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Overview of the Stages of Pregnancy

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Pregnancy related image Photo: Getty Images

The 40 or so weeks of pregnancy are divided into three stages or trimesters that are each 12 - 13 weeks long. Each group of weeks brings dramatic changes to the developing baby and physical changes and symptoms for Mom. During the first trimester, weeks 1 – 12, hormone changes bring an end to your period, lack of energy, increase in urination, heartburn and upset stomach, tender breasts, cravings or distaste for certain foods, moodiness, and constipation. At twelve weeks, an ultrasound can sometimes determine the gender of the fetus. Some women report all, some or none of these symptoms. Each woman and each pregnancy are different.

During the second trimester, many women see their morning sickness and tiredness disappear. Normal changes to Mom’s body include enlarged belly, back ache, darkening of skin around the nipples, dark patches of skin on the face, and swelling in the face, ankles, and fingers. At about 20 weeks, you may feel slight movement from baby.

At the third trimester, weeks 27 to 40, dramatic growth occurs in the baby. He or she is growing and running out of leg and elbow room and letting you know with jabs and kicks. At week 37, the baby is considered full term and the organs are ready to work on their own. By the due date, baby will most likely turn into head-down position for labor and delivery.

During the last trimester, many moms report they have to use the restroom even more frequently. Baby is resting on the bladder, causing pressure. Shortness of breath, trouble sleeping, and heartburn are also common complaints. Some women experience leaking breasts, bulging belly buttons, or hemorrhoids. As you approach your due date, your physician will check that your cervix is becoming thinner and softer (effacing) as your body prepares for labor and delivery.

During the last few weeks of pregnancy, a woman may experience false labor pains known as Braxton Hicks. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists four sure signs that your labor is real and is time to call your doctor or midwife:
• Contractions become stronger and closer together
• low back pain and cramping
• water breaks as a dramatic surge or a small, continuous trickle
• a blood mucus discharge means your cervix is dilating -- labor can start immediately or be days away

Most full-term babies weigh in at about 7 pounds, but healthy babies come in many sizes.

U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Labor and Birth, web. 23, Aug. 2011.

Planned Parenthood, Pregnancy Week by Week, web. 23, Aug. 2011.

Reviewed August 24, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.

Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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