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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 12:29 GMT
What happens during pregnancy?
The end result
You're exhausted - you're finding it hard to stay awake until Eastenders, let alone the news.

Maybe it's stress. But you seem to be on a non-stop loop to the toilet, your breasts feel like they've been electrocuted and your Coca-Cola has begun to taste of metal.

It's time to hurry down to the chemist. The blue line appears. You're pregnant. What happens next?

Despite all the scare stories in the papers, most women have a perfectly normal pregnancy and birth, without the need for emergency operations or caesareans.

In the first few months after your pregnancy has been confirmed by your GP, you will be 'booked in' by a midwife who will take down all your details, including family history.

The midwife will tell you the date your baby is due and offer you a blood test to check for hepatitis B, anaemia, syphilis, immunity to rubella and whether you are rhesus negative.

Some women are rhesus negative and they need to be given an injection after the baby is born to protect any future child from getting anaemia.

You may also be offered a test for sickle cell anaemia or thalassemia if you are from a high risk group. HIV tests are now also offered to all pregnant women.

The midwife will also give you information on what to expect in the coming months and how to keep healthy.

This will include advice on what to eat, what not to eat, cutting down on smoking and alcohol and exercise in later pregnancy.

You will probably see your midwife once a month until the final weeks of pregnancy when the visits become more frequent.

She will check your blood pressure, your urine and generally ask how you are.

Morning sickness

You may feel nauseous in the first three months. This is traditionally called morning sickness, but it can happen at any time of the day.

The good thing is that it generally only lasts for 12 weeks. It is unclear what causes it, but it is thought that hormonal changes in the first few weeks are a factor.

While there is no cure, resting and eating small amounts, avoiding greasy food and drinking plenty of water can help.

At around 12 weeks (although this can vary according to health region), you will be given your first scan and you will be able to see the baby moving inside you.

You may already have been able to listen to its heartbeat with the midwife.

The scan checks for abnormalities, but separate tests are needed for things like Down's syndrome and cystic fibrosis.

These are offered at around 15-16 weeks and involve a blood test to check for possible risk.

Those who are deemed high risk are then offered further checks.

Pregnancy glow

At around 12 weeks, the foetus is fully formed and has all its organs, muscles, limbs and bones.

It is moving, but you probably won't be able to feel any movement until the 18th week [or earlier if it is your second baby].

It is about 56mm long and it is at this time that your pregnancy might begin to 'show'.

From three to six months, you may start to feel much healthier and develop what is known as a 'pregnancy glow' as your body starts to grow accustomed to being pregnant.

The baby will be growing quickly now and you will start feeling it kicking regularly - sometimes a bit too regularly.

Eventually you may even be able to see little fists and footmarks pushing against your stomach.

At 21 weeks you will have another scan to check on the baby's development.

By 24 weeks it is considered viable - that is, it could survive if born now. And by 26 weeks, its eyes start to open.

Birth plan

At this point, you may also be asked to write a birth plan.

This lists what you would prefer to happen in labour - for example, whether you want a home or hospital birth, whether you want pain relief and if so, what kind, whether you want to breastfeed and whether you want to use any special equipment the hospital might have, such as a birthing pool.

It is best to be fairly flexible in your birth plan, just in case complications develop or you cavalierly decide on no pain relief only to find that you would really like some when push comes to shove.

You can discuss all the details with your midwife.

Finally, you reach the last trimester. As the baby grows, it pushes up into your stomach and rib cage and basically rearranges your insides.

This can result in minor aches and pains and indigestion.

You may also suffer from cramps and other minor ailments, such as constipation.

You may start waking up at night to go to the toilet quite a lot.

Some people say this is a preparation for the first few months after birth when you are likely to face several nights of broken sleep.

Ante-natal classes

Around two months before the due date, you and your partner will probably be offered ante-natal classes where you will be told about what to expect at the birth and afterwards.

You will be given guidance on breathing methods which will help you to relax in labour and informed about all the different types of pain relief.

It is a good idea to keep up with your exercises, no matter how uncomfortable you feel, as this can help keep you supple for the birth.

Around two weeks before the due date make sure that you have a hospital bag packed with all you might need for you and the baby.

When the contractions start, time them and when they start coming regularly at around four-minute intervals call the hospital or your midwife.

If your waters break at any point, call the hospital or your midwife immediately.

The midwife will examine you to check how far dilated you are.

Once you are 10 centimetres dilated, it is time to push the baby out. You're on the home straight.

Usually once the crown of the head can be seen it takes just a few pushes before the baby is out.

Congratulations, you have a healthy baby.


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