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Pregnancy - Illustrated Article

What is pregnancy?
Pregnancy is the term used to describe when a woman has a growing fetus inside of her. In most cases, the fetus grows in the uterus.

Human pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks, or just more than 9 months, from the start of the last menstrual period to childbirth.

What are the signs of pregnancy?
The primary sign of pregnancy is missing one or more consecutive menstrual periods. However, because many women experience menstrual irregularities that may cause missed periods, women who miss a period should see their health care provider to find out whether they are pregnant or whether there is another health problem.

Others signs and symptoms of pregnancy may include:

  • Nausea or vomiting, morning sickness
  • Sore breasts or nipples
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Food cravings or aversions
  • Mood swings
  • Frequent urination

How do I know I am pregnant?
A pregnancy test is the best way to determine if you are pregnant. Home pregnancytest kits are available over-the-counter and are considered highly accurate. A healthcare provider can also do a pregnancy test.

NICHD research in the 1970s found that high levels of the hormone human chorionic gonadatropin (HCG) in the urine were associated with pregnancy. This research led to the development of the home pregnancy test that is commercially available today. If you think you may be pregnant, or have a positive home pregnancy test, see a health care provider.

What is prenatal care and why is it important?
Prenatal care is the care woman gets during a pregnancy. Getting early and regular prenatal care is important for the health of both mother and the developing baby.

In addition, health care providers are now recommending a woman see a health care provider for preconception care, before she is even trying to get pregnant.

Health care providers recommend women take the following steps to ensure the best health outcome for mother and baby:

  • Getting at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day to help prevent many typesof neural tube defects. Health care providers recommend taking folic acid both beforeand during pregnancy.
  • Being properly vaccinated for certain diseases (such as chicken pox and rubella)that could harm a developing fetus- it is important to have the vaccinations beforebecoming pregnant
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and diet and getting regular physical activity before,during, and after pregnancy
  • Avoiding smoking, alcohol, or drug use before, during, and after pregnancy

What is a high-risk pregnancy?
All pregnancies involve a certain degree of risk to both mother and baby. But, factors present before pregnancy or that develop during pregnancy can place the mother and baby at higher risk for problems. Women with high-risk pregnancies may need care from specialists or a team of health care providers to help promote healthy pregnancy and birth.

Factors present before pregnancy that can increase risk may include:

  • Young or old maternal age
  • Being overweight or underweight
  • Having had problems in previous pregnancies, such as miscarriage, stillbirth, or preterm labor or birth
  • Pre-existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or HIV/AIDSDuring pregnancy, problems may also develop even in a woman who was previously healthy.

These may include (but are not limited to) gestational diabetes or preeclampsia/eclampsia. Getting good prenatal care and seeing a health care provider regularly during pregnancy are important ways to promote a healthy pregnancy.

Where can I get more information about pregnancy?

  • Am I at risk for gestational diabetes?
  • Managing gestational diabetes: A patient's guide to a healthy pregnancy
  • NIH State-of-the-Science Conference on Cesarean Delivery on Maternal Request

NICHD Information Resource Center
Address: P.O. Box 3006 Rockville, MD 20847
Phone: 1-800-370-2943 Fax: 301-984-1473

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