Perhaps the greatest feeling of achievement that a woman can experience is when she is able to bring life to the world. As a special task enforced by evolution and nature, only the female species of the human race has the ability to conceive and give birth to a child. The human female reproductive system is designed solely for the function of facilitating pregnancy. Pregnancy is both a tedious and rewarding stage in a woman’s life. Much consideration is given to the health of an expectant mother, because whatever health choices she makes has a very big impact on the growth and development of her baby.

Pregnancy occurs when the female ovaries produce eggs that are fertilized by the male's sperm. This is historically achieved through sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. Today, artificial insemination is typically used as an alternate method to become pregnant when a man and woman are unable to reproduce through natural methods.

After conception, the female body experiences a gestational period of approximately 40 weeks. During this time the fertilized egg develops from an embryo to fetus in 3 stages, or trimesters of approximately 12 weeks each. It is during these stages that the female body will no longer experience a menstrual cycle, undergo substantial growth and several hormonal changes.

Within the first trimester, the unborn baby begins to develop at a rapid pace. The heart, brain, circulatory system, and nervous systems are among the first to be formed. The baby already has a beating heart. Later on, limbs develop, along with facial features. At this trimester, a woman may have a vaginal ultrasound to determine the stages of the child’s development. Also, during this time, the woman experiences sudden weight gain, and may be more fatigued than the usual.

The first trimester carries the highest risk of an unsuccessful pregnancy. As the embryo grows inside the uterus, the placenta and umbilical cord becomes the life line which will serve in the development of the new life. It is during the first 3 months when a woman may experience morning sickness, minor cramping and light bleeding. Although this is considered to be natural, it is important to be aware that most miscarriages occur during the first trimester and a woman should pay particular attention to the changes in her body. There is risk of an ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg begins development within the cervix or fallopian tubes. Although the woman will seldom feel it, the fetus actually begins moving and forms a human shape by the end of the first trimester.

The second trimester (4-6 months pregnant) brings with it a very low risk of miscarriage. During the start of the second trimester, the baby is already a little over six ounces. The fetus becomes more active and major development of the brain, heart and reproductive organs are apparent. The parts of the baby’s body are already well-formed, and fine hairs called lanugo are surrounding his body. At this time, the child begins to show signs of activity, and movement can easily be felt within the womb of the mother. It is also during this stage when the fetus starts to urinate. She may already have an abdominal ultrasound to be able to determine the sex of the baby. Some pregnant mothers experience swelling in their hands and feet, plus more frequent backaches during these months. Morning sickness has subsided and the female begins to feel exhilarated and accustomed to the growth she is experiencing.

The expectant mother gains even more weight as she approaches her third trimester. The third trimester (7-9 months pregnant) is when the fetus gains the most weight and motor skills are developed. At this time, the child has already grown to more than a foot long, and weighs almost three pounds. The female may develop a weak bladder, back pain and dehydration. There are also many symptoms of discomfort due to the rapid movement of the fetus. A woman may feel more clumsy or achy during these periods, but mild exercise and regular walks can help ease any tension. She may already be lactating at this point, although the first milk that comes out of her breasts is colostrum, which is yellowish. Contractions may tend to be more frequent, and sometimes painful. This is also when women emotionally and physically prepare for the new arrival. Although nutritional counseling and prenatal care occur throughout the entire pregnancy, it is within the third trimester that the female is required to increase regular visits to their physician and begin preparations for labor and delivery.

A woman is advised by her obstetrician to prepare her things for the hospital stay. She should also be closely monitoring the movement of her child, as well as the frequency of contractions. The indications of the onset of labor vary among women. While the breaking of the water bag is a go signal for many, some women experience stronger contractions instead.

During the entire pregnancy it is important to maintain regular visits with a physician, seek the guidance of a nutritionist to maintain a healthy weight gain and attend "early bird" and prenatal classes. The health of the fetus also depends on refraining from the consumption of alcohol, drugs, tobacco and exposure to any type of chemicals. These toxins may cause damage to the unborn child that could affect their entire lives.

Postnatal care ensures that the female, as well as the new baby and surrounding family members return to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Diet, exercise and proper rest are crucial factors in achieving a positive frame of mind as the female's ever changing hormones return to normal. The physical recovery of the body after delivery is also a serious consideration, especially if any incisions or surgery was required. It is equally important to seek support from the home care attendant and keep to date with the initial immunizations required for the new baby.

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