In Depth: Female Reproductive
The female reproductive system is one of the most vital parts of the human reproductive process. Although a man’s sperm is needed to reproduce, the fetus develops inside a woman and she delivers the child.
Females are born with a fixed number of potential ova (female sex cells, also called egg cells). However, it isn’t until after the onset of puberty, typically around age 12, that these cells are mature enough to sustain life. The cells ripen on a regular basis, but, usually, only one is released each month until a woman reaches menopause. Menopause commonly begins between the ages of 45 and 55.
The major organs of the female reproductive system include:
- Vagina: This muscular tube receives the penis during intercourse and a baby leaves the uterus through it during childbirth.
- Uterus: This organ holds and nourishes a developing fetus, if an egg was properly fertilized.
- Ovaries: The female gonads, the ovaries produce ova. When an egg matures, it is released from the ovary down into a fallopian tube.
- Fallopian tubes: These small tubes transport ova from the ovaries to the uterus. This is where an egg waits to be fertilized.
When properly fertilized with a man’s sperm — either through intercourse or artificial insemination — a woman’s egg carries all of the necessary material to produce children.
While pregnant, a woman will go through several internal signs before the typical “baby belly” begins to show. These signs are the body’s reactions to the hormones generated during the fertilization process.
As a fetus grows, a woman’s body will prepare for the birthing process, which includes the widening of the pubic symphysis, a joint between the two pubic bones.
Vaginal birth is the most common form of delivery, but the use of cesarean section (removing the child through a surgical incision in the mother’s abdomen) is on the rise.
Because carrying a child and giving birth is such a delicate process, numerous physical problems for the mother can arise. Common pregnancy complications include:
- Urinary tract infection
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH)
- Fetal growth retardation
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Premature birth
- Gestational diabetes