Pregnancy occurs when a
sperm fertilizes an egg after it is released from the ovary (ovulation). Ovulation
occurs at the midpoint of your menstrual cycle, and results in the egg’s migration
into one of your fallopian tubes where it may be fertilized by sperm. The fertilized
egg then travels down into the uterus where implantation occurs. A successful implantation
results in pregnancy, a process that lasts an average of 40 weeks. While the
process sounds straightforward, 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.
What Are the Symptoms of Pregnancy?
Before you take a pregnancy
test, you may notice early symptoms. Some of the most notable signs of early
pregnancy may include:
- morning sickness
- swollen or
- mood swings
- constipation or
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 ensue, but the bleeding is not as heavy as a
typical period. In some cases, implantation bleeding is mistaken for menstruation.
You may also experience spotting later in the first trimester as your uterus
Symptoms vary between women.
Some women may experience different symptoms between pregnancies. For example,
you might experience morning sickness with one baby and not the other. 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 (Mayo Clinic, 2011).
Pregnancy is diagnosed by
measuring human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels in the body. Also referred
to as 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, which is why many pregnancy tests are more accurate
at this stage.
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. For the most accurate results,
the Office on Women’s Health recommends taking a home pregnancy test a week
after you miss your period. This reduces the chance of false positives and
negatives. The biggest advantages to doing this type of test is privacy as well
A blood test is another
option. hCG may be measured at a lab through a blood sample, and the results
are about as accurate as a home pregnancy test. The difference is that hCG is
detected through the blood easier, even in miniscule amounts. A blood test may
be ordered as soon as six days after ovulation (Office on Women’s Health, 2006).
Pregnancy Care Plans
You should call a doctor as
soon as you find out you’re pregnant. A physician will conduct a pelvic exam to
confirm your home results. In some cases, an ultrasound may be used to get a
better look within the uterus. The timing of your first appointment may also
depend on your overall health. Doctors may give special evaluation to patients
considered high-risk, such as those 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 within your pregnancy. Ultrasounds may detect the baby’s gender at 16
weeks if desired—these tools can also help determine whether a fetus is
developing normally. 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
What Are the Risk Factors?
Most women in their early
30s or younger have a higher chance for normal pregnancies. According to the
National Institutes of Health (NIH), women over the age of 35 are at higher
risk for health problems during pregnancy (NIH).
High-risk pregnancies are monitored even more closely to detect potential
Other risks that can affect
an otherwise healthy pregnancy include:
- giving birth to
- high blood
- kidney disease
A healthy pregnancy typically
lasts for 40 weeks, but some women deliver sooner or later. Premature births
can result in many health problems, from low birth weight and jaundice, to a
lack of development of the organs. While you may be anxious to meet your baby,
induced labor should generally only be used if a doctor deems it medically