Pregnancy – Symptoms, Care & Fetal Development

By BSc, MSc (embryologist), MD, MSc (gynecologist) and BA, MA (fertility counselor).
Last Update: 08/18/2015

Pregnancy is a process in which an embryo is created and developed inside a woman's uterus.

The beginning of a pregnancy starts with implantation. Once the egg and the spermatozoon join together in the Fallopian tubes, the zygote goes down the tubes towards the uterus. Between day 5 and day 7, the embryo is in the blastula stage. It is in this moment when the embryo is implanted and placed inside the endometrium and will stay in this zone growing until the moment of birth, which takes place approximately 40 weeks after the fertilization.

Staying healthy during pregnancy

During this period of time, the woman experiences many physical and emotional changes that she has never experienced before. Her breasts will increase in size from the first month because once born, the baby will be feed from the milk of the mother's breasts. Furthermore, the cervix softens, and the umbilical cord, the placenta and many other necessary things for the pregnancy period are created inside the mother's belly.

As mentioned earlier, it is only logical that, due to all the changes in hormone levels, there are some emotional imbalances. The woman may also experience more sensitivity and feel more concerned about things than usual.

In addition to all of these changes, she also suffers the typical discomforts of pregnancy such as nausea and swelling. This swelling does not only occur inside the belly but also in the feet, the legs and in all the body in general. The swelling is specially obvious as the baby is about to be born.

It is important to keep a nutrient-rich balanced diet because the woman eats for two since the embryo is fed directly from the meals of the mother. Pay special attention to physical exercise: postures and physical efforts should be limited. In the following post we will try to specify all those questions in the corresponding sections.

Fetal development month by month

A pregnancy is a rather long process in which both the woman and the fetus experience important changes. These changes are not only physical but also mental and emotional. There are many other non-obvious changes that also affect the woman and her baby.

In the first weeks the baby starts developing the sense of taste and also starts swallowing which will help her in the future to make the digestion on her own once she is born. This process can last about 10 weeks.

Later on, on the third month, the fetus will begin with the breathing process. She will begin to make the necessary movements to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. However, it won't be until her birth when she does this movements automatically.

On week 24 she will learn to suckle. This movement is essential because the baby will need it from the very moment she is born so she can obtain the nourishment to survive the first months or years of her life. Without the sucking, it would be difficult to obtain the mother's milk even though nowadays there are new methods to ease this process. The baby can substitute the mother's breast for the teat of the bottle, but this decision is to be made by the mother or by medical advice.

In the seventh month of pregnancy, the baby starts perceiving sounds. This moment can be really moving because the baby will be able to distinguish her mother's voice from the other voices and she will be able to respond to the stimuli that would be part of their life once she is born. The relatives' voices, music, television, etc. Any sound will stimulate the baby.

The baby is aware of almost any feeling and, at week 28, the baby will be able to perceive the light.

Fetal ultrasounds

An ultrasound is a diagnostic imaging technique which uses high-frequency sound waves that go through the skin and get to the fetus. The image of the fetus appears in the ultrasound scanner. In order to make it easier for the sound waves to get to the fetus, an aqueous gel is used.

This is one of the most important tests to be made during pregnancy. The ultrasounds should be made regularly to ensure that everything is going well and the fetus is growing as it should be. For further details, we recommend you to read our article “Fetal ultrasound”.

There are two ways to perform ultrasounds and consequently, there are two types of ultrasounds: the transvaginal ultrasound and the abdominal ultrasound. The first one is carried out during the first three months of gestation. Although it may be a bit unpleasant for the mother, it provides images with more detail than the abdominal ultrasound. The second type of ultrasound is made during the last months of pregnancy. Obtaining a good-quality image is more difficult. For this reason, it is recommended to go to the consulting room with a full bladder to get better results in the ultrasound.

Thanks to these tests it is possible to know the baby's gender before the birth, the foetus' position, the quantity of amniotic fluid, the state of the placenta, and also to know if there are any morphological anomalies.


During the pregnancy, the woman experiences many changes which are mainly caused by the hormonal disorder. Among the wide range of feelings that the woman might experience, we can find changes in the self esteem, the sexual desire, the energy or simply feeling anxious about the new life that is coming after the baby's birth.

The first symptoms appear during the first three months with frequent mood swings. There might be a point where you wonder if you really wanted to become a mother and then feel an absolute bliss for being pregnant. Those feelings are completely normal and you shouldn't be afraid of them.

In the second semester you are more aware of the situation, you can feel the baby and you feel more relaxed. Now the only thing that really matters is your baby's health. However, this may lead to a state of anxiety which is difficult to treat.

From this moment, your body is swollen and your belly is big so probably you don't feel sexy anymore. But there's no need for that because pregnancy can bring out your femininity. Try to keep your self-esteem, it is important to find a balance in the hormonal imbalance that you are experiencing.

As to the father-to-be, it is completely normal for you to feel some fears. Becoming a father is something that changes your life and it is understandable that you don't know if he will live up to the expectations. You should trust in yourself and be psychologically prepared. Besides, you should support the woman, because she is experiencing multiple feelings. It would be easier to find a balance if you try it together.

How to relieve the feeling of nausea

Nausea during the first stage of pregnancy are rather common. There are some natural medicines that can relieve the nausea. It is advisable to turn to natural medicine rather than pharmaceutical drugs, because during pregnancy it is more important than ever to have a complete control over medication and try to avoid it as long as it is possible.

Even though experiencing nausea is one of the most common and best well-known symptoms among pregnant women, other types of symptoms that have to do with the physical and emotional changes the woman's body is going through may occur as well. If you are interested in finding out more about these symptoms, you can read our article titled "Pregnancy symptoms" for further details.

Regarding the physical changes, it is obvious that your body increases in weight and size, specially towards the last months. This makes you feel swollen, have back aches and it also makes you feel less agile and with less movility. Besides, you won't be able to keep on doing certain movements such as bending down to pick things up, but you'll get used to these kind of inconveniences. You should stay calm and avoid making any big physical activity.

As regards the emotial imbalance, you should know that it's because of the hormonal changes you are undergoing. Try to pull yourself together. But keep in mind it doesn't matter if you can't do it. It is something that happens to every pregnant woman and so, you shouldn't feel bad about it.

Through the 9 months there is plenty of time to experience a wide range of symptoms that will vary according to the month in which you are, your diet, your physical activity, the weight you are gaining, etc. There are lots of factors that affect this evolution, so you won't get to take an absolute control over your feelings. Despite of this, we recommend you to read the aforementioned articles and try to follow the guidelines so you can enjoy your pregnancy as much as possible.


It is important to keep a healthy diet during the pregnancy. A nutrient-rich balanced diet will give the baby all the necessary nutrients for her growth. Milk and dairy products like the kefir, as well as vegetables, are highly recommended.

Of course, it is also advisable a diet rich in vitamins and calcium. The calcium plays a central role in the formation of the baby's skeleton. According to some research, eating fish during pregnancy could be beneficial for the new born's intelligence.

The less recommended meals are those that contain fried ingredients or fat, as in any other situation in which a healthy diet is recommended.

Sexual intercourse

Sexual desire may vary both in men and women during the pregnancy, but apart from this factor, the stage of pregnancy in which the mother is should be taken into account and, first and foremost, common sense should be used during the whole process.

There are a great deal of myths about why men and women shouldn't have intercourse during the pregnancy and in most of the cases, those myths are false. The truth is that sexual intercourse cannot damage neither the baby, nor the mother, so, unless told otherwise by your doctor, you can have sexual intercourse without worrying. The baby will be protected by the mother's abdomen and by the liquid of the matrix which has a shock-absorbing role.

Those specific cases where the mother is advised against intercourse are those where the woman suffers some kind of complications: risk or history of previous miscarriage, risk or history of premature labor, bleeding, loss of amniotic fluid, low-lying placenta that covers the cervix or incompetent cervix. Sex is also to be avoid when there is a risk of any kind of a sexually transmitted infection.

The sexual desire is caused by the hormonal changes, so it may vary accordingly. There are women who feel like having sex with their partner and some other women who don't feel like having sex at all. However, during pregnancy the sexual appetite changes from one side to the other. It is completely normal, so don't be afraid if you experience these changes.

Physical exercise

It is recommended to do some physical exercise during pregnancy, but always bearing in mind the stage in which the mother-to-be is. Obviously, as pregnancy draws on, physical exercise should be softer and always be kept under control.

It is recommended to do aerobic and moderate-intensity exercises. Of course, any race, sport competition, high intensity training or exercises based on abrupt changes are to be avoid. The mother should practice sport about 15 minutes every day. Beyond that point, your body temperature may rise too much or you may even experience a lack of oxygen.

Swimming, cycling or just walking are activities that the mother can practice for 20 or 40 minutes, but only if the intensity is low or moderate. Actually, these exercises are the most recommended during the pregnancy. On the other hand, tennis or badminton which require abrupt movements, are inadvisable.

Relaxation, flexibility and muscle strength are qualities in which the mother should work on, especially towards the last months of the pregnancy since they will be very helpful during labor.

The best option is to work with a personal trainer or any other professional that can give us advice and help us individually, because each woman has a different situation. As we can see, there are all sorts of tips and warnings regarding pregnancy. Moreover, these recommendations may vary depending on each particular case.

Cancer and fertility

A cancer, and specially its treatment may affect directly in the natural cycle of ovulation which can lead to temporary or permanent infertility. Women who suffer from cancer are concerned about this problem and this has led to the development of techniques such as egg freezing or ovarian tissue freezing.

There are several techniques and procedures to make it possible for a woman to become a mother in spite of the cancer. The egg retrieval and its freezing is a possibility and the ovaric tissue retrieval and its freezing is another possibility. The egg freezing is a procedure to be performed before the woman begins with the cancer treatment -either chemo or radiotherapy- and afterwards, she would undergo a fertility treatment, in vitro fertilisation. The second possibility consists of retrieving and freezing the tissue before the cancer treatment. Thanks to ovarian tissue graft, women can have a chance to become pregnant after their cancer treatment.

These are preventive techniques to be carried out before undergoing cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, since these treatments may have an influence in the ovarian cycle, which may lead to either temporary or permanent infertility. Nevertheless, this process should be previously consulted with the doctor before taking any decisive steps.

There has been much research about these techniques due to the alarming increase in the number of young women suffering from cancer who had not thought about maternity yet, or in more mature women who had delayed the maternity for other reasons.


Irritability, trembling and sleep disturbances. These are some of the most common symptoms in babys who, during their gestation stage were exposed to nicotine because of their mother's addiction to tobacco. Behavior disorders, a lower I.Q., attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity are other problems related to children whose mothers used to smoke during the pregnancy.

The data was collected by the conclusions drawn after that 33 babies of smoking mothers were the object of the reasearch carried out by Dr. Oscar Garcia-Algar, from the Pediatric Department of the Hospital del Mar, Barcelona. Once the baby is born and the umbilical cord is cut, the baby is no longer exposed to nicotine, so between the first 24h and 48h after the birth the baby experiences withdrawal symptoms. The effects can be the same as in those cases where the baby receives the nicotine through the mother's milk.

According to Dr. Juan Antonio Riesco, coordinator of the Smoking Department the Spanish Society of Pneumology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR), 80% of cases of sudden death in breastfed babies is related to the the high levels of nicotine received.

Apart from the aforementioned problems, premature labor, a placenta developed outside its place, an ectopic pregnancy, placental abruption, vaginal bleeding or even miscarriage.


There are many reasons that can cause bleeding during the pregnancy. However, even though blood can be very alarming it does not imply that there is a serious problem going on. For this reason it is important to be well informed about the possible causes of bleeding. According to severl studies, one out of five women bleed during the first trimester of the pregnancy and it does not mean any problem either for the mother or the baby.

In the first twelve weeks of pregnancy the risk of a miscarriage is higher, but a little loss of blood does not imply a miscarriage. These little bleedings at the beginning of the process might be caused by several reasons, for instance: a hormonal change, an infection or after having sexual intercourse. But it should not be taken as a sign of miscarriage.

In cases of large amounts of blood or too often bleedings you should see your doctor. However, may it be a little stain of blood or a large bleeding, the best option is to consult it with your doctor because the specialists would be able to give you the best information about what is causing the bleeding and the problems you may have or not.

As we mentioned before, to bleed a bit during the first half of the pregnancy is very common and only 3% of cases of women with loss of blood end up in a miscarriage case. This is a low percentage and scientists are working to make it even lower.


It is a disease caused by a parasitic organism named Toxoplasma gondii. Even though this infection is one of the most wide-spread in the human being, it often goes unnoticed. The symptoms of this disease are similar to those of the flu and they can appear once during our lives. In spite of this, the parasite will still remain inside the body, although inactive. However, problems may arise if our immune system does is not working properly and the infection starts again.

If the woman's immunity to the infection develops 6 or 9 months before getting pregnant, the infection is seldom transmitted to her baby. Nevertheless, when a pregnant woman develops this disease for the first time, there is 40% of chance of transmission to the baby.

The seriousness of a disease depends on the specific case, the mother's medical history, whether the mother has suffered from this infection before or not and the stage of the pregnancy. In any case, during the gestation several blood tests are run so the situation can be under control and taxoplasmosis can be detected.

In affected babies, the symptoms appear months or even years after being born. Between 80% and 90% develop significant eye infections, but there can be other symptoms.

This disease is considered a zoonosis which means that it is usually transmitted from animals to humans through different ways of infection. The feline species are considered one of the most common infectious, specially cats because they are pets.

The importance of hygiene to prevent this disease is crucial with pregnant women. They should wash their hands after touching food and they should also try to avoid touching the eyes, mouth and nose with dirty hands. Fruits and vegetables should be meticulously washed and pregnant women should avoid eating raw or lightly cooked food. They should also avoid any contact with cats or soil where cats might have been.

Occupational risks

Unluckily, there is still a high percentage of pregnant women who suffer stress and are obliged to lift heavy loads or stand still for long hours in their jobs. This affects around the 60% of pregnant and lactating women.

There are working conditions to which no one should be exposed but, in the case of pregnant women, these conditions represent a higher risk for them. For instance, no one should lift a load heavier than recommended by the specialists, but for pregnant women this weight is less than for the rest. This means that special attention should be paid to the working conditions to which pregnant women are exposed.

In Spain there are two laws regulating these kind of situations. However, these laws are not applied as they should be and in the National Survey on Occupational Risk there is no reference to the risks to which pregnant women are exposed at their works.

Our editors have made great efforts to create this content for you. By sharing this post, you are helping us to keep ourselves motivated to work even harder.

Authors and contributors

 Cristina Mestre Ferrer
Cristina Mestre Ferrer
BSc, MSc
Bachelor's Degree in Biological Sciences, Genetics & Human Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV). Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the UV and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Embryologist at IVI Barcelona. More information about Cristina Mestre Ferrer
 Marta Lafont Piñas
Marta Lafont Piñas
Bachelor's Degree in Medicine from the University of Barcelona, with specialization in Obstetrics & Gynecology. Master's Degree in Human Reproduction from the King Juan Carlos University and IVI. OB/GYN specialized in Reproductive Medicine at Institut Riera Bartra, at Clínica Sagrada Familia (Barcelona, Spain). More information about Marta Lafont Piñas
License: 30659
Adapted into english by:
 Sandra Fernández
Sandra Fernández
Fertility Counselor
Bachelor of Arts in Translation and Interpreting (English, Spanish, Catalan, German) from the University of Valencia (UV) and Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton Campus (Edinburgh, UK). Postgraduate Course in Legal Translation from the University of Valencia. Specialist in Medical Translation, with several years of experience in the field of Assisted Reproduction. More information about Sandra Fernández

Find the latest news on assisted reproduction in our channels.