Your Pregnancy After 35 : How Your Baby Grows and Develops (part 1) - Normal Fetal Development

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1. Trimesters of Pregnancy

During the first 8 weeks of pregnancy, your baby is called an embryo. During the rest of your pregnancy, the developing baby is referred to as a fetus.

Your pregnancy is divided into three 13-week periods called trimesters. The first trimester is the one of greatest change for the developing baby. During this time, your baby grows from a collection of cells the size of the head of a pin to a fetus the size of a grapefruit. Organs begin to develop, and your baby begins to look like a baby.

At the beginning of the second trimester, your baby weighs less than an ounce (25g) and is only about 4 inches (11cm) long. By the beginning of the third trimester, it is almost 16 inches (40cm) long and weighs more than 2 pounds (1kg). At delivery, baby will weigh close to 7½ pounds (3.4kg) and be about 21½ inches (54cm) long.

The first trimester is the one of greatest change for the developing baby. Very few, if any, structures in the fetus are formed after 12 weeks of pregnancy. In fact, by the time you miss a period, 80% of baby’s organ development has already occurred. This means your baby has formed all of its major organ systems by the end of the first trimester. However, these structures continue to grow and to mature until your baby is born.

When is it determined that I will have a girl or a boy?

At the time of fertilization. Sperm are either male or female—all eggs are female. If a male sperm (carrying a Y chromosome) fertilizes the egg, you will have a boy. If a female sperm (carrying an X chromosome) fertilizes the egg, you will have a girl.

If a baby is born before 38 weeks of pregnancy, he or she is called a preterm baby. An infant born between the 38 and 40 weeks of pregnancy is called a term baby or a full-term infant. A baby delivered after 42 weeks of pregnancy is called a postterm baby.

2. Normal Fetal Development

The Baby’s Size

Sometimes women express concern about giving birth to a large baby. Many factors affect how big your baby will be. If you are in good health, have no medical problems, don’t gain too much weight and take good care of yourself during pregnancy, you’ll probably have an average-size baby. Although weight varies greatly from baby to baby, the average baby at term weighs 7 to 7½ pounds (3.2 to 3.4kg).

Some maternal factors do affect the size of a baby at birth, including hypertension and diabetes, which are more common in older pregnant women. Hypertension during pregnancy can cause intrauterine-growth restriction (IUGR), which results in smaller babies. Diabetes can cause blood-sugar problems. Blood-sugar levels are higher in those with gestational diabetes or mild diabetes that is not under control. Diabetes exposes the baby to higher sugar levels, resulting in a larger baby.

In cases of insulin-dependent diabetes, the result may be a smaller baby. Women with insulin-dependent diabetes may have circulation problems, which can result in IUGR and decreased blood flow to the baby.

3. The Fetal Environment

Your baby is growing and developing inside a complex system within your body. There are three major parts to this system, and each relies on the other to work together as a complete unit. Your baby’s first home consists of the placenta, the umbilical cord and the amniotic sac. Together they provide nourishment, warmth and protection while your baby matures and prepares to live on its own outside your uterus.

4. The Placenta

The placenta is a soft, round or oval organ that grows with your baby. At 10 weeks, it weighs about ½ ounce (12g); by the time your baby is born, it weighs about 1½ pounds (680g).

When the early pregnancy implants in your uterus, the placenta grows and sends blood vessels into the uterine wall. These blood vessels carry nourishment and oxygen from your blood to baby for your baby’s use. Baby’s waste products pass back into your bloodstream through these vessels for disposal by your body.

We once believed the placenta acted as a barrier to all outside substances, but we now know this is not the case. In some instances, the placenta cannot keep your baby from being exposed to substances you are exposed to or you ingest. We know alcohol, most medications, other substances (such as nicotine) and many vitamins, minerals and herbs cross the placenta to your baby. This is one reason women should avoid some substances during pregnancy.

The placenta is important to your pregnancy and remains so until the birth of your baby. At that time, when your uterus begins to shrink after your baby is born, the placenta detaches from it and is delivered on its own.

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