Contributed by: Priyaish Srivastava
What is pregnancy?
Being pregnant is one of the most beautiful feelings in the world for a woman and knowing that a new member is about to come, you and your family tend to prepare months before its arrival.
Although the average time of pregnancy is nine months, the longest pregnancy ever recorded was 375 days and the shortest one was only 21 weeks and four days. Both the babies were born healthy and safe as their mothers took necessary preventive measures like not confusing the signs of labor with any other condition.
Knowing the signs of labor enables you to consult your doctor or midwife (caretaker) at the right time, which can help avoid the last-minute rush and protect you and your baby’s health. Pregnancy, in general, happens in three phases, namely, the first trimester, the second trimester, and the third trimester. Here’s what happens in all three phases:
The 3 phases of pregnancy:
- The first trimester: It is the first phase of pregnancy that begins on the first day of the last menstrual period and continues until week 12 of pregnancy. This phase brings about many changes in both the mother and the baby. The first sign of pregnancy is missing a period, and then the mother’s body releases hormones that influence nearly every organ in her body and develop symptoms like tiredness, upset stomach, cravings or dislike of certain foods, nausea, headaches, mood swings, tender breast, weight gain, and heartburn. During this time the mother should eat small meals throughout the day as it can help reduce the discomforts of pregnancy. The development of the baby begins rapidly in the first trimester. Along with developing heartbeats, the formation of the brain, spinal cord, arms, legs, fingers, and toes also takes place.
- The second trimester: The second trimester begins from week 13 of pregnancy until week 27. In this phase, the baby grows bigger and stronger, and the mother’s belly becomes larger. Many women report relatively low nausea and fatigue symptoms in this phase as compared to that of the first trimester and consider the second trimester as the easiest and most enjoyable phase of pregnancy. The mother can experience a larger abdomen, swelling of the ankles and hands, uterus expansion, itching, dizziness or lightheadedness due to lower blood pressure, darkening of the skin around nipples, baby’s movements, body pain, increased appetite, and stretch marks on the stomach, breast, thighs, or hips. The mother should consult a doctor upon experiencing nausea, jaundice, rapid weight gain, or extreme swelling in this phase. By the end of the second trimester, the baby’s organs are completely developed and it begins to move around. The baby also starts to hear and swallow in this phase and develops a sleeping and waking pattern which the mother can experience.
- The third trimester: When the pregnancy reaches its last phase between week 28 and around week 40, it is called the third trimester. The organs of the baby are completely developed and the baby is ready to breathe in the world outside the mother’s womb. The mother can experience more pain and become anxious about the delivery. She may experience an increase in baby’s movements, trouble sleeping, random contractions, leaking watery milk due to tender breasts, frequently going to the bathroom, hemorrhoids, heartburn, and swelling of ankles, fingers, or face. The baby’s bones are completely formed by week 32, and it can sense light by opening and closing eyes, and begins to store minerals like iron and calcium. By week 36, the baby comes in a head-down position and is ready to come out. The signs of labor commence between week 37 and week 42 and any signs before week 37 are considered premature or preterm.
The top 5 clues that the baby is ready to come
The development of a fetus takes around 36 weeks or nine months, but labor and delivery happen within a few days or even hours. The labor signs can differ from woman to woman and it may not be easy to comprehend the progress or duration of a woman’s labor. However, there are a few common signs which indicate that she is undergoing labor.
- The baby changes its position: Also termed ‘lightening’, in this phase, the mother may feel that the baby is changing its position to head-down and ready to take birth. This condition can develop 2 to 4 weeks before delivery or maybe earlier. It reduces pressure on the mother’s diaphragm, making it easier for her to breathe, but increases the pressure on her bladder and pelvis which necessitates frequent bathroom visits.
- Regular contractions: Contraction is when the muscles of the uterus tighten and then relax. Uterine contractions happen between week 37 and week 42 and help move the baby into a lower position in the birth canal from where it comes out of the womb. The mother can experience false and real labor contractions and distinguishing between them can be complicating. If the mother is experiencing more than six strong and rhythmic contractions every hour, it implies that it’s a real labor contraction and the baby is on its way. And when the contractions occur irregularly it is false labor contractions- also called Braxton Hicks contraction.
- The water breaks: The baby grows in a woman’s uterus protected and surrounded by amniotic fluid. When the sac of this fluid ruptures, it leads to water break. There is no specific time for this situation, as it can happen before the labor, during the labor, or may not even happen (in which case the sac is broken during delivery by a midwife or doctor). The baby should be delivered within a day or two after the water breaks to avoid any risk of infection to the baby.
- Lower back pain and cramping: Labor increases the pressure or cramping in a woman’s pelvic and rectal areas. This leads to a dull ache in her lower back.
- Bloody show: Bloody show is a pink, brown, or slightly bloody vaginal discharge that a pregnant woman can experience during labor or a few days before labor. This happens when the mucus plug that blocks the opening of the uterus dilates or opens up during labor.
If a pregnant woman experiences any of these labor signs, she should immediately consult her doctor. It will not only ensure the healthy delivery of the baby but will also keep the mother safe from any sort of trauma.
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