Early and regular prenatal care is very important to the health of your baby and to your own health during pregnancy. If problems do arise, regular visits to your doctor can allow him or her to identify and treat complications as soon as possible. Studies also show that compared with babies whose mothers get prenatal care, those whose mothers don’t have a greater risk of low birth weight and of death.
Each trimester, or three-month period, of pregnancy is marked by different phases of development for the fetus and changes to the mother’s body. Regular visits to the doctor remain important throughout each trimester. Appropriate exams and tests will be performed as pregnancy progresses.
During the first trimester (the first 12 weeks after the first day of the last menstrual period), an egg is released by the mother’s body and is fertilized by a sperm. The fertilized egg then travels down the fallopian tube toward the uterus, where it implants (attaches) to the lining of the uterus. The fertilized egg is now considered an embryo and will grow in size and develop throughout the first trimester. By the end of the third month, the embryo is called a fetus.
During this time, the mother’s breasts will start to change, but she is not likely to look pregnant. She may also begin to experience dizziness, frequent urination, heartburn, food aversions and cravings, and morning sickness. Hormonal changes may also cause irritability and mood swings.
At the beginning of the fourth month of pregnancy, when the second trimester begins, the baby is about 4 inches long and weighs just over an ounce. Some mothers begin to feel the baby move at this time. As the second trimester continues, the baby begins to grow muscle and hair and becomes more active. Toward the end of this trimester, the baby’s skin is covered with fine hair, called lanugo, and a waxy substance that protects the skin, called vernix. Brain development continues. He or she will be around 11 to 14 inches long by the end of the sixth month and weigh about 1 to 1.5 pounds.
Pregnant women may find that some of the discomforts of the first semester will ease during the second and that other discomforts will increase. Second-trimester discomforts can include skin changes, forgetfulness, swelling, backaches, nosebleeds, heartburn, constipation, and hemorrhoids. Pregnancy starts to show as the baby grows, and many women start to wear maternity clothes.
The third trimester begins with the seventh month of pregnancy. The baby can open and close his or her eyes, continues to move, and can suck his or her thumb and make grasping motions. The baby continues to grow and gain weight throughout the third trimester. By the ninth month, the baby drops into a head-down position to be ready for birth. He or she now weighs between 6 and 9 pounds and is about 20 inches long.
For the mother, symptoms of the second trimester are likely to increase during the third, and she may have swelling in the legs, leg cramps, backaches, and shortness of breath and develop varicose veins.
When you arrive at the hospital to have your baby, be prepared to give your healthcare providers the following information about your labor so far:
You’ll typically be given an exam that will include taking your temperature, pulse, breathing rate, blood pressure, and possible other tests.
Labor and Delivery
There are four stages of labor, which include: 1) from onset of progressive contractions until the cervix is completely dilated; 2) from complete dilation to birth of the baby; 3) from birth of the baby to delivery of the placenta; 4) from delivery of the placenta to when the mother’s medical condition is stable and safe. Labor is different for every mother and can vary in length and difficulty.
Labor can also be induced if your doctor determines that it’s time for your baby to born but true labor hasn’t started. Medication is used to induce labor.
An epidural is a type of anesthesia that’s used to relieve pain during labor. An anesthesiologist administers an epidural as follows: A local anesthetic is injected into a small area of the back to numb it. A catheter is then inserted into the numbed area. As needed during labor, anesthesia is injected through the catheter.
By relieving pain, an epidural allows the mother to rest and focus on the birth instead of the pain. Other advantages of an epidural include little exposure to the medicine for the baby and no drowsiness for the mother, as with some other pain relievers.
Although research has widely proven that use of an epidural during childbirth is generally safe, there are several risks:
In addition to seeing your doctor regularly during pregnancy, these general tips will help keep you and your fetus healthy: