Pregnancy occurs when a sperm fertilizes an
egg after it is 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 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 also important for monitoring your health and the health
of the baby. If you would like to prevent pregnancy, there are also effective
forms of birth control to keep in mind.
Pregnancy Prevention and
Women who are sexually active with male
partner(s) should consider forms of birth control if they are not interested in
becoming pregnant. Some methods of pregnancy prevention work better for some
individuals. Talk to your doctor about birth control that is right for you.
Using a condom to prevent pregnancy is known
to be 98 percent effective. However, that statistic is based on “perfect” use
in ideal conditions. This means that there are a handful of factors that may go
wrong and lower the effectiveness of condoms. These include:
- using expired condoms
- storing condoms improperly
- condoms tearing during use
If you’re relying on condoms to avoid getting
pregnant, you may want to consider using an additional method of contraception
such as spermicide or a hormonal birth control pill.
Hormonal birth control pills are a popular
method of contraception. Available by prescription, these pills work by
controlling the hormone levels in a woman’s body. Birth control pills work in
- They prevent ovulation.
- They thin cervical mucus to
prevent sperm from reaching an egg if it was released.
- They thin the uterine lining to
Birth control pills vary in their success
rate. They are considered 99
percent effective when used perfectly and 91 percent
effective when human error is taken into consideration (such as forgetting to
take your pill at the same time every day).
Natural Family Planning
Natural family planning (NFP) is a method of
birth control with the highest rate of failure. It works by tracking the
symptoms of a woman’s cycle, predicting when she will ovulate, and avoiding
intercourse during the woman’s fertile window. There are many variables that
can affect a woman’s cycle from month to month, and accidental pregnancies can
occur. According to Planned Parenthood, the failure rate of the NFP method is 24
There are several “morning after” pills that are
available, both over the counter and by prescription at drugstores. These pills
are not intended as regular forms of birth control. Instead, they act as a
second option when your regular birth control method fails. They must be used
hours of sexual contact to be effective.
Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)
Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are small devices
placed in the uterus to interrupt the process of insemination. IUDs are
currently the most effective form of birth control, with a 99+ percent rate of preventing pregnancy.
How Will I Know if I’m
Before you take a pregnancy test, you may
notice early symptoms. Some of the most notable signs of early pregnancy
include fatigue, nausea (also called “morning sickness”), swollen or tender
breasts, and constipation.
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 follow, but
the bleeding is not as heavy as a typical period. In some cases, implantation
bleeding is mistaken for menstruation.
Symptoms vary between women. Some women may
experience different symptoms between pregnancies. For example, you might
experience morning sickness in your first pregnancy but not your second. 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.
Can I Confirm a Pregnancy?
Pregnancy is diagnosed by measuring human
chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels in the body. Also referred to as the 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
The hormone 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. When taking a home pregnancy test,
read the instructions carefully. Repeat the test after a few days if you get a
negative result and still do not get your period. The biggest advantage to
doing this type of test is privacy as well as affordability.
A blood test is another option. The hormone hCG
may be measured at a lab through a blood sample. The results are about as
accurate as a home pregnancy test. The difference is that hCG is detected
through the blood more easily, even in miniscule amounts. A blood test may be
ordered as soon as six days after ovulation.
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 a pregnancy. The timing of your
first appointment may also depend on your overall health. Doctors may give
special evaluation to patients who are considered high-risk. This includes women
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 with your pregnancy.
In the United States, all health insurance
plans are required to offer prenatal care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However,
the details of these prenatal care provisions differ greatly between healthcare
providers. Once you know for sure that you are pregnant, call your insurance
provider and get an idea of what is covered under your prenatal care. If you do
not have health insurance when you find out you are pregnant, speak to your
doctor about steps you can take to get coverage.
Things to Keep in Mind
For the most part, women can go about their
lives as they normally would while they are pregnant. However, there are some
important things to consider while your baby is growing inside you.
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 brain development. While you are pregnant, it’s also critical
to avoid any alcohol or tobacco products. Drugs not specifically approved as
safe for pregnant women should also be avoided. Certain exercises and foods
that are normally safe are not necessarily good for a developing baby.
Research on what creates a healthy pregnancy
is ongoing, which is why it’s critical that you find and speak to a medical
professional that you trust about lifestyle changes and diet recommendations.
Are the Risk Factors?
You are most likely to get pregnant if you
have sexual intercourse with a male partner without using birth control. It’s
important to remember that even having sex once is enough to get pregnant.
Most women in their early 30s or younger have
a high chance of a normal pregnancy. According to the National Institutes of
Health (NIH), women
over the age of 35 are at higher risk for health
problems during pregnancy. High-risk pregnancies are monitored more closely to
detect potential problems.
Other risks that can affect an otherwise
healthy pregnancy include:
- giving birth to multiples
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- cardiovascular disease
- kidney disease
A healthy pregnancy typically lasts for 40
weeks. Premature births can result in many health problems, from low birth
weight and jaundice, to a lack of development of the organs.
Every pregnancy is different, but there are
some medical milestones that doctors use to predict how a pregnancy is going.
During the first trimester of pregnancy, the chance for a miscarriage is still
quite high. More than 1 in 4 pregnancies result in miscarriage before the 12-week
mark. After 12 weeks, the odds of miscarriage drop dramatically. Also during
the first trimester, your doctor will check to make sure the developing fetus
has a heartbeat by using a Doppler machine.
During the second trimester of pregnancy, an
anatomy scan ultrasound will likely be performed. This milestone checks the
tiny body of your developing baby for any developmental abnormalities. This
test also can reveal the gender of your baby, if you wish to find out before
the baby is born. Somewhere in the middle of the second trimester, you will
most likely be able to feel your baby’s movement inside your uterus in the form
of little kicks and punches.
At 27 weeks, a baby in utero is considered “viable,” meaning that it would have
a good chance of surviving outside of your womb. During the third trimester,
your weight gain will accelerate and you may feel more tired. As labor
approaches, you may feel pelvic discomfort. Excess blood and water retention
may cause your feet to swell. Contractions that do not lead to labor, known as Braxton-Hicks
contractions, may start to occur in the weeks before you deliver. While you may
be anxious to meet your baby, induced labor should generally only be used if a
doctor deems it medically necessary.
Preparing for Labor
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 progression of
labor. You may also want to prepare a “ready to go bag” of toiletries, sleepwear,
and other everyday essentials in the third trimester. This bag would be ready
to run out the door with you when labor begins.
During the third trimester, you and your
doctor should discuss your labor and delivery plan in detail. Knowing when to go
to the hospital, who will be assisting in the birth, and what role your doctor
will play in the birth process can all contribute to greater peace of mind
going into the home stretch of pregnancy.