Pregnancy

What is pregnancy?

Pregnancy is the term used to describe the fertilization of a human egg and the carrying of a baby in the womb. To get pregnant it is necessary that semen gets in contact with a human egg. This may happen during sexual intercourse or through other methods, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). Early symptoms of pregnancy include missing a period, tiredness, nausea with vomiting and breast tenderness. Pregnant women should visit their doctor regularly to check-up on the health of both the mother and growing child.

Risks

For pregnancy to occur, a human egg and sperm need to meet under conditions that are favorable for pregnancy. The chances of pregnancy are higher when contraception is not used and when sexual intercourse occurs around the time of ovulation.

Symptoms

Typical early symptoms of pregnancy include missing a period, tiredness, nausea with vomiting and breast tenderness. Later symptoms of pregnancy include a brown rash on the face, swollen feet and ankles, urinating more frequently and, eventually, weight gain and widening around the belly. Symptoms in pregnancy are the result of the hormonal and physical changes that occur in a woman's body which help to support the child as it grows.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis usually is made by a pregnancy test. Pregnancy tests test for a hormone called beta-hCG in urine or blood. Beta-hCG is produced by the embryo (the baby in the first days and weeks of life). Beta-hCG can be detected 8 to 11 days after conception.

Treatment

Pregnant women should visit their doctor regularly to check-up on the health of both the mother and foetus. Complications which occur during pregnancy, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, may need medical treatment.

Prevention

Prevention can be achieved by contraception (birth control). There are many different types of conception, and it is helpful to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different methods with a family doctor or gynecologist. Popular options are condoms, the oral contraceptive pill (the pill), depo-provera (injections) and intrauterine coils (a copper coil which sits inside the womb). It is also possible to tie or cut the fallopian tubes (in women) or the ductus deferens (the sperm duct in men) to prevent any future pregnancy. These are minor surgical procedures and are permanent.

Other names for pregnancy

  • gestation
  • pregnant