Normal Pregnancy and Childbirth with Fetal Development Photos
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 pre-natal 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 can 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
- Feeling bloated.
- Nausea /actual vomiting first thing in the morning.
- Cravings/Taste change.
A missed period does not always mean pregnancy as there are many other reasons as to why you may miss a 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 which 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 8 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 contains this mineral, attractive to eat. This could explain why some women have notions 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 - 14 days of you 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 he 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 work out 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 taken 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. This early in pregnancy they cannot tell if it is a boy baby or a girl baby, but they can detect the presence of more than one baby, and if the babies share the same embryonic sac or not. This would indicate maternal or fraternal twins. Maternal twins or triplet 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. He 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 are all involved in the process to stop anaemia, where you do not produce enough oxygen carrying red blood cells. Anaemia is debilitating and leaves you breathless and completely without energy. Baby doesn’t usually suffer as like a parasite he will take what he needs, leaving you short.
He will also check your blood pressure. This is a very important part of pregnancy care as a rise in blood pressure during pregnancy 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 pin-head to 2/3 inches long.
- All the major organs are laid down and functioning.
- The liver is making blood cells
- the kidneys are excreting urine and the
- brain is controlling movement.
- Baby can stretch
- curl its finger round an object
- kick (although you won’t feel it yet) and
- 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 and
- can respond to touch.
- The sexual organs have begun to be developed and
- baby has started to grow hair.
The Second Three Months of Pregnancy (Second Trimester)
In the first three months baby had all the major organs laid down, and now it goes into a period of growth and development. 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 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, depending on how you feel about bringing up a handicapped baby. 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 or 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 carried 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 of tubal tube disease. It happens around week 3 of 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.
By the end of the second trimester of pregnancy, your baby will have
- developed a waxy protective substance on the outside of his body called vernix. This will make his delivery easier.
- He will weigh about 1.5lbs.
- He can suck his thumb.
- His oil and sweat glands are functioning,
- he can roll and kick quite strongly and
- occasionally has hiccups.
- Towards the end of the second trimester he opens his eyes and reacts to light that he can see through the thin walls of the uterus and abdomen.
- He hears and startles at sudden noises.
24 weeks gestation baby
The Third Three Months of Pregnancy (Third Trimester)
Now all baby is doing preparing for life outside his mother’s womb. Childbirth is approaching fast and nature is giving baby his finishing touches.
- He will double or triple in weight during this period,
- his hair will grow in properly,
- his fingernails will reach the end of his fingers.
- His skin will thicken so that it will no longer be the almost opaque, see-through skin of the last trimester.
- His lungs will fully develop so that he can breathe unaided if born a little early.
- He will position himself head down and around two weeks before he is going to be born, his 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 being 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 back-ache, difficulty walking (you’ll waddle like a duck), difficulty rising from a sitting position and breathlessness.
You may have developed haemorrhoids, which hopefully should go away after your have given birth, never to return. There is no truth in the rumor that pregnancy-induced haemorrhoids or piles means 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 a little 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 Hick’s 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 waters breaking, but it is seldom so dramatic.
Your waters breaking is actually the fluid round 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 Hick’s contractions. After your waters have burst it is advisable to go straight to 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 Kicks 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 practise the breathing exercises you learnt at your pre-natal 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 helps.
When your contractions are about 5 minutes apart is a good time to make your way to hospital to get ready for delivery.
If this is your first baby, don’t believe all that stuff 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. 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 some kind of pain relief. For further information on pain relief in labor, click here.
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, its 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, you could 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.