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Alternative Names
expecting, childbearing

While people usually think of pregnancy as taking 9 months, the larger process of childbearing can be divided into three stages:
  • preconception, or the period before pregnancy
  • antenatal, the time from conception to birth
  • postpartum, or the time right after the baby's birth
The antenatal stage, or pregnancy itself, is measured from the beginning of a woman's last normal menstrual period (LNMP). Usually, pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks, or roughly 9 calendar months. Although women experience many of the same physical changes, no two pregnancies are alike.

What is the information for this topic?
Pregnancy is a very complex topic. This section is an overview of the three stages of pregnancy.

Stage I: Before pregnancy

Preconception care. The health of the mother and father before conception occurs is as important as the woman's health during pregnancy. Lifestyle habits, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, drug abuse or addiction, and using certain medications, can all interfere with normal growth. Healthy habits can help promote growth.

It is a good idea to schedule a preconceptional visit with a doctor. During this visit, questions will be asked about the woman's health and lifestyle and often those of her partner, too. The doctor will discuss pregnancy risk factors. These questions include:
  • family and medical histories
  • a history of any medications taken
  • diet
  • lifestyle issues
  • the course of any past pregnancies

Stage II: During pregnancy

Conception. A finely-tuned sequence of events must take place for pregnancy to occur. A woman's fertility depends on her menstrual cycle. A basic knowledge of how reproduction works will help a woman know the days of the month when she is the most fertile - in other words, when she is most likely to get pregnant. It will also explain the rapid changes that take place during early pregnancy.

Early signs of pregnancy. The first sign of pregnancy that many women notice is a missed menstrual period. However, not all women have regular periods. Menstrual periods can be affected by stress or illness, so it is best to watch for a number of other signs and symptoms of pregnancy, such as:
  • light spotting of blood
  • tender breasts
  • tiredness
  • nausea
  • a need to urinate often
  • food cravings
  • darkening of the line between the navel and the nipple
Diagnosis of Pregnancy. Pregnancy can be confirmed by the time a period is missed. During early pregnancy, HCG, a hormone that is made by the growing baby is in the mother's blood and urine. While home tests for pregnancy work fairly well, very accurate tests can be done by a doctor.

Growth and development. During pregnancy, the baby grows in the mother's uterus, which is a muscular organ located between the bladder and the rectum. The lining of the uterus thickens and its blood vessels enlarge to nourish the growing baby. The placenta is the channel through which oxygen, nutrients, and other substances pass from mother to baby.

The process of growth and development has three phases called trimesters.

Stage III: After birth

Being a new parent is exciting and demanding. It causes major changes in life. There are changes in a woman's body, her emotions, her relationships and how she lives. Being aware of what is happening both physically and emotionally can prepare a woman to better face the ups and downs of the first few months after a baby is born. Taking care of physical and mental well-being is a key factor. Many issues surface at this time, including:
  • work
  • childcare
  • family planning
Two to 6 weeks after the birth of the baby, a woman should visit a doctor to:
  • learn how well her body has recovered from the changes of pregnancy and birth
  • discuss any questions or concerns about birth control, sex, or emotions
Author: Dr. Karen Wolfe, MBBS, MA
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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