Pregnancy & Childbirth

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Every woman is different and so are her experiences of pregnancy and childbirth. This section aims to give you general guidelines of what to expect throughout this exciting and often nerve-wracking experience.

Whether you want more information on the signs and symptoms of pregnancy, or would like an overview of what's happening with you and your baby during each trimester of pregnancy – you can read about it here. There are also further details for those who’d like to learn more about the process of labour and delivery, and the contraceptive options available to women post- delivery.

Finally, our Self Help Resources section can point you to further sources of information to help you on your journey.

Pregnancy Signs and Symptoms

Every woman is different and so are her experiences of pregnancy. While the only way to know for sure is by taking a pregnancy test, there are early symptoms of pregnancy that may point to the possibility. What follows is a description of some of the most common early symptoms of pregnancy.

  • A missed period: A missed period is usually the earliest sign of pregnancy for women who have regular menstrual cycles. However, those who have irregular periods might notice other symptoms of pregnancy first.
  • Tender, swollen breasts: Tender, swollen breasts are one of the early signs of pregnancy caused by increasing levels of hormones. The soreness and swelling of your breasts may feel like an exaggerated version of how they feel before your period. Your discomfort should ease up after the first few months of pregnancy, when your body has adjusted to the hormonal changes.
  • Spotting and cramping: Some women experience cramping or have a small amount of vaginal bleeding around 11 or 12 days after conception (close to the time you might notice a missed period). This is called implantation bleeding. The cramps resemble menstrual cramps, so they are sometimes mistaken as signs of the start of a period. The bleeding and cramps, however, are slight.
  • Nausea or vomiting: In the first trimester hormone changes can cause nausea and vomiting. This is called morning sickness, although it can occur at any time of day. If you're like most women, morning sickness won't hit until about a month after conception. However, morning sickness usually tapers off by the second trimester.
  • Fatigue: Many women find they're exhausted in the first trimester. This is completely normal. No one knows for sure what causes early pregnancy fatigue, but it's possible that rapidly increasing levels of the hormone progesterone are contributing to your sleepiness.
  • Increased sensitivity to odours: If you're newly pregnant, it's not uncommon to feel repelled by specific aromas. You may also find that certain foods you used to enjoy are suddenly completely repulsive to you.
  • Constipation: Higher levels of hormones due to pregnancy slow down digestion and relax muscles in the bowels leaving many women constipated.
  • Urinary frequency and leaking: Temporary bladder control problems may occur in pregnancy. Your unborn baby pushes down on the bladder, urethra, and pelvic floor muscles. This pressure can lead to more frequent need to urinate, as well as leaking of urine when sneezing, coughing, or laughing.

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First trimester (week 1 – week 12)

At 4 weeks:

  • The baby is going through lots of basic growth at this time, with the beginning development of the brain, spinal cord, heart, and gastrointestinal tract
  • Arm and leg buds are visible
  • The baby is an embryo and is about one-twenty-fifth inch long.

At 8 weeks

  • All major organs and external body structures have begun to form
  • The heart is now beating at a steady rhythm
  • The arms and legs grow longer, and fingers and toes have begun to form
  • Facial features continue to mature, and the eyelids are now more developed
  • At the end of 8 weeks, your baby is at the end of the embryonic period and begins the fetal period. Your baby is about 1 inch long and is the size of a bean.

At 12 weeks

  • The genitalia have clearly formed into male or female, but may still not be seen clearly on an ultrasound
  • Eyelids close and will not open again until the 28th week
  • The nerves and muscles begin to work together – your baby is able to make a fist
  • The head is nearly half the size of the fetus
  • Now, at about 3 inches long, your baby weighs almost an ounce.

Second trimester (week 13 – week 28)

At 16 weeks

  • Fingerprints have now developed on the tiny fingers of the fetus
  • Muscle tissue and bone continue to form, creating a more complete skeleton
  • Meconium is made in the intestinal tract and will build up to be your baby’s first bowel movement
  • The fetus’s skin is transparent and a fine hair called lanugo begins to form
  • Your baby can now make sucking motions with the mouth
  • The baby has reached 6 inches in length and weighs about 4 ounces.

At 20 weeks

  • Your baby is more active and movements can often be felt
  • The eyebrows and eyelashes grow in, and nails have begun to grow on the fingers and toes
  • The skin produces vernix, a white pasty coating that protects the forming skin underneath
  • Your baby can hear and swallow, and it’s heartbeat can now be heard by a stethoscope
  • Now halfway through your pregnancy, your baby has reached a length of 8 inches and weighs about 12 ounces.

At 24 weeks

  • Bone marrow begins to make blood cells
  • Taste buds form on your baby's tongue
  • Your baby has developed sleeping and waking cycles
  • Real hair begins to grow on your baby's head
  • The lungs are formed, but do not work
  • Your baby has a startle reflex
  • Now at about 12 inches long, your baby weighs about 1½ pounds.

Third trimester (week 29 – week 40)

At 32 weeks

  • Your baby's bones are fully formed, but still soft
  • The eyes can open and close and sense changes in light
  • Lungs are not fully mature, but some breathing movements occur
  • Your baby's body begins to store its own minerals, such as iron and calcium
  • Your baby is gaining weight quickly, reaching about 15-17 inches long and weighing about 4-4 ½ pound by the 32nd week.

At 36 weeks

  • Your baby will descend into the head down position preparing for birth
  • The lanugo hair will disappear from the skin, and skin is becoming less red and wrinkled
  • Your baby is beginning to gain weight even more rapidly and is now 16-19 inches and weighs anywhere from 5 ¾ pounds to 6 ¾ lbs pounds.

Weeks 37-40

  • By the end of 37 weeks, your baby is considered full term. Your baby's organs are ready to function on their own. At birth, your baby may weigh somewhere between 6 pounds 2 ounces and 9 pounds 2 ounces and be 19 to 21 inches long. Most full-term babies fall within these ranges. 
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Pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks, counting from the first day of your last normal period. The weeks are grouped into three trimesters. See below for an overview of what's happening with you and your baby in these three stages.

First trimester (week 1 – week 12)

According to the Office on Women’s Health , the first trimester is marked by hormonal changes that affect almost every organ system in your body. These changes can trigger symptoms, such as breast tenderness, nausea and fatigue, even in the very first weeks of pregnancy. Your emotions may range from excitement to anxiety. See Signs and Symptoms of Pregnancy for more information.

As your body changes, you might need to make adjustments to your daily routine, such as going to bed earlier or eating frequent, small meals. The good news is that most of these discomforts will go away as your pregnancy progresses.

For your baby, the first trimester is also a time of rapid growth and development. Your baby's brain, spinal cord and other organs begin to form, and your baby's heart begins to beat. To learn more about your baby’s development during pregnancy, go to Fetal Development.

Second trimester (week 13 – week 28)

For most women, the second trimester of pregnancy is the time they physically feel best. As your body adjusts to being pregnant, your energy level improves and symptoms like nausea start to fade away. But other, more noticeable changes to your body are now occurring to make room for your growing baby. This might include larger breasts, a growing belly and skin changes.

During the second trimester, your baby may begin to seem more real. For your baby, the second trimester often marks the ability to kick, make facial expressions and hear.

Third trimester (week 29 – week 40)

The final trimester can be physically and emotionally challenging. Some of the same discomforts you had in your second trimester will continue, plus you might experience shortness of breath, backaches, and swollen ankles. You may also have trouble sleeping, walking quickly, and doing routine tasks.

During the third trimester, your baby will gain weight rapidly and likely open his or her eyes. By the end of week 37, your baby is considered full term.

As you near your due date, your doctor will check the baby's position and assess cervical changes. Ask as many questions as you like. Knowing what to expect can help you get prepared for labour and delivery.

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Giving birth to a baby can be exciting, frightening, and unpredictable. The process that leads to the birth of your baby is called labour and delivery. Every woman's experience of labour and delivery is unique. Below are general guidelines that will help you understand what to expect.

The stages of labour

The process of labour and birth is divided into three stages:

  • First stage: The first stage begins when you start having contractions and ends when the cervix is fully opened. According to the Office on Women’s Health , it is the longest stage of labour, usually lasting about 12 to 19 hours.
  • Second stage: This is sometimes referred to as the "pushing" stage, and ends with the delivery of your baby. You will push hard during contractions, and rest between contractions. It often lasts anywhere between 20 minutes to two hours.
  • Third stage: The third stage occurs after the baby is born and ends with the delivery of the placenta.

Since every pregnancy is different, there's wide variation in the length of labour. According to Baby Center , labour often takes between 10 and 20 hours for first-time mums. However, labour generally progresses more quickly for women who’ve already given birth vaginally.

Inducing labour

If your labour doesn't start on its own, your doctor or midwife can use medication and other techniques to bring on contractions, known as inducing labour. The decision to induce labour is often made when a woman is past her due date but labour has not yet begun or when there is concern about the baby or mother's health.

While induction is generally safe, it does carry some risk, which may vary according to the methods used and your individual situation. Some procedures may occasionally hyperstimulate the uterus, meaning that the contractions come too frequently or are abnormally long and strong. This in turn can stress your baby.

Cesarean birth          

Cesarean birth, also called c-section, is the delivery of a baby through incisions made in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. Your doctor might recommend a c-section if he or she thinks it is safer for you or your baby than vaginal birth. Some c-sections are planned, but most c-sections are done when unexpected problems happen during delivery. While most cesarean births result in healthy babies and mothers, c-section is major surgery and carries risks. Healing also takes longer than with vaginal birth. 

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After having a baby, a woman’s fertility can return fairly quickly. This means that planning your next pregnancy if you want more children — or preventing a pregnancy if you don't — is important.

There are many contraceptive choices available for women. The choices you have depend on your needs and whether or not you're breastfeeding. If you're not breastfeeding, you can choose any type, you just need to talk to your doctor about how soon you can start using the type you choose. If you're breastfeeding, contraception containing estrogen should be avoided.

Breastfeeding as contraception

Breastfeeding can work as a form of birth control by delaying the return of your periods. If properly done, frequent and regular breastfeeding as a form of contraception is over 98% effective. This will only work for you if:

  • Your baby is younger than six months old and
  • Your periods have not returned and
  • You are exclusively breastfeeding your baby, meaning your baby isn't having any other food or drink.
  • Once your baby stops exclusive breastfeeding or your periods return, you should look into using another form of contraception to be on the safe side.

Safe forms of contraception when breastfeeding

Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia states that using the following types of contraception are considered safe when breastfeeding:

  • The mini-pill
  • Male and female condoms
  • Diaphragm or cap
  • Injection
  • Implant
  • Intrauterine system (IUS)
  • Intrauterine device (IUD)

Forms of contraception not recommended when breastfeeding

Because the following methods contain estrogen, they're not usually recommended until your baby is at least six months old. However, you can consider using them when your baby is at least six weeks old and at least half bottle fed:

  • The combined pill ('the pill')
  • The vaginal ring (NuvaRing)
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