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Pregnancy is the state of being pregnant. This is the period by which an offspring develops in a woman which starts from the day of last menstrual period to childbirth. Pregnancy is also known as gestation or conception, a process by which the ovum is fertilized by the sperm to form zygote. During ovulation, matured eggs(ova) are released. When there is unprotected sexual intercourse in the ovulation period, the sperm cell swims up into the vagina of a woman and fertilizes the matured egg released by the ovary. The union of the sperm cell and the egg to form a zygote is known as fertilization. The fertilized egg then travels to the womb(uterus) through the fallopian tube(uterine) where further division of the egg cells occur to form a zygote.
Embryo and foetus are two terms used to describe the developing offspring in a pregnant woman. Embryo is used for the zygote in the first two months while foetus is used for the zygote after the first two months. Pregnancy lasts for nine months or 40 weeks.
Stages In Pregnancy
The stages are divided into three namely: the first trimester, second trimester and third trimester. The first trimester is the period between the first day of conception to the third month or week 12 of the pregnancy (week 1-12). The second trimester starts from week 13 to week 28 of the pregnancy. The third trimester starts from week 29 to week 40. The organs and necessary parts of the embryo or foetus starts forming as time go on.
1. First trimester
During the first trimester, the following begin to form; the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), the heart, body organs, external body parts like the legs and arms, sex organs, umbilical cord, muscles and tissues. The foetus weighs one ounce and is about 3 inches long at the end of the first trimester.
2. Second Trimester
The second trimester is characterised by the further development of body structure, muscles and tissue, formation of the skin, intestines and the ability to make movement, fist and bowel movement. The foetus develops nails, eyelids, lungs, bone marrow, taste buds, eggs & scrotum and sucking ability in this period. The weight of the embryo increases to 1.5 pounds and 12 inches long by the end of the second trimester.
3. Third trimester
Here, the bones are formed, there is movement of the eyes, fists and muscles, minerals are formed and stored by the foetus. The body fats and body weight increase. The foetus position changes to head-down position, the lungs are fully developed and is considered full-terms towards the 37 weeks. The baby weighs between 6 pounds to 9 pounds and about 20 inches long.
Three Important Life Support Systems In Embryos
The important support systems in developing offspring are the placenta, umbilical cord and the amniotic fluid. They develop as conception starts. When the egg is fertilized, it splits into foetus and placenta.
1. The placenta
This support system is formed along the lining of the womb. The placenta provides the nutrients, oxygen and water needed for the development of the foetus. It also transports the wastes products from the baby to the mother, which will be passed out through excretion. The hormone needed for healthy pregnancy is called the “Human Chorionic Gonadotropin” is also produced by placenta.
2. The umbilical cord
This system is known as the lifeline between the foetus and the mother. It connects the foetus and the placenta through which materials are transferred from the foetus and the mother’s blood. The umbilical cord is formed from the tissue of the embryo with length of 60cm long. The cord attached to the placenta separates before child birth while the part of the cord attached to the baby is clamped and cut some days after childbirth. The umbilical cord is also known as birth cord or navel string.
3. The Amniotic Sac
The third life support system of a foetus is the amniotic sac. The amniotic sac is filled with amniotic fluid and serves as the house and protection for the foetus. The sac regulates the temperature of the baby, allows easy transport and swimming of the foetus. The coming of the baby breaks the amniotic sac and water that breaks at the onset of labour is the amniotic fluid.
Multiple Births In Pregnancy
A multiple birth occurs when a woman is pregnant with more than one baby. It could be monozygotic or polyzygotic. When more than one baby is formed from one zygote or fertilized egg cell, the multiple births is known as monozygotic. These babies that are formed from the splitting of one egg into two or more embryos are known identical and they have the same genetic make-up. Identical multiple births can be of the same sex while some multiple births are of different sexes.
On the other hand, polyzygotic births are formed from different eggs that are fertilized by the sperm cell. The embryos are formed from different eggs and have different genetic make-up.
The common multiple births are twins (dizygotic) while others include triplets, quadruplets and so on. Identical triplets are formed when the fertilized egg splits in two and then one of the resulting two eggs splits again. Identical twins have one placenta but different umbilical cords and amniotic sacs. On the other hand, the non-identical twins have different placentas, umbilical cords and amniotic sacs.
Common Pregnancy Symptoms
The first symptom is the absence of menstruation (read more about menstruation here). Others include morning sickness, nausea, constipation, vomiting, tiredness, sleepiness, swollen breast, increased appetite, loss of appetite for certain foods, headache, changes in body weight, swollen feet, ankles and face, stretch marks on body parts such as the breast, abdomen and buttocks, body aches, itching of the palms, sores of the feet and abdomen, heart burn, baby dropping and contractions.
The cervix becomes thinner and softer as the due date for childbirth approaches. These symptoms vary in women due to different physiological make-up.
A pregnant woman is expected to feed well (read more on the importance of food), reduce the intake of hard drugs and harmful substances like the intake of caffeine, cigarette smoking and alcoholic drinks. Fresh fruits, vegetables and foods rich in protein and vitamins are advisable. Milk with low fat should also be avoided.
Pregnant women are advised to report any form of discomfort, different from the common symptoms to a doctor. Self-prescription of drugs should be guided against. Stress, depression, anxiety and all forms of physical stress can be harmful to the baby and can lead to miscarriages (read more on how to handle stress here). Avoidance of stressful activities does not mean laziness because little form of exercise is needed for the body and to make labour more easy. Herbs from traditional medicine can be coupled with pharmaceutical advice to fight against pregnancy complications like oedema, narrow cervix, high baby weight and so on.
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