In this article, we are going to look at normal pregnancy and childbirth, with the emphasis on the word 'normal'. This is what we can expect to experience, to a greater or lesser degree, when we become pregnant. Every woman will have a slightly different experience, but all of us worry about whether things are going well and if our babies are all right.
If you suspect you may be pregnant, please register with your doctor or midwife as early as possible, and do not be tempted to skip prenatal appointments as they are vitally important to both your and your baby's health.
Doctors talk about normal pregnancy and childbirth and that is what most of us experience. However, it is helpful to all of us to understand just what happens in normal pregnancy and childbirth so that we know what to look out for.
Early Pregnancy Symptoms
How can you tell when you are pregnant? While early pregnancy symptoms can vary from woman to woman, you can expect to see one or more of the following symptoms:
- Missed period, or lighter than normal period.
- Painful tender breasts.
- Feeling bloated.
- Nausea or vomiting first thing in the morning.
- Cravings or taste change.
A missed period does not always mean pregnancy, as there are many other reasons for a missed period.
Bloating is common in women about to menstruate. In pregnancy, the same bloated feeling can be there but the period is missing.
Painful tender breasts indicate a change in the hormonal balance of the body – that is assuming you haven’t just completed some activity that is unusual for you (i.e., horse-riding, pillow-fighting or any other exercise that involves the breast muscles). As this symptom does indicate hormonal change, you could experience this right from the start, even before your period is due.
Morning sickness quite often does not start until at least eight weeks of pregnancy, but can be an early first sign in some women, even before her period is due.
Many women describe a taste change starting very early in pregnancy. Some describe it as a metallic type of taste, which makes some foods taste horrible and others taste better. This is probably due to hormonal changes, but could be indicative of a mineral shortage which the body tries to rectify by making certain foodstuffs (or non-foodstuffs) that contain this mineral, attractive to eat. This could explain why some women have cravings to eat strange things like coal (carbon).
If you suspect you could be pregnant, the best way to find out for certain is to take a pregnancy test. Modern tests are accurate within 10 to 14 days of having unprotected sex and can be bought from a pharmacy or drugstore without a prescription.
The First Three Months of Pregnancy (First Trimester)
Assuming you have tested positive, congratulations, you are pregnant.
The first thing you should do is make an appointment to see your doctor, to have your general health checked and pregnancy monitored.
On your first visit, the doctor will want to know the date of the first day of your last period.
This is very important because it is from this date that they can work out when your baby is due. Your due date is always 9 months and 7 days after this date.
So, if your last menstrual period started on the 23rd of March, your baby will be due on the 30th of December.
Pregnancy lasts for 40 weeks, and those include the first two weeks immediately after the first day of your last period
Of course, this is only a rough guide, because babies arrive when they are ready to be born, not by a calendar date, and every baby is different.
The above also assumes you have a regular 28 day cycle.
A woman’s ovary releases egg(s) once a month, two weeks BEFORE her period arrives (not two weeks after).
A woman with a 32-day cycle could add on 4 days to her due date going by the 9 months and 7 days formula, and a woman with a three-week cycle could take a week off.
Your doctor will assist you determine your due date, as well as arrange a hospital ultrasound scan.
This is very important as it allows the doctors to check that the size of your baby matches your dates, and also to look out for potential problems like molar pregnancies, ectopic pregnancies, multiple pregnancies, and the general well-being of your baby.
What Happens at an Ultrasound?
You will have to drink gallons of water before you go – the hospital will send you a letter telling you the exact amount to drink, and when. It is usually within a couple of hours of your ultrasound appointment, to ensure your bladder is nice and full when they do the exam. This way, they will get a clearer picture of your baby. But I'm warning you now, it is an exercise in self-control because, by the time you arrive for your appointment, you are bursting to go pee. Fortunately, they don’t keep you waiting around for this exam and you should be checked in quickly.
The technician or doctor will put some gel on your stomach to allow the free movement of the scanner over your belly. This is usually cold, and although some institutions heat it up a bit first, be prepared for it feeling cold at first.
An ultrasound scan does not hurt; they run the scanner over your stomach and see live images of your baby on a screen. They normally let you see, too. The technicians are highly skilled and they can tell if everything is looking good. They take measurements of your baby and check that its heart is beating properly.
They may take photographs – still images for you to take home and fall in love with. They cannot tell if it is a boy or a girl this early in the pregnancy, but they can detect the presence of more than one baby, and if the babies share the same embryonic sac. This would indicate maternal or fraternal twins. Maternal twins or triplets are the result of the same egg splitting and are identical. Fraternal twins or triplets came from separate eggs, each with their own sac.
Its medical term at this stage is fetus, but it is still a baby to you.
Fetus Growth Stages in Pregnancy - First Trimester
Your doctor will also want to have the laboratory check out your urine and blood, not just for abnormalities, but as a base on which to check for changes later in your pregnancy.
They will also measure your weight and height and advise you on healthy eating during pregnancy. There is no need to eat for two, but a sensible balanced diet will be much better for both you and your baby than a diet of high sugar drinks and fatty fast foods.
Your doctor may prescribe extra vitamins for you at this stage, including iron, folic acid and Vitamin B12.
Iron, folic acid (Vitamin B9) and vitamin B12 help prevent anemia, a condition in which your body does not produce enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Anemia is debilitating and leaves you breathless and lacking energy.
The doctor will also check your blood pressure. This is a very important part of pregnancy care, as a rise in blood pressure during can be indicative of something going seriously wrong.
So, during your first three months of pregnancy, you can expect:
- your first visit to your doctor,
- an ultrasound scan,
- and possibly morning sickness (that tends to wear off by about week 12 – 14).
You won’t start ‘showing’ until after your first three months.
- By week 12 your doctor or midwife should be able to feel the ‘bump’ of your expanding uterus just above your pubic bone.
- You can even feel it yourself if you lie flat on your back and use the side of your hand, not your fingertips, to probe for it. It feels very hard and solid, and makes you want to pee if you press on it (that’s because it is leaning on your bladder, and that feeling will get worse as you get bigger, until you feel the need to urinate practically every 10 minutes!)
Meanwhile, baby has grown from being the size of a pinhead to 2/3 inches long. Also:
- All the major organs are laid down and functioning.
- The liver is making blood cells.
- The kidneys are excreting urine.
- The brain is controlling movement.
At this point, the baby can curl its finger around an object, and kick (although you won’t feel it yet).
Here are some other interesting fetal developments to this point:
- Its tiny hands and feet are perfect, even down to the fingernails and fingerprints.
- It can swallow.
- Its stomach is producing the acid needed to break down food.
- Its eyes are perfectly formed but the lids are shut tight at this stage.
- It has periods of sleep and wakefulness.
- It can respond to touch.
- The sexual organs have begun to be developed.
- The baby has started to grow hair.
The Second Three Months of Pregnancy (Second Trimester)
In the first three months, the baby had all the major organs laid down, and now it goes into a period of growth and development.
The baby will grow from about 2/3” to 10/12” during this trimester, and will be capable of life outside of the womb (with a LOT of special care) from about 24 weeks. Babies as young as 21 weeks gestation have survived outside the womb but their long-term prospect is not good, because they have missed out on a little too much uterine development.
This is a relaxing time for you. Morning sickness should have cleared up and you should be blooming. Around 16 weeks you should start to show, so you may need to consider buying maternity clothes or altering your own clothes to make room for your expanding belly.
At around 17 weeks you should start feeling your baby’s kicks. They feel as gentle as a butterfly at first, but gradually get stronger as baby gets bigger and gains strength.
Also, around this time, your doctor may offer you a blood test that will determine your baby’s risk of having either Down’s Syndrome or Spina Bifida.
The decision on whether or not to have this test is yours. Even if you decide you wouldn’t want to abort, sometimes women want to know so that it is less of a shock at birth. Down’s Syndrome children are incredibly loving, but they usually have several severe health issues which can shorten their lives. Spina bifida children can be almost normal with only a slight curvature of the spine, or they can be bed-ridden for life in severe cases, but they are normally intelligent and bright.
The blood test is only indicative of a tendency towards those cases. A positive result does not mean your baby has either condition, only a slightly higher probability.
If the test comes back positive, your doctor will probably suggest you have an amniocentesis test. This involves putting a long needle directly into the uterus and drawing off some amniotic fluid from the sac surrounding your baby. The result of this test is supposed to be accurate, but cases have been known of women going on and giving birth to perfectly healthy children.
The amniocentesis test itself carries a higher risk of causing miscarriage.
In the case of spina bifida, your doctor can order a detailed ultrasound scan to be carried out. On this scan you will likely not be allowed a view of the screen as the technician studies every visible detail of the spinal column and cerebrum, looking for a tell-tale hole that is the cause this disease. It happens around week three of the pregnancy, when the skeleton is being laid down and some parts surrounding the spinal column didn’t close properly, leaving a gap.
However, despite everything you may read or hear about these devastating conditions, in young healthy mothers, they are thankfully rare.
Here are some of the changes that have occurred in the growing baby by the end of the second trimester:
- It has developed a waxy protective substance on the outside of its body called vernix. This will make delivery easier.
- It will weigh about 1.5lbs.
- It can suck its thumb.
- Its oil and sweat glands are functioning.
- It can roll and kick quite strongly.
- It occasionally has hiccups.
- Towards the end of the second trimester, it opens its eyes and reacts to light that it can see through the thin walls of the uterus and abdomen.
- It hears and startles at sudden noises.
24 weeks gestation baby
The Third Three Months of Pregnancy (Third Trimester)
Now the baby is preparing for life outside its mother’s womb. Childbirth is approaching fast, and nature is giving the baby its finishing touches.
- It will double or triple in weight during this period,
- its hair will grow in properly,
- its fingernails will reach the end of its fingers.
- its skin will thicken so that it will no longer be the almost opaque, see-through skin of the last trimester.
- its lungs will fully develop to allow unaided breathing if born a little early.
- It will position itself head down, and around two weeks before birth, its head will drop down into the bottom of the uterus, in readiness for birth. This is called head engagement. At this point, you will find it easier to breathe.
Once the head is engaged, it does not tend to un-engage, and childbirth will follow about 2 weeks later.
You have been getting steadily bigger this trimester until the tip of the uterus almost touches your ribs and starts to make it harder to breathe.
You may experience backache, difficulty walking (you’ll waddle like a duck), difficulty rising from a sitting position, and breathlessness.
You may have developed hemorrhoids, which hopefully should go away after you have given birth, never to return. There is no truth in the rumor that pregnancy-induced hemorrhoids or piles mean you will suffer from them in later life, or even with another pregnancy.
You may have heartburn due to the pressure of the baby on your stomach, and your breasts will have increased in size and your nipples may have started secreted yellowish milk called colostrum. You will also notice your nipples have become a darker shade of brown and may be slightly more prominent than before.
By around 35 weeks you should start experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions. These are just practice contractions. It is your womb limbering up for the real thing, but when you experience them you will have a good idea of what a contraction is going to be like, minus the pain, of course.
By this time the baby is ready to be born you will be looking forward to giving birth just so you can feel normal again.
Around this time is as good as any to buy baby crib furniture and baby's first layette.
Unborn Baby Moving
labor and childbirth
At last, the great day arrives.
Labor can be heralded in several ways. The one that happens most often in movies are your water breaking, but it is seldom so dramatic.
Your water breaking is actually the fluid around the amniotic sac. If baby’s head is engaged at this point (and not all babies' heads engage during pregnancy) and genuine labor has started, as soon as the cervix begins to open, the sac surrounding the baby gets stretched and can burst.
You may have experienced some cramping and thought they were Braxton Hicks contractions. After your water breaks, it is advisable to go straight to a hospital or to call your midwife if you had planned a home birth. It is vitally important not to allow infection to enter the womb at this point. Childbirth may be hours away, but your baby is now open to infection.
Sometimes a plug of mucus comes away. This is also a sign of the start of labor as the plug will almost certainly be the ‘stopper’ from the neck of the womb, and when it starts to open, this plug gets released.
Sometimes labor starts with good old boring labor pains. Towards the end of your pregnancy, you may notice your Braxton Hicks contractions becoming painful, but if they are not regular, they are still considered to be practice contractions.
When they regulate, you are in labor. As they become closer and closer together, they will get increasingly painful, and now is the time for you to practice the breathing exercises you learned at your prenatal class.
The temptation is to hold your breath, but this is not good practice. Instead, take lots of little shallow breaths until the contraction has passed. This works twofold:
- you have to concentrate on your breathing, and
- this takes your mind off the pain.
Trust me, every little bit helps.
When your contractions are about 5 minutes apart is a good time to make your way to the hospital to get ready for delivery.
If this is your first baby, don’t believe all they tell you in official pamphlets about how contractions are just like bad period pains. Be prepared. It is bloody painful! Think about it, they wouldn’t offer you such powerful pain relief such as pethidine and morphine for a ‘bad period pain!’
However, don’t be frightened; the baby has to come out. Remember, by this time you are shattered through lack of sleep (I didn’t really mention that up above, but when you are big and bloated and can barely walk or breathe, you don’t sleep too well either), and in only a few short hours you will have your much-loved baby in your arms.
Labor is well-named. It is hard work. Contractions come in waves. They start off, build up to a peak, then tail off again, inside a minute or two. Your uterus is contracting, and contracting hard, to open your cervix to allow the baby to pass through. As childbirth approaches, your contractions will be one on top of the other with barely time to draw breathe in between.
The pain is pretty horrendous. Kudos to you if you manage to go through it all without pain relief, but the vast majority of us need something to manage the pain.
When you start to bite people’s heads off, you are entering a stage called transition, and it is at this point your midwife will probably arrange for you to be moved to a birthing room.
Just after you enter transition, and you are feeling completely fed-up with the whole labor thing, you will start feeling what they call “an urge to push.”
It is the strangest sensation and is exactly what it is called. You have this overwhelming urge to push and it's almost impossible not to, even when the midwife cries out something like “Don’t push, cord is wrapped round baby’s neck.” That message should be enough, but like I said, try as you might, it is almost impossible to stop.
What does help is taking short shallow breaths, not unlike when you were breathing through a contraction. The urge to push doesn’t hurt, it's just something you have to really concentrate hard to stop.
However, once the midwife tells you it is safe to push, push away to your heart’s content. It may take several such pushes for baby to be born, and the only time actual childbirth has hurt me is when tissue has ripped during the baby’s passage out of my body, and even then it only hurts for a second or two. The contractions of childbirth hurt, but surprisingly not the baby’s final passage.
When you hear your baby’s newborn cry, you know it has all been worth it. The pain is over, and as he or she is put in your arms for the first time, you will be almost overwhelmed with feelings of love with this tiny scrap of humanity.
If you don’t feel a rush of maternal love, don’t be overly concerned. It could just be that you are over-exhausted and will feel differently later when you have rested. If, however, you still feel like this after a day or two, please tell your doctor or midwife, as you may be suffering from post-natal depression.
About 20 minutes after the childbirth is over, you will get some stomach cramping and your afterbirth will be expelled. You will hardly notice this happening, basking as you are in the glow of love and admiration for your beautiful new baby.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
alas habub. 22years. Sudanese on October 17, 2018:
Thanks for sharing .Love
your photos and post
Nancy McClintock from Southeast USA on August 29, 2015:
Thanks for sharing .Love your photos. I have twins and linked to your page. Great Hub!
IzzyM (author) from UK on June 26, 2013:
Thankyou. The photos are incredible. It reminds us of how precious life is.
Shadaan Alam from India on June 26, 2013:
OMG....reading you for the first time, and what a great writer you are, it is such a delight to see these pics which you have given, and the hub too is brilliant, voted up
aridunu on December 09, 2011:
Thanks for dis,wonderful information!av learnt a lot from dis piece.STOP ABORTING,,,,,,,BABY IS A GIFT FROM GOD ALMIGHTY!
IzzyM (author) from UK on March 30, 2011:
Thanks for commenting :)
Ikeji Chinweuba from Nigeria on March 30, 2011:
Wow,quite an interesting hub which really fascinated me a lot and am so glad to come across this wonderful and informative piece of article which is well shared.
Aashique on February 10, 2011:
Wow.. Its really useful hub.Good work from the team..Amazing photo's and well explained.
austinparkar on September 15, 2010:
What a hub...I don't know much about it but now i get lot of knowledge, really its a nice post, Photographs and videos. like it.
I read another link related to Pregnancy Week by Week, its interesting.
anjalijo from Pune on September 15, 2010:
Wow what a lovely post!!
Should read everyone - i was not aware of these things. After reading your post, get to know much..
Thanks a lot & keep posting
IzzyM (author) from UK on September 06, 2010:
Thankyou, images99 :) Yes they are beautiful. I love looking at this hub...the photos are awesome.
images99 on September 06, 2010:
There couldn't have been any thing better on the subject,thanks a lot....beautiful.
IzzyM (author) from UK on July 23, 2010:
Thanks ReuVera :)
Technology is great eh? Being able to show us exactly what tiny fetuses look like so there can be no doubt that they are tiny humans.
ReuVera from USA on July 23, 2010:
Absolutely great hub! Anyone who considers a fetus just a clutter of cells should look at these pictures and also should think that he (or she) was this clutter of cells at the beginning.
IzzyM (author) from UK on July 22, 2010:
Yes LOL but this hub was not written for pro-life purposes. But it's come in handy in those arguments because of the photos. I say so myself (they are not mine) they are incredible. It's hard for anyone to justify abortion after looking at them.
Rosemary Amrhein on July 22, 2010:
Beautifully done, Izzy. You are a great advocate for pro life I believe. Thankyou so much!
IzzyM (author) from UK on July 22, 2010:
(((hugs))) Diane I am so sorry you can never become a mother. I'd be enraged rather than sad if I was in your position. I remember once being in hospital with a miscarriage and there was a woman in the same ward for a termination. I was so angry! I sincerely hope any woman considering an abortion looks at the pictures on this page, so she knows exactly what she is doing. I think they kid themselves on. Hugs again and thanks for commenting :)
Diane Inside on July 22, 2010:
Thanks IzzyM for such a beautiful hub. I have never agreed with abortion. How can anybody with evidence like this. I am saddened by the whole abortion issue. I would love to have a baby and never will yet so many just kill their own babies. I can't even express, the emotions that I feel about this matter. Thanks for this hub.
IzzyM (author) from UK on July 21, 2010:
Everyone who thinks abortion is about getting rid of a few cells should look at these photos. Even at 3 weeks gestation - before a period is even missed, it is distinctly baby-like (well, sort of) but by six weeks it definitely is. Thanks for commenting :)
ilmdamaily from A forgotten corner of a dying empire. OK, it's Australia :-) on July 21, 2010:
Oh my goodness.
Thank you so much for this hub IzzyM. The pictures specifically are utterly breathtaking. I'd always learnt about birth from a scientific perspective, and I never really put 2 and 2 together until I saw these photos. The development of these little people happens so quickly...
They are tiny fragile little people - I had no idea they took form so soon. I was in 2 minds about abortion before. Now I am in 10:-(
Amazing - thank you.
IzzyM (author) from UK on July 21, 2010:
Thanks Joanie :)
Yes the pictures they can get of unborn babies are incredible and we are all learning so much more of what the unborn baby is capable of. I think it really helps pregnant women bond with their babies too, being able to see a tiny baby there and not just an imagined 'cluster of cells'.
joaniemb from New York on July 21, 2010:
What a great hub. Thanks so much for sharing I really enjoyed. I have 3 children and each pregnancy was different and they had no such thing as a sonogram back then. When my daughter was pregnant and I went to her first sonogram appointment I was amazed. My daughter did not look pregnant and I could see the whole shape of the baby it was awesome.
IzzyM (author) from UK on July 12, 2010:
Thanks a lot Hubpageswriter :)
Its a subject I happened to know a lot about and I had great fun finding these photos and putting them all together here. I hope someone finds it useful :)
hubpageswriter on July 12, 2010:
Just on the passing and I found your hub here. All these pictures are really beautiful. I have to comment, though. Great hub. Superb one at that. I'm sure women of all ages will find this hub useful and inspiring. There are lots of women in my life whom I love and I wish them a beautiful childbirth.