Pregnancy occurs when a sperm fertilizes an egg after it’s 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 pregnancy 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 important for monitoring both your health and the health of the baby. If you’d like to prevent pregnancy, there are also effective forms of birth control you should keep in mind.
You may notice some signs and symptoms before you even take a pregnancy test. Others will appear weeks later, as your hormone levels change.
A missed period is one of the earliest symptoms of pregnancy (and maybe the most classic one). However, a missed period doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pregnant, especially if your cycle tends to be irregular.
Early pregnancy bleeding can also result from relatively minor conditions such as an infection or irritation. The latter often affects the surface of the cervix (which is very sensitive during pregnancy).
- being overweight or obese
- having a prior history or a family history of pregnancy-induced hypertension
Hormone changes during early pregnancy can slow down your digestive system. As a result, you may become constipated.
As the muscles in your uterus begin to stretch and expand, you may feel a pulling sensation that resembles menstrual cramps. If spotting or bleeding occurs alongside your cramps, it could signal a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.
Hormones and stress on the muscles are the biggest causes of back pain in early pregnancy. Later on, your increased weight and shifted center of gravity may add to your back pain. Around half of all pregnant women report back pain during their pregnancy.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you don’t feel like your usual self.
Insomnia is another common symptom of early pregnancy. Stress, physical discomfort, and hormonal changes can be contributing causes. A balanced diet, good sleep habits, and yoga stretches can all help you get a good night’s sleep.
Breast changes are one of the first noticeable signs of pregnancy. Even before you’re far enough along for a positive test, your breasts may begin to feel tender, swollen, and generally heavy or full. Your nipples may also become larger and more sensitive, and the areolae may darken.
Because of increased androgen hormones, many women experience acne in early pregnancy. These hormones can make your skin oilier, which can clog pores. Pregnancy acne is usually temporary and clears up after the baby is born.
Vomiting is a component of “morning sickness,” a common symptom that usually appears within the first four months. Morning sickness is often the first sign that you’re pregnant. Increased hormones during early pregnancy are the main cause.
Hip pain is common during pregnancy and tends to increase in late pregnancy. It can have a variety of causes, including:
Diarrhea and other digestive difficulties occur frequently during pregnancy. Hormone changes, a different diet, and added stress are all possible explanations. If diarrhea lasts more than a few days, contact your doctor to make sure you don’t become dehydrated.
Stress and pregnancy
While pregnancy is usually a happy time, it can also be a source of stress. A new baby means big changes to your body, your personal relationships, and even your finances. Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor for help if you begin to feel overwhelmed.
The bottom line
If you think you may be pregnant, you shouldn’t rely solely on these signs and symptoms for confirmation. Taking a home pregnancy test or seeing your doctor for lab testing can confirm a possible pregnancy.
Many of these signs and symptoms can also be caused by other health conditions, such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Learn more about the early symptoms of pregnancy — such as how soon they’ll appear after you miss your period.
Pregnancy weeks are grouped into three trimesters, each one with medical milestones for both you and the baby.
During the first trimester, the probability of a miscarriage is relatively high. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), it’s estimated that about 1 in 10 pregnancies end in miscarriage, and that about 85 percent of these occur in the first trimester.
Seek immediate help if you experience the symptoms of miscarriage.
This test checks the fetus’s body for any developmental abnormalities. The test results can also reveal the sex of your baby, if you wish to find out before the baby is born.
You’ll probably begin to feel your baby move, kick, and punch inside of your uterus.
After 23 weeks, a baby in utero is considered “viable.” This means that it could survive living outside of your womb. Babies born this early often have serious medical issues. Your baby has a much better chance of being born healthy the longer you are able to carry the pregnancy.
Your baby can now sense light as well as open and close their eyes. Their bones are also formed.
As labor approaches, you may feel pelvic discomfort, and your feet may swell. Contractions that don’t lead to labor, known as Braxton-Hicks contractions, may start to occur in the weeks before you deliver.
The bottom line
Every pregnancy is different, but developments will most likely occur within this general time frame. Find out more about the changes you and your baby will undergo throughout the trimesters.
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 your pregnancy.
Pregnancy is diagnosed by measuring the body’s levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Also referred to as the pregnancy hormone, hCG is produced upon implantation. However, it may not be detected until after you miss a period.
Urine tests may be provided at a doctor’s office, and they’re the same as the tests you can take at home.
Blood tests can be performed in a laboratory. hCG blood tests are about as accurate as home pregnancy tests. The difference is that blood tests may be ordered as soon as six days after ovulation.
The sooner you can confirm you’re pregnant, the better. An early diagnosis will allow you to take better care of your baby’s health. Get more information on pregnancy tests, such as tips for avoiding a “false negative” result.
An increase in vaginal discharge is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. Your production of discharge may increase as early as one to two weeks after conception, before you’ve even missed a period.
As your pregnancy progresses, you’ll continue to produce increasing amounts of discharge. The discharge will also tend to become thicker and occur more frequently. It’s usually heaviest at the end of your pregnancy.
During the final weeks of your pregnancy, your discharge may contain streaks of thick mucus and blood. This is called “the bloody show.” It can be an early sign of labor. You should let your doctor know if you have any bleeding.
Normal vaginal discharge, or leukorrhea, is thin and either clear or milky white. It’s also mild-smelling.
If your discharge is yellow, green, or gray with a strong, unpleasant odor, it’s considered abnormal. Abnormal discharge can be a sign of an infection or a problem with your pregnancy, especially if there’s redness, itching, or vulvar swelling.
If you think you have abnormal vaginal discharge, let your healthcare provider know immediately. Learn more about vaginal discharge during pregnancy.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common complications women experience during pregnancy. Bacteria can get inside a woman’s urethra, or urinary tract, and can move up into the bladder. The fetus puts added pressure on the bladder, which can cause the bacteria to be trapped, causing an infection.
Nearly 18 percent of pregnant women develop a UTI. You can help prevent these infections by emptying your bladder frequently, especially before and after sex. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Avoid using douches and harsh soaps in the genital area.
When caught early, most UTIs can be treated with antibiotics that are effective against bacteria but still safe for use during pregnancy. Follow the advice here to prevent UTIs before they even start.
Women who have male sexual partners should consider birth control if they’re not interested in becoming pregnant.
Some methods of pregnancy prevention work better for certain individuals. Talk to your doctor about birth control that’s right for you. A few of the most common birth control methods are discussed below:
|Birth control method||Effectiveness rate|
|Intrauterine devices (IUDs)||Over 99 percent|
|The pill||99 percent with perfect use; around 91 percent with typical use|
|Male condom||98 percent with perfect use; around with typical use|
|Female condom (or internal condom)||95 percent effective with perfect use; around 79 percent with typical use|
|Morning-after pill||Up to 95 percent (taken within one day of sexual contact); 75 to 89 percent (taken within three days)|
|Natural family planning (NFP)||75 percent when used on its own|
Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
Intrauterine devices (IUDs) work by mostly by stopping fertilization. They’re currently the most effective form of birth control. The downside is that they don’t prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
The pill and other hormonal birth control methods
Birth control pills, patches and the vaginal ring work by controlling the hormone levels in a woman’s body. They’re available by prescription.
Actions that can reduce the effectiveness of these methods include forgetting to use them as prescribed. Effectiveness rates that mention “typical use” account for these types of human errors.
Condoms and other barrier methods
Condoms, diaphragms, and sponges are convenient and inexpensive forms of birth control that can be bought without a prescription.
They’re most effective when used correctly every time you have sexual intercourse. If you’re relying on these barrier methods to avoid getting pregnant, also consider using an additional method of contraception such as spermicide or a birth control pill.
Several morning-after pills are available, both over the counter and by prescription. These pills aren’t intended as regular forms of birth control. Instead, they can act as a backup if you have unprotected sex or forget to use your regular form of birth control.
They must be used within 120 hours (five days) of sexual contact to be effective. Some pills are most effective when taken within 72 hours (three days).
Natural family planning (NFP)
Natural family planning (NFP), or fertility awareness, is the birth control method with the highest failure rate. With NFP, a woman tracks her menstrual cycle so that she can predict when she’ll ovulate. She’ll then avoid intercourse during her fertile window.
Accidental pregnancies can occur because there are many variables affecting a woman’s cycle from month to month.
The bottom line
Condoms are the only birth control method that both prevent pregnancy and protect against STDs. Discover the safest condoms on the market here.
The symptoms of early pregnancy can often mimic those of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It may be difficult for a woman to know if she’s pregnant or simply experiencing the onset of another menstrual period.
It’s important for a woman to know as soon as possible if she’s pregnant so that she can get proper prenatal care. She may also want to make certain lifestyle changes, such as abstaining from alcohol, taking prenatal vitamins, and optimizing her diet.
Taking a pregnancy test is the best, and easiest, way to determine if it’s PMS or early pregnancy. You can take a home test or visit your healthcare provider.
Some common symptoms of both PMS and early pregnancy include:
Early pregnancy and PMS are often difficult to tell apart. Learn to distinguish between the two with the help of this Venn diagram.
Vitamins and minerals
Once you find out you’re pregnant, you may wish to increase your vitamin and mineral intake with the help of supplements. Be sure to read nutrition labels and seek your doctor’s advice before using any supplements or over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
Although rare, taking supplements could result in vitamin toxicity or overdose. However, a complete prenatal vitamin will probably contain a good mix of the nutrients that you need for a healthy pregnancy.
Try it: Shop for complete prenatal vitamins.
The bottom line
Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to take care of your growing baby. Discover the 18 vitamins and minerals that lay the foundation for an optimal pregnancy diet.
Exercise is essential to keeping you fit, relaxed, and ready for labor. Yoga stretches in particular will help you stay limber. It’s important not to overdo your stretches, however, as you could risk injury.
You may need to modify your current fitness routine to accommodate your changing body and lower energy levels. Work with your healthcare provider or a personal trainer to ensure that you aren’t overexerting yourself. Get more ideas for staying fit in your first trimester.
Practicing relaxation techniques can help relieve some of the stress and anxiety you may feel throughout your pregnancy.
If you’re searching for ways to stay calm, consider trying a prenatal massage. A prenatal massage is good for relieving mild tension. It may also help ease your body and muscle aches.
Massages are generally safe at any time during your pregnancy. Some facilities avoid performing them in the first trimester because the risk of miscarriage is highest during this period.
Using essential oils during pregnancy is controversial. Some healthcare professionals say that certain oils can be safe and helpful for relaxing and alleviating pain during pregnancy and labor. However, they also warn against using the oils in the first trimester.
According to the nonprofit National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, the main point of contention is whether oils used during pregnancy can harm the growing baby if they cross over into the placenta.
More research is needed about using essential oils during pregnancy and labor. If you plan to use them, seek guidance from your healthcare provider.
The bottom line
Prenatal massage can be a soothing and tranquil part of your pregnancy routine, with or without the essential oils. See how it compares to other types of massage here.
Other risk factors
Other factors that can affect an otherwise healthy pregnancy include:
- multiple-birth pregnancies, such as twins or triplets
- infections, including STDs
- being overweight or obese
Pregnancy complications can involve the baby’s health, the mother’s health, or both. They can occur during pregnancy or delivery.
Common pregnancy complications include:
Addressing them early can minimize the harms done to the mother or the baby. Know your options when it comes to treating pregnancy complications.
Sometime after your fourth month of pregnancy, you may begin to experience Braxton-Hicks contractions, or false labor. They’re completely normal and serve to prepare your uterus for the job ahead of real labor.
Braxton-Hicks contractions don’t occur at regular intervals, and they don’t increase in intensity. If you experience regular contractions before week 37, it could be preterm labor. If this occurs, call your healthcare provider for help.
Labor contractions are generally classified as early labor contractions and active labor contractions. Early labor contractions last between 30 and 45 seconds. They may be far apart at first, but by the end of early labor, contractions will be about five minutes apart.
Your water might break early during labor, or your doctor may break it for you later on during your labor. When the cervix begins to open, you’ll see a blood-tinged discharge coating your mucous plug.
In active labor, the cervix dilates, and the contractions get closer together and become more intense.
If you’re in active labor, you should call your healthcare provider and head to your birth setting. If you’re unsure whether it’s active labor, it’s still a good idea to call and check in.
Pain will be at its height during active labor. Have a discussion with your doctor about your preferred method of dealing with pain.
You may choose drug-free measures such as meditation, yoga, or listening to music.
If you choose to manage your pain with drugs, your doctor will need to know whether to use analgesics or anesthetics.
Analgesics, such as meperidine (Demerol), dull the pain but allow you to retain some feeling. Anesthetics, such as an epidural, prevent certain muscle movement and completely block the pain.
The bottom line
Whether you’re planning for a vaginal or a cesarean delivery, you may feel nervous as your due date approaches. Know what to expect with this guide to the different stages of labor.
You’re likely to move through each week of your pregnancy without too much trouble. Pregnancy brings with it many changes to your body, but those changes don’t always have a serious impact on your health.
However, certain lifestyle choices can either help or actively harm your baby’s development.
Some actions that can keep you and your baby healthy include:
- taking a multivitamin
- getting sufficient sleep
- practicing safe sex
- getting a flu shot
- visiting your dentist
Some things you’ll want to avoid include:
- drinking alcohol
- eating raw meat, deli meat, or unpasteurized dairy products
- sitting in a hot tub or sauna
- gaining too much weight
It can be hard to determine which medications you can take during pregnancy and which ones you should avoid. You’ll have to weigh the benefits to your health against potential risks to the developing baby.
Ask your healthcare provider about any drugs you may take, even OTC ones for minor ailments such as headaches.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), each year 50 percent of pregnant women in the United States report taking at least one medication.
In the 1970s, the FDA created a letter system to categorize drugs and their perceived risk to pregnant women. However, they began to phase out this letter system (and use updated drug labeling) in 2015. Their new rules for drug labeling only apply to prescription drugs.
The service MotherToBaby also provides up-to-date information on the safety of specific drugs.
The bottom line
Learning or relearning all the rules of pregnancy can be overwhelming, especially if you’re having your first child. Feel more prepared with this handy list of pregnancy do’s and don’ts.
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all health insurance plans in the United States are required to offer some level of prenatal care.
Once your pregnancy’s been confirmed, call your insurance provider to get an idea of what’s covered by your specific plan. If you don’t have health insurance when you find out you’re pregnant, speak to your doctor about steps you can take to get coverage.
The timing of your first prenatal visit may depend on your overall health. Most women may have their first visit during week 8 of pregnancy. Women whose pregnancies are considered high-risk, such as those who are over 35 or have chronic conditions, may be asked to see their doctors earlier.
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 stages of labor.
In your third trimester, you may want to prepare a hospital bag of toiletries, sleepwear, and other everyday essentials. This bag would be ready to take with you when labor begins. During the third trimester, you and your doctor should also discuss your labor and delivery plan in detail.
Knowing when to go to the birth setting, who’ll be assisting in the birth, and what role your doctor will play in the process can contribute to greater peace of mind as you enter those final weeks.