Pregnancy Care

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Pregnancy is broken into three time periods -- called trimesters. Most women feel differently, both physically and mentally, during each trimester.

In addition to weight and body shape, other alterations in your body chemistry and function also take place.

  • The heart works harder
  • Your temperature registers slightly higher
  • Body secretions increase
  • Joints and ligaments are more flexible
  • Hormones are altered

Mood changes also are common, resulting from a combination of hormonal changes and greater fatigue, as well as normal anxiety over body image, sexuality, finances, partner roles and impending parenthood.

Each trimester is marked by specific fetal developments. Full term pregnancy is considered 40 weeks and infants delivered before the end of 37th week are considered premature. Premature infants may have problems with their growth and development, as well as difficulties in breathing and digesting.

First Trimester -- 0 to 13 Weeks

The first trimester is the most crucial to your baby's development. During this period, your baby's body structure and organ systems develop. Most miscarriages and birth defects occur during this period.

Your body also undergoes major changes during the first trimester. These changes often cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Breast tenderness
  • Frequent urination

Although there are common symptoms of pregnancy, every woman has a different experience. For example, while some may experience an increased energy level during this period, others may feel very tired and emotional.

Second Trimester -- 13 to 26 Weeks

The second trimester of pregnancy is often called the "golden period" because many of the unpleasant effects of early pregnancy have ended. During the second trimester, you're likely to experience:

  • Decreased nausea
  • Better sleep patterns
  • Increased energy level

However, during this period you may experience a whole new set of symptoms and feelings, such as back pain, abdominal pain, leg cramps, constipation and heartburn.

You will probably hear your baby's heartbeat for the first time at around 12 weeks. An ultrasound is typically performed around 19 weeks. And, somewhere between 16 weeks and 20 weeks, you may feel your baby's first fluttering movements.

Third Trimester -- 26 to 40 Weeks

You have now reached your final stretch of pregnancy and are probably very excited and anxious for the birth of your baby. Some of the physical symptoms you may experience during this period include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Varicose veins
  • Sleeping problems

Many of these symptoms arise from the increase in the size of your uterus, which expands from approximately 2 ounces before pregnancy to 2.5 pounds at the time of birth.

Prenatal Care

Expert prenatal care ensures that both you and your baby are as healthy as possible throughout your pregnancy. Once you think that you are pregnant, contact your doctor to make an appointment and establish your prenatal care schedule.

Many factors affect the number of visits you have, and the same formula does not work for everyone. Your schedule may vary depending on your personal health as well as your doctor's preference. Additional prenatal care may be necessary if you have any preexisting medical conditions, such as diabetes, and/or complications arise during your pregnancy. However, if all things are going well with your pregnancy, visits are planned around key pregnancy developments and certain tests that need to be performed. In addition, visits are a time for your doctor to give you important information as your pregnancy progresses.

The goal of prenatal care is not only to provide the best care for you and your unborn child, but also to prepare you for birth. During prenatal visits, tests are performed on you and your baby to assess any potential risks, to treat any maternal or fetal complications, and to monitor the growth and development of your baby.

Create a Birth Plan

You also will be provided with a Birth Plan, a form asking about your preferences for delivery. This promotes communication with your health care provider and helps them meet your individual needs. You will complete your Birth Plan and discuss it with your health care provider at your 34 to 36 week visit. Make photocopies of your Birth Plan. Give one to your health care provider to put in your medical record and bring one with you when you come to the hospital in labor.

Danger Signs

Although numerous symptoms are a normal part of pregnancy, there are certain danger signs that may indicate problems with your pregnancy. You should notify your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Persistent vomiting
  • Chills or fever
  • Continuous pain
  • Burning with urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Continuous headache
  • Sudden swelling of the hands or face
  • Five or more uterine contractions per hour
  • Decreased fetal movements
  • Leaking of fluid from the vagina (blood or water). If you have vaginal bleeding at any time during your pregnancy, have someone call your doctor immediately.