Pregnancy occurs when a sperm fertilizes an egg after it is 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 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 also important for monitoring your health and the health of the baby. If you would like to prevent pregnancy, there are also effective forms of birth control to keep in mind.
Pregnancy Prevention and Birth Control
Women who are sexually active with male partner(s) should consider forms of birth control if they are not interested in becoming pregnant. Some methods of pregnancy prevention work better for some individuals. Talk to your doctor about birth control that is right for you.
Using a condom to prevent pregnancy is known to be 98 percent effective. However, that statistic is based on “perfect” use in ideal conditions. This means that there are a handful of factors that may go wrong and lower the effectiveness of condoms. These include:
- using expired condoms
- storing condoms improperly
- condoms tearing during use
If you’re relying on condoms to avoid getting pregnant, you may want to consider using an additional method of contraception such as spermicide or a hormonal birth control pill.
Hormonal birth control pills are a popular method of contraception. Available by prescription, these pills work by controlling the hormone levels in a woman’s body. Birth control pills work in three ways:
- They prevent ovulation.
- They thin cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching an egg if it was released.
- They thin the uterine lining to prevent implantation.
Birth control pills vary in their success rate. They are considered 99 percent effective when used perfectly and 91 percent effective when human error is taken into consideration (such as forgetting to take your pill at the same time every day).
Natural Family Planning
Natural family planning (NFP) is a method of birth control with the highest rate of failure. It works by tracking the symptoms of a woman’s cycle, predicting when she will ovulate, and avoiding intercourse during the woman’s fertile window. There are many variables that can affect a woman’s cycle from month to month, and accidental pregnancies can occur. According to Planned Parenthood, the failure rate of the NFP method is 24 percent.
There are several “morning after” pills that are available, both over the counter and by prescription at drugstores. These pills are not intended as regular forms of birth control. Instead, they act as a second option when your regular birth control method fails. They must be used within 72 hours of sexual contact to be effective.
Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)
Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are small devices placed in the uterus to interrupt the process of insemination. IUDs are currently the most effective form of birth control, with a 99+ percent rate of preventing pregnancy.
How Will I Know if I’m Pregnant?
Before you take a pregnancy test, you may notice early symptoms. Some of the most notable signs of early pregnancy include fatigue, nausea (also called “morning sickness”), swollen or tender breasts, and constipation.
Some women may also experience cramps and light bleeding. This light bleeding is called implantation bleeding, and most often occurs within one to two weeks of fertilization. Spotting may follow, but the bleeding is not as heavy as a typical period. In some cases, implantation bleeding is mistaken for menstruation.
Symptoms vary between women. Some women may experience different symptoms between pregnancies. For example, you might experience morning sickness in your first pregnancy but not your second. Early pregnancy symptoms should not be your sole source of pregnancy confirmation. The Mayo Clinic points out that many of these signs are also related to other health conditions, including PMS.
How Can I Confirm a Pregnancy?
Pregnancy is diagnosed by measuring human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels in the body. Also referred to as the pregnancy hormone, hCG is produced upon implantation, but it may not be detected until after you miss a period. Levels of the hormone increase rapidly after your missed period.
The hormone hCG is detected through either a urine or blood test. Urine tests may be provided at a doctor’s office, but these are the same as home pregnancy tests. When taking a home pregnancy test, read the instructions carefully. Repeat the test after a few days if you get a negative result and still do not get your period. The biggest advantage to doing this type of test is privacy as well as affordability.
A blood test is another option. The hormone hCG may be measured at a lab through a blood sample. The results are about as accurate as a home pregnancy test. The difference is that hCG is detected through the blood more easily, even in miniscule amounts. A blood test may be ordered as soon as six days after ovulation.
Pregnancy Care Plans
Home pregnancy tests are very accurate after the first day of your missed period. If you get a positive result on a home pregnancy test, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. An ultrasound will be used to confirm and date a pregnancy. The timing of your first appointment may also depend on your overall health. Doctors may give special evaluation to patients who are considered high-risk. This includes women who are over the age of 35, as well as women with heart disease or diabetes.
The sooner you find out you’re pregnant, the better you can care for your baby’s health. Regular checkups are essential to ensuring your health and to detecting any potential problems with your pregnancy.
In the United States, all health insurance plans are required to offer prenatal care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, the details of these prenatal care provisions differ greatly between healthcare providers. Once you know for sure that you are pregnant, call your insurance provider and get an idea of what is covered under your prenatal care. If you do not have health insurance when you find out you are pregnant, speak to your doctor about steps you can take to get coverage.
Things to Keep in Mind
For the most part, women can go about their lives as they normally would while they are pregnant. However, there are some important things to consider while your baby is growing inside you.
Your doctor will give you tips for healthy eating and regular exercise that will benefit both you and your baby. A prenatal vitamin can help provide the folic acid and other nutrients your baby needs for healthy brain development. While you are pregnant, it’s also critical to avoid any alcohol or tobacco products. Drugs not specifically approved as safe for pregnant women should also be avoided. Certain exercises and foods that are normally safe are not necessarily good for a developing baby.
Research on what creates a healthy pregnancy is ongoing, which is why it’s critical that you find and speak to a medical professional that you trust about lifestyle changes and diet recommendations.
What Are the Risk Factors?
You are most likely to get pregnant if you have sexual intercourse with a male partner without using birth control. It’s important to remember that even having sex once is enough to get pregnant.
Most women in their early 30s or younger have a high chance of a normal pregnancy. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), women over the age of 35 are at higher risk for health problems during pregnancy. High-risk pregnancies are monitored more closely to detect potential problems.
Other risks that can affect an otherwise healthy pregnancy include:
- giving birth to multiples
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- cardiovascular disease
- kidney disease
A healthy pregnancy typically lasts for 40 weeks. Premature births can result in many health problems, from low birth weight and jaundice, to a lack of development of the organs.
Every pregnancy is different, but there are some medical milestones that doctors use to predict how a pregnancy is going. During the first trimester of pregnancy, the chance for a miscarriage is still quite high. More than 1 in 4 pregnancies result in miscarriage before the 12-week mark. After 12 weeks, the odds of miscarriage drop dramatically. Also during the first trimester, your doctor will check to make sure the developing fetus has a heartbeat by using a Doppler machine.
During the second trimester of pregnancy, an anatomy scan ultrasound will likely be performed. This milestone checks the tiny body of your developing baby for any developmental abnormalities. This test also can reveal the gender of your baby, if you wish to find out before the baby is born. Somewhere in the middle of the second trimester, you will most likely be able to feel your baby’s movement inside your uterus in the form of little kicks and punches.
At 27 weeks, a baby in utero is considered “viable,” meaning that it would have a good chance of surviving outside of your womb. During the third trimester, your weight gain will accelerate and you may feel more tired. As labor approaches, you may feel pelvic discomfort. Excess blood and water retention may cause your feet to swell. Contractions that do not lead to labor, known as Braxton-Hicks contractions, may start to occur in the weeks before you deliver. While you may be anxious to meet your baby, induced labor should generally only be used if a doctor deems it medically necessary.
Preparing for Labor
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 progression of labor. You may also want to prepare a “ready to go bag” of toiletries, sleepwear, and other everyday essentials in the third trimester. This bag would be ready to run out the door with you when labor begins.
During the third trimester, you and your doctor should discuss your labor and delivery plan in detail. Knowing when to go to the hospital, who will be assisting in the birth, and what role your doctor will play in the birth process can all contribute to greater peace of mind going into the home stretch of pregnancy.