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Pregnancy occurs when a sperm fertilizes an egg after it is released from the ovary (ovulation). Ovulation occurs at the midpoint of your menstrual cycle, and results in the egg’s migration into one of your fallopian tubes where it may be fertilized by sperm. The fertilized egg then travels down into the uterus where implantation occurs. A successful implantation results in pregnancy, a process that lasts an average of 40 weeks. While the process sounds straightforward, 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.
Before you take a pregnancy test, you may notice early symptoms. Some of the most notable signs of early pregnancy may include:
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 ensue, but the bleeding is not as heavy as a typical period. In some cases, implantation bleeding is mistaken for menstruation. You may also experience spotting later in the first trimester as your uterus stretches.
Symptoms vary between women. Some women may experience different symptoms between pregnancies. For example, you might experience morning sickness with one baby and not the other. 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 (Mayo Clinic, 2011).
Pregnancy is diagnosed by measuring human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels in the body. Also referred to as 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 missed period, which is why many pregnancy tests are more accurate at this stage.
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. For the most accurate results, the Office on Women’s Health recommends taking a home pregnancy test a week after you miss your period. This reduces the chance of false positives and negatives. The biggest advantages to doing this type of test is privacy as well as affordability.
A blood test is another option. hCG may be measured at a lab through a blood sample, and the results are about as accurate as a home pregnancy test. The difference is that hCG is detected through the blood easier, even in miniscule amounts. A blood test may be ordered as soon as six days after ovulation (Office on Women’s Health, 2006).
You should call a doctor as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. A physician will conduct a pelvic exam to confirm your home results. In some cases, an ultrasound may be used to get a better look within the uterus. The timing of your first appointment may also depend on your overall health. Doctors may give special evaluation to patients considered high-risk, such as those 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 within your pregnancy. Ultrasounds may detect the baby’s gender at 16 weeks if desired—these tools can also help determine whether a fetus is developing normally. 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.
Most women in their early 30s or younger have a higher chance for normal pregnancies. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), women over the age of 35 are at higher risk for health problems during pregnancy (NIH). High-risk pregnancies are monitored even more closely to detect potential problems.
Other risks that can affect an otherwise healthy pregnancy include:
A healthy pregnancy typically lasts for 40 weeks, but some women deliver sooner or later. Premature births can result in many health problems, from low birth weight and jaundice, to a lack of development of the organs. While you may be anxious to meet your baby, induced labor should generally only be used if a doctor deems it medically necessary.
Written by: Kristeen Moore and Kathryn Watson
Published on: Mar 24, 2016
Medically reviewed on: May 09, 2013: George Krucik, MD, MBA
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