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Fetal development

13 early signs of pregnancy

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If you’re tired of protection and want to get pregnant, chances are you’re eager to get some good news. If that is the case, read on and learn about some very early signs of pregnancy.

How soon can you experience symptoms of pregnancy?

The very early signs of pregnancy appear a few days after conception, or one or two weeks before your scheduled upcoming periods. [1] Even though it’s typically during the ovulation phase after your last menstruation (10 to 15 days after your last period) that you conceive, your first day of pregnancy is denoted by the first day of your previous menstrual cycle. [2] Your delivery date is estimated as per your last menstruation date.

Early signs of pregnancy

  1. Cramps and spotting. After the egg is fertilized, it implants itself into the walls of the uterus. This process of implantation occurs anywhere between four to eight weeks and may be marked with light bleeding. Research shows that this is accompanied by stomach cramps in 28% of women. The episode generally lasts for about three days and doesn’t need treatment. [3]
  2. Elevated body temperature. Your overall body temperature increases when you conceive. However, the body temperature also rises easily while exercising and during hot summers. It might go unnoticed, so you have to keep track of your body temperature to observe this change. You should also make sure to drink a lot of water during this time. [4]
  3. Fatigue and tiredness. Your progesterone levels will elevate during pregnancy, making you feel fatigued and sleepy. Other factors such as low blood sugar levels, lower BP, and increased blood production may all contribute to tiredness. When you feel too tired, you should rest a lot and get enough sleep. [5]
  4. Elevated heart rate. There are a lot of new changes to which your body needs to acclimatize. This includes the flush of hormones which, along with the increased blood flow, causes an increased heart rate. Some physical exertion can also cause palpitations. [6]
  5. Early mammary changes. One of the prominent early signs of pregnancy include breast changes. Such changes occur due to hormonal changes and result in swollen, tender, or tingly breasts about one to two weeks after conception. The area around the nipples, called the areola, also darkens and widens. [5]
  6. Mood swings. Elevated levels of estrogen and progesterone lead to rapid mood swings. These can cause repeated episodes of excitement and euphoria accompanied by periods of depression, weeping, and irritability. Also, this will make you more reactive to situations that normally wouldn’t pull a reaction from you. Try to keep calm and remind yourself to take deep breaths. [7]
  7. Hyper urination and incontinence. The inflow of hormones lead to increased blood flow in the body during pregnancy. This results in a greater supply of blood to the kidneys too, meaning processing more fluid than usual. As there’s more urine production, there’s an increased amount of fluid in the bladder causing pressure and incontinence. Prepare yourself to need easy access to the toilet to prevent leaking. Also, drink a good amount of water to prevent dehydration. [8]
  8. Constipation and bloating during early pregnancy. Bloating is experienced during early pregnancy, similar to that which occurs during the menstrual cycle. This change is due to hormone inflow, particularly progesterone, and reduces intestinal motility. This results in constipation and, in turn, adds to bloating. To ease this symptom, eat foods rich in fiber, drink a lot of water, and exercise appropriately. You can also consider talking to your doctor if this condition worsens. [5]
  9. Morning sickness. Morning sickness is marked by nausea and vomiting. The severity of the condition may vary and the number of vomiting episodes per day differs from person to person. Regardless, morning sickness is probably the most irritable early symptom of pregnancy. The term is also slightly misleading as it can occur at any time throughout the day. The exact reason for morning sickness is unclear, but hormonal changes are considered to play a role. Nausea and vomiting continues from the start of pregnancy throughout the first three months. It might worsen with the progression of the first trimester, but it generally relieves as you enter into the second trimester. You can take measures to keep morning sickness to the minimal. Keep healthy snacks such as nuts and crackers at your bedside and eat a few whenever you feel nauseated. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and consult your doctor for medication if your condition becomes too severe and/or unbearable. [9]
  10. Food repugnance and sensitivity to smell. There have been self-reported events of odor sensitivity or disgust by many pregnant women. However, there’s little evidence behind why this occurs during the first trimester. Still, it’s important to consider as sensitivity to smell may instigate episodes of nausea and vomiting. Hypersensitivity to certain smells and foods may generate food aversions throughout the period of pregnancy. A literature review explored the relationship effect of pregnancy on smell sensitivity. It was reported that odor perception is stronger and more intense in pregnant women. [10]
  11. Dizziness and high BP. Blood pressure changes are accompany the onset of pregnancy. You can experience low blood pressure due to the dilation of vessels thanks to hormones like progesterone. As a result, you may experience dizziness and lightheadedness. On the other hand, symptoms of high blood pressure may also occur; this can be due to a family history, first conception, obesity, smoking, or alcohol. Your doctor will keep track of your vitals at every appointment, so make not to miss a single one. Ask your physician about the diet you should follow to keep your BP at normal levels. Stay hydrated and snack regularly. Also, try to stand up and change posture slowly to avoid sudden blood pressure changes [11].
  12. Heartburn. Hormones may result in the relaxation of the sphincter between your stomach and esophagus. This can lead to the regurgitation of acids from the stomach causing heartburn. You can minimize this by eating small portions of meals instead of a single larger one. Try to stay in an upright position by either sitting or standing for an hour after having your meal. If heartburn becomes unbearable, talk to your specialist about safe use of antacids.
  13. Skin changes during early pregnancy. You might have seen those experienced aunts figuring out your pregnancy before you’ve even gotten a positive test. The pregnancy glow enables them to do the guessing by just looking at your skin and eyes. The flow of more blood into your skin and the flush of hormones startle your sebaceous glands. This gives your skin a certain glow which isn’t otherwise there. Women who are prone to acne may also experience unusual acne breakouts.

how early signs of pregnancy

How can I tell if I’m pregnant after one week?

When you’re one week pregnant, you can’t actually tell whether you’re pregnant yet – because you’re not! If you’re experiencing any odd symptoms like headaches, bloating, or lower back pain, they’re likely due to your upcoming menstrual cycle. The duration of these symptoms may vary from person to person and can last from three to seven days.

As per gynecologists’ terms, your pregnancy count starts from the first day of your previous period. However, since ovulation occurs later, one week in pregnancy terms means you haven’t actually conceived yet. The average time to conceive is 2 to 3 weeks after your last cycle.

If you’re hoping to be pregnant at one week post-cycle, a good idea is to prepare your body for a baby. You should follow a healthy diet, take vitamins, folic acid, and other supplements, and – most importantly – avoid smoking and alcohol. Also, limit your coffee and tea intake to one cup per day! Keep track of your menstrual cycle to make use of your fertile days. [12]

Can a pregnancy test be positive at one week?

Generally, the first positive test comes out at 2 weeks of pregnancy. This is when human chorionic gonadotropin (hcG) has started to produce after conception. Even with the more sensitive tests, one won’t be able to confirm pregnancy until about 8 days after conception.

At one week, your uterus hasn’t yet received the mature egg follicle and the previous month’s uterine lining is busy being shed. This way, it will prepare itself for acquiring the fertilized zygote.

However, there are some pregnancy tests that can estimate the time of conception depending on the level of HCG in your urine. [13]

Pregnancy symptoms

Generally, the early signs of pregnancy are categorized as per the trimesters. There are three trimesters of pregnancy, the first being the most difficult to handle in terms of symptoms. By the time you’ve your missed your period, your pregnancy tests will also turn out to be positive. The intensity of symptoms, however, may be different for each person.

The first trimester

In general, the early signs of pregnancy are aggravated and increase in severity as the first trimester progresses. Extreme nausea and, at times, vomiting kick in, particularly when on an empty stomach. Frequent urination, heartburn, and breast tenderness also worsen, while a faster heartbeat and acne outbreaks become more common. Gaining a lot of weight isn’t a common feature of the first trimester, but the risk of miscarriage is highest during this time. So, extra care and caution should be practiced. [14]

The second trimester

Some of the symptoms of the first trimester usually fade away or completely vanish by the beginning of the second trimester. That is to say, from the fourth month onwards your nausea and vomiting should ease out a lot. However, other issues like constipation, heartburn, and breast changes will continue, while shortness of breath, fatigue, and tiredness seem not to want to leave ‘til the end. Gum bleeding, nasal bleeding, and stiffness are also some unwanted pregnancy symptoms during the second trimester. However, there’s some good news! One thing that every mom-to-be is excited about is the start of fetal movement. This begins in the fifth month.

By the end of the second trimester, there may be some improvement in the shortness of breath. Leakage of colostrum from your breasts and onset of Braxon-Hicks contractions (minor practice pains) may start to occur in some women. This will gradually develop and continue ‘til the end of pregnancy. [15]

The third trimester

The expanding uterus is the major sign marking the beginning of the last trimester. With the increasing size of the fetus, back pain is also inevitable. Some symptoms from the previous months continue, but dizziness may ease out a bit. Difficulty breathing is a common complaint as uterus enlargement occurs.

Varicose veins (swollen veins) occur most commonly in the legs. This can also take the form of hemorrhoids if varicose veins occur at the rectal region. Hemorrhoids can cause itching, become painful, and bleed. Stretching of the skin may cause stretch marks and Braxton-Hicks contractions, constipation, and heartburn may continue to strike from time to time.

Incontinence of urine may also occur while sneezing, coughing, or laughing because of uterine pressure. Nevertheless, don’t be dismayed! Pregnancy also adds to your beauty; one of its good features is fuller, stronger, and healthier hair due to benevolent hormones. The symptoms of the last trimester generally continue ‘til the end. [16]

The last month

Around the end of your pregnancy journey, your fetus drops into the lower pelvis – a process called lightening. This eases shortness of breath and improves your backache. However, hyper urination and incontinence continues and pressure on the bladder remains.

All of this being said, before actually confirming your pregnancy through a pregnancy test, you can watch out for the symptoms and early signs of pregnancy. These start way before you get a missed period. So, if you find it hard to wait for the confirmatory tests, here are the signs you should look for. Cervical dilation occurs which causes sharp pains before you actually step into labor. [17]

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Fetal development

Fetal development – week by week

Table of Contents

How’s My Baby Growing? – A fetal development week-by-week review 

For a lot of women, pregnancy and childbirth will be a defining moment in their lives. Some people who have been through this might even say that it was one of their most rewarding experiences. As a mum to be, I can tell that you’re curious – believe me, it’s normal. You’ve bought the books, you’ve watched the videos; you’re even reading this article right now. I get it – you can’t wait to meet your little one and you want to be ready when they arrive. Well, it’s a great thing you’re here! In this post, we will be discussing the different stages of fetal development on a weekly basis.

Prenatal Development

Prenatal development describes the entire baby development process, from the menstrual age, to fertilization, up until they’re born. Prenatal development occurs in three stages: The germinal stage, the embryonic stage, and the fetal stage.

The Germinal Stage

Fetal development begins with the germinal stage. That counts from the day of your last menstrual period and lasts for about three weeks. In case you didn’t already know, conception is not the beginning of your pregnancy; all the work your body has done to make fertilization possible has to count for something. While pregnancies are usually reported to last about forty weeks, in reality you’re only pregnant for thirty-eight of those weeks. This is because your pregnancy starts to count from the first day of your last menstrual period. Now let’s look at this more closely.

Week 1: You see your period. This is your body shedding off the lining of the uterus and preparing to begin a new menstrual cycle. By the end of this week, your period is coming to an end and your body starts to produce more hormones.

Week 2: Your estrogen and progesterone levels are all the way up and this prompts your uterine wall to thicken. While this is happening, your ova are “ripening” in fluid-filled sacs commonly referred to as follicles. Around the time week two is coming to an end, your body will release another hormone (lutrophin). This hormone causes the follicles to rupture, thus releasing the ovum/ova (or egg/eggs) into the fallopian tube to make its way to the uterus. The process we have just described is what you have always known as ovulation. (It is important to note that, although ovulation commonly occurs in the middle of the menstrual cycle, this is not always the case. Ovulation can occur from any time between nine to twenty-one days from the first day of your last period).

The egg usually takes between one to two days to travel from the ovaries to the uterus. While it’s on the way to the uterus, if one of the numerous sperm cells released during ejaculation is able to penetrate the egg, then fertilization occurs. Within the next 48 hours, the sperm cell fuses with the egg and their DNAs are combined to form a zygote

By the end of week 2, the zygote continues its journey from the fallopian tube to the uterus. While it’s on its way, it will continue to divide into hundreds of identical cells. In about two days, the zygote (which is now a blastocyst) will attach itself to your uterine wall. The end of week two also marks the end of the germinal stage.

The Embryonic Stage

The embryonic stage lasts for about eight weeks after fertilization. This stage is very important in the development of brain function. It is therefore important to get your nutrition right in this stage.

Week 3: It is from this week that you are likely to get a positive pregnancy test. The blastocyst will continue to divide and burrow further into your uterine wall. The inner cells of the blastocyst will grow into the embryo while the outer cells will grow into the embryo. The outer cells will begin to produce the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), also known as the pregnancy hormone. The pregnancy hormone is what is detected when you pee on a stick. This hormone also tells your ovaries to stop releasing eggs and progesterone.

Week 4: Now your little embryo is about the size of a poppy seed. The inner cells will further divide into three more layers. The first layer will develop into the digestive and respiratory system (the stomach, lungs, bladder, etc.). The middle layer will develop into the circulatory, muscular, and skeletal system, while the outer layer develops into the nervous system, the eyes, tooth, skin, and nails. Before the placenta is fully formed, the embryo will receive nutrients and relieve waste through a yolk sac. Later on in your pregnancy, the placenta will form and take over from the yolk sac.

Week 5: Around this time your baby’s heart and nervous system have started to develop. You should start taking folic acid at this stage because it can prevent a condition called spina bifida in your baby. Spina bifida is a condition in which your baby’s spine and spinal cord are underdeveloped, such that there’s a gap in the spine.

Week 6: At this stage, the embryo looks like it has a tail. Your baby’s heart is still developing, while their little arms and legs have also started to grow out as buds.

Week 7: Now your baby is about 10mm long and the brain continues to develop rapidly. Their inner ears and eyes have also started to develop. The limb buds will get longer and start to form cartilage which will develop into the limb bones.

Week 8: Now your baby is about the size of a kidney bean and they weigh about 1.13 grams. Still tiny, right? I know. Although the lower limbs are getting longer, they’re not yet distinct. Your baby now has toes and fingers and their respiratory system continues to develop. The 8th week is the end of the embryonic stage. After this week, your pregnancy is moving into the longest and final stage; the fetal development stage.

The Fetal Stage

The fetal stage is the longest and probably the most dramatic stage of prenatal development. When fetal development begins, cell differentiation is complete and the baby is no longer referred to as an embryo, but a fetus. We will now discuss this more extensively by looking at development by week.

Week 9: By now your baby has almost all their essential organs and they look like a really tiny human. All the chambers of your baby’s heart have formed and their tiny baby teeth started to grow. By week 9, the placenta is almost fully developed and ready to take over from the yolk sac.

Week 10: Your baby is now about 3.5 mm and their outer ears have started to develop. The canals between the inner and outer ears are also forming. Jaw bones are developing and your baby’s heart is fully pumped and beating. Although the eyelids are starting to form too, they are sealed shut until about the 27th week. Around this time, the placenta should be fully-formed and the yolk sac shrinks until it is fully resolved. In some people, the placenta may not take over even up to the 20th week.

Week 11: Your baby is now the size of a fig. The bones of their face are formed and the outer ears are starting to look more like ears now. Their fingers and toes are separating and their external genitalia will start to develop around this period.

Week 12: You are now coming to the end of the third month and your baby is about the size of a lime. It is now 57mm long and weighs about 14 grams. Your baby has started to develop reflexes and they can now curl their toes. The intestines are fully formed and enclosed in the abdominal cavity now. The external sex organs should be well developed alongside all other organs. Now all your baby has to do is grow.

Week 12 is the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. The most critical period of your baby’s development has been completed and you are less likely to miscarry after this period.

Week 13-15:  This is the beginning of the second trimester. Your baby’s heartbeat can now be heard. Their fingers and toes are well-defined and their bones have become denser. Around this period, eyebrows, eyelashes, fingernails, and toenails are formed. Now your baby can stretch, yawn, and even make faces. By the end of the 15th week they’re about 152 mm long and 113 grams heavy. Their external genitalia is fully formed and you can now tell the sex of your baby via an ultrasound scan.

Week 16-19: If you haven’t already told them yet, I’m sure your friends and family can already tell you’re pregnant. Your baby is now developing muscles and you may feel them move as they exercise these muscles. Your baby is covered with vernix caseosa, which is a white cheesy substance that protects them from elongated exposure to amniotic fluid. Don’t fret, they’ll shed this coating just before they’re born. By now, your baby should be about 25.4 cm long and about 250 grams heavy.

Week 20-23: You’re coming to the end of your second trimester. Congrats! You’re almost there. Your baby now has fingerprints and you can see their veins through their translucent skin. Those little movements from earlier have become full-fledged kicks.

Week 24-29: This is the beginning of the third and final trimester. Now that their hearing is fully developed, you may want to sing to them every now and then. They can also respond to stimuli, so you might notice them changing position frequently in response to light or sound. It is around this period that the amniotic fluid starts to diminish. Their eyelids also open up around this period. By the end of the 29th week, your baby should weigh anywhere between 900g to 1.5kg.

Week 30-35: Your baby starts to develop reserves of body fat. They can see, they can ear, and they’re kicking more now. Their brain and all internal organs are almost fully developed. Their lungs, however, still need some time to mature fully. Now you baby should be weighing in at about 2kg.

Week 35-40: This is it! You made it this far, your baby is almost here. The lungs develop fully and their reflexes are better coordinated so they can close and open their eyes, turn their heads, and even grasp items. As you approach your due date, you may notice that your baby has started to move less. Don’t be quick to panic, there’s just less space for that now! As you approach week 40, your baby starts to position itself for delivery. It’s head is facing downward and it drops into your pelvis. Now your baby is about 3kg and ready to be born!

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