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Track Your Baby's Growth And The Changes You Need To Expect From Pregnancy To Birth
PHOTO BY Shutterstock/Africa Studio
  • Editor’s Note: This article is intended for information purposes only. It does not substitute a doctor. It is vital to always consult a medically trained professional for advice that suits your needs best.

    Knowing that you’re pregnant makes you go through a roller coaster ride of emotions — from happiness as you prepare for the arrival of your new baby to worry as you anticipate future expenses and wonder how competent you will be as a parent. It makes it all the more important to focus on prenatal development.

    Don’t forget to care for yourself even as you’re busy preparing for the arrival of your newest family member. What happens to you directly impacts the child in your womb.

    Your body will go through massive changes within the next nine months. As your due date comes to a close, you excitedly track your baby’s growth and development.

    What are the stages of prenatal development?

    Prenatal development begins at conception when the sperm fertilizes an egg and results in a rapidly growing embryo. It ends with the birth of your baby. The entire prenatal development stage takes about 40 weeks or nine months.

    It’s normal for some moms to go past their due dates, taking up to two weeks longer than expected. Meanwhile, other pregnancies end safely at 37 weeks. Anything before these weeks is considered preterm delivery, where you give birth to a premature baby.

    In general, your prenatal development is broken down into three 12-week trimesters. You can expect each new trimester to bring forth changes in your body and baby. Let's take a look at each stage below:

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    The first trimester

    Most women who have experienced menarche (the first menses) will ovulate once a month. This usually happens two weeks after your last menstrual cycle.

    Ovulation occurs when your ovaries release an egg. If you have sex before, during, or within 24 hours of ovulating, the sperm will travel up your vaginal canal and into your fallopian tubes to find the egg. Once fertilized, the embryo plants itself into your uterus, where it grows until your due date and delivery.

    Sperm can live in the woman's body for up to five days. Thus, your chances of conception remain high if you engage in sex a few days leading up to your ovulation.

    Once pregnant, your first trimester begins, which lasts for the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy. This is also called the embryonic stage, where the fetus forms from the quick multiplication of cells.

    Since you are in the early stages of pregnancy, you may experience the most common pregnancy symptoms:

    • morning sickness (which can really strike any time of the day)
    • frequent urination
    • tender and swollen breasts
    • fatigue

    Take care of your body and nourish it with healthy food and proper vitamins. A week after conception, your baby's major organs begin to develop. The heart, brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract will form.

    The placenta, which acts as the protective barrier, develops in this embryonic stage. It usually forms two to three weeks post conception.

    The placenta plays a critical role during this period because it is assigned to carry the following to the baby:

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    • essential nutrients
    • water
    • oxygen

    If you get an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy, you will notice that the image represents a tiny dot. While you might think it’s not much, this is actually the stage when your baby’s body begins to form. 

    In addition, the unique features that your baby will eventually grow into upon birth are established at this stage. This includes the growth and development of the following:

    • eyes
    • nasal passages
    • unique facial features
    • ears
    • arms
    • legs
    • mouth
    • taste buds
    • hair follicles

    These physical changes will continue up to 10 weeks, and after that, the embryonic stage will end.

    At 10 weeks, your baby's reproductive organs will also have formed. However, it is still too early to determine the gender of your baby via ultrasound.

    Enjoy the first trimester, which will officially end after 12 weeks. Since your hormones are out of whack during this period, you may become more emotional and experience mood swings.

    At this stage, don't worry if your stomach stays flat. In fact, some people may even think you don't look pregnant at all. And that's okay because, in due time, your stomach will grow, and so will your baby.

    The second trimester

    When the 13-week mark comes, that also signifies the start of your second trimester. At the end of the embryonic stage, your baby is just a teeny tiny 3 inches long and weighs an ounce (that's about equal to two tablespoons). This means your baby now enters the fetal stage.

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    During this period, the fetus begins sucking and swallowing. It may even begin thumb sucking on its very tiny thumb.

    The fetus also enjoys moving around your womb. However, it is still too early for you to feel movement in the early stages (13 to 14 weeks) of the second trimester. At this stage, your fetus grows around 6 inches long.   

    With each passing day, you can expect your baby's muscles and bones to grow. At around 15 to 18 weeks, you may begin feeling fetal movement. This usually depends on the size of your baby, so don't worry because nothing will be alarming as long as you religiously attend your prenatal check-ups.

    It is at this stage that the vernix develops on the baby's skin. This white substance coats the fetal skin to protect it from the amniotic fluid.

    Your baby can also begin making facial expressions. If you happen to have a 3D ultrasound at this time, you may be able to catch a smile.

    During the 20th week of the second trimester, the fetus will develop its middle ear. This is a huge milestone because it means that your baby can now hear your heartbeat and voice!

    During the final weeks of the second trimester, fat begins to envelop your baby's skin and organs like the liver and pancreas. These are good signs because it shows that your baby is growing stronger. At the end of 24 weeks, your baby is now 10 to 11 inches long (a bit smaller than a ruler) and weighs only a pound. 

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    The third trimester

    You are almost there! At 25 weeks, you reach the last trimester of your pregnancy. At this juncture, your obstetrician may want more frequent checks to monitor your health and the baby. Instead of going once a month, you may have to do it twice a month and eventually, once a week as your due date draws near.

    By the 6th month of pregnancy, your belly is now obvious. You may experience weight gain, possible heartburn, frequent urination, and even sleep problems. Though you may feel discomfort, you will gladly endure everything for the sake of your growing baby.

    At this phase, your baby's organs have all developed. As a result, the fetal movement inside your womb is also more pronounced. In fact, you can expect it to increase with each passing day.

    At times, you will feel as if someone is performing gymnastics in your uterus. You can even spot protrusions on your belly, which you can only guess as an elbow, foot, or knee. Yep, your baby is exploring and curious about the immediate surroundings.

    Your baby's lungs are not fully matured during the early stages of the third trimester. As a result, babies born prematurely may need oxygen support and spend time within an incubator.

    The baby, at this point, weighs around 4 pounds, with a keener sense of hearing that recognizes changes in sounds. Though the baby is shrouded in darkness in your womb, it can somehow detect bright lights from outside.

    The lungs of the baby will have fully developed after seven months or 28 weeks. Between weeks 31 and 34, your baby will prepare for its birth. It will move into a head-down position in your birth canal.

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    Since you are very near delivery, you can expect your fetus to grow rapidly in the final weeks. Because the space within the womb is tight, you may notice less movement.

    Again, don't panic if you are updated with your prenatal checks. However, if you feel that something is wrong, do not hesitate to contact your OB to get an evaluation. (Click here to know how to monitor your baby's movement in the womb)

    The final stretch of the third trimester begins at 35 to 38 weeks. You are considered full term at 37 weeks.

    The average baby weighs about 3 to 4 kilos (more than 6 pounds) at this stage. Meanwhile, the average length is at 19 to 20 inches long. Since the baby's organs are now fully developed, you can give birth at any time.

    You may begin feeling Braxton Hicks contractions. These are sporadic contractions of your uterine muscles. Do not mistake them for labor pains, which are more intense and frequent. 

    What to expect at the final stage of prenatal development

    Prenatal development ends when you go through labor and delivery. Usually, your doctor will estimate your due date based on the last day of your last menstrual period. However, do not panic if your baby doesn't pop out on schedule. Studies show that only five percent of infants arrive on their scheduled due dates.

    You have nothing to worry about, especially if you are under the care of an experienced obstetrician. As long as your baby is full-term, there is no cause for concern. And even if your baby is premature, it is comforting to know that advanced technologies give these preemies a fighting chance at survival.

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    For best results, come up with a birthing plan to avoid panic when your water breaks. Speak with your doctor about:

    • What method do you want (natural birth if possible or Lamaze with a partner)?
    • What to expect in case you have an emergency C-section?
    • Where do you want to give birth?
    • What kind of pain relief do you like during labor?
    • Would you like to have cord-blood banking?
    • Will you "room in" with the baby or place the baby in the nursery? 

    Why is prenatal development important?

    Prenatal development and caring for yourself are important because staying on top of these things can help prevent pregnancy complications. In addition, it can inform you about the steps you must take to protect your fetus and ensure a healthy pregnancy.

    If you want to promote a healthy birth while staying in tip-top shape yourself, you must strive hard to have a healthy pregnancy. Get regular prenatal care to ensure both the health of the mother and baby.

    This type of care can actually start even before you are pregnant. Your doctor might recommend that you be vaccinated against certain diseases if you are preparing for pregnancy, so that you don't get sick or adversely impact the fetus while you are pregnant. Contracting German measles, for example, can lead to deafness, and the Zika virus has been linked to birth defects.

    Another common advice is to take folic acid and vitamin B supplements to help make healthy red blood cells. These, in turn, carry oxygen around the body to ensure you don't suffer from anemia, tiredness, and other issues. On top of that, these supplements can help prevent birth defects from giving your embryo the best chance at survival. For example, studies show that 400 micrograms of folic acid taken orally every day can reduce neural tube defects by an astounding 70%.

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    Women who believe they are pregnant are recommended to schedule a prenatal visit right away. This often includes a physical exam, weight check, and urine check. Depending on the trimester of pregnancy, doctors can also recommend the following:

    • blood work for mom
    • genetic screening for baby
    • imaging tests
    • ultrasound

    Apart from checking the status of the fetus, you can also discuss your overall health and wellness. For instance, if you are gaining too much weight, your doctor can recommend a nutritious health plan to keep your calories in check without compromising the baby.

    Don't feel shy in asking questions or raising concerns about you and your baby. With prenatal development monitoring, you can:

    • reduce pregnancy complications
    • follow a safe diet
    • get advice on proper exercise
    • receive warnings about potentially harmful substances to the fetus
    • promote fetal health with proper supplements
    • control existing health issues like asthma

    Remember, several complications can occur during pregnancy, like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. Regular prenatal checks can help identify these problems early. As a result, you can expect better management and treatment to maintain a healthy pregnancy and baby. 

    Click here for the signs you are experiencing a delicate pregnancy.

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