015. Their new rules for drug labelingTrusted SourceTrusted Source only apply to prescription drugs.
The service MotherToBaby also provides up-to-date information on the safety of specific drugs.
The bottom line
Learning or relearning all the rules of pregnancy can be overwhelming, especially if you’re having your first child. Feel more prepared with this handy list of pregnancy do’s and don’ts.
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all health insurance plans in the United States are required to offer some level of prenatal care.
Once your pregnancy’s been confirmed, call your insurance provider to get an idea of what’s covered by your specific plan. If you don’t have health insurance when you find out you’re pregnant, speak to your doctor about steps you can take to get coverage.
The timing of your first prenatal visit may depend on your overall health. Most women may have their first visit during week 8 of pregnancy. Women whose pregnancies are considered high-risk, such as those who are over 35 or have chronic conditions, may be asked to see their doctors earlier.
There are many ways to mentally and physically prepare for labor. Many hospitals offer birthing classes prior to delivery so that women may better understand the signs and stages of labor.
In your third trimester, you may want to prepare a hospital bag of toiletries, sleepwear, and other everyday essentials. This bag would be ready to take with you when labor begins. During the third trimester, you and your doctor should also discuss your labor and delivery plan in detail.
Knowing when to go to the birth setting, who’ll be assisting in the birth, and what role your doctor will play in the process can contribute to greater peace of mind as you enter those final weeks.