Pregnancy happens when the egg, after being released from the ovary during ovulation, gets fertilized by a sperm. Then the fertilized egg travels down to the uterus, where implantation takes place. Successful implantation culminates into pregnancy. A full-term pregnancy, on average, lasts up to 40 weeks or around 9 months. The whole period of pregnancy is divided into three parts, namely, first trimester, second trimester, and third trimester, during which various changes take place in the body. Also, during pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone levels rise steadily in the body. The cervix is roughly cylindrical and about an inch long. It is continuous with the uterus and opens into the vagina. During pregnancy, the cervix helps in keeping the fetus in place until itâ€™s fully developed. The cervix is composed of two regions: endocervix and ectocervix.
The process of pregnancy starts with ovulation. When ovulation occurs, the ovum which is surrounded by hundreds of cells gets ejected into the fallopian tube and the surrounded remaining structure becomes the corpus luteum which secretes the hormone progesterone and estrogen. The egg gets fertilized by the sperm within 12 to 24 hours to form a zygote. This zygote undergoes repeated divisions to form a blastocyst, which is then implanted in the uterus resulting in pregnancy. During this early stage, there are two parts of the blastocyst: an inner set of cells that forms the fetus and the outer set of cells called the trophoblast. When the blastocyst reaches the uterus, it floats around for a few days and about a week after the ovulation, it gets to hold up in the endometrial lining of the uterus. The hormones secreted by the corpus luteum: estrogen and progesterone prepare the endometrium lining of the uterus to receive the blastocyst. The menstrual cycle usually occurs in the non-pregnant woman around 14 days after the ovulation during which time the endometrial lining on the uterus sloughs away. If this occurs after uterus implantation, the pregnancy will be terminated. However, this is avoided by the release of human chorionic gonadotrophin hormone by the trophoblast cells. This hormone causes larger quantities of estrogen and progesterone to be secreted by the corpus luteum. These hormones prevent menstruation and cause the endometrium lining to continue to grow which is necessary for the early development of the fetus.
Once the successful implantation has taken place, the trophoblast cells around the blastocyst proliferate rapidly forming the placenta. The placenta connects the fetus to the mother and provides the fetus with nutrients and oxygen. The placenta is the organ that appears only during the pregnancy and is created by the fusion of both maternal and fetal tissues. It provides direct transfer of nutrients, hormones, and wastes between mother and the offspring. The placenta also secretes both estrogen and progesterone-like the corpus luteum. The higher levels of estrogen induce the enlargement of the uterus of the mother and female external genitals throughout pregnancy. Progesterone hormone, on the other hand, reduces the contractility of the uterus, thus preventing early uterine contractions from causing abortion. Towards the end of pregnancy, the uterus develops strong rhythmic contractions causing the fetus to be expelled from the body. This process is known as parturition. Estrogen to progesterone ratio increases significantly towards the end of the pregnancy. Progesterones inhibit uterine contractility whereas estrogen tends to increase the degree of uterine contractility and thereby helps in the process of parturition. Some of the early signs of pregnancy include- Missed period, fatigue, tender breasts, mood swings, headache, heartburn, constipation, cramps, and vomiting. Stages of Pregnancy-
First trimester- The cycle from early pregnancy to 12 weeks is the first trimester of pregnancy. Swollen breasts, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting (morning sickness), back pain, mood swings, and frequent urination can occur in the first trimester.
Second trimester- The second trimester of pregnancy extends from week 13 to week 27. Typically, there is less nausea and exhaustion in the second trimester than in the first trimester. By the end of the second trimester, the baby develops quickly and as the baby develops, the uterus also grows and rises higher in the abdomen during this trimester.
Third trimester- This is the last trimester, which lasts from week 28 to week 40. During the third trimester, one can feel exhausted again and many women find more difficulty in breathing. This is because the child is becoming bigger and putting more strain on the organs of the body.
In human beings, after one month of pregnancy, the fetusâ€™ heart is formed. The fetus develops limbs and digits by the second monthâ€™s end. By the end of the first trimester, most of the major organs are developed. By the end of the second trimester, the body of the fetus is covered with fine hair, eyelids get separated and eyelashes are formed. By the end of the third trimester, the fetus is fully developed and is ready for delivery.
The cervix is composed of two regions: the ectocervix which is the part of the cervix that projects into the vagina and the endocervix which is the inner part of the cervix. During puberty and adolescence, the cervix changes its shape and in response to hormones from the ovaries. During the ovulation, the cervix is higher in the vagina and after the ovulation, the cervix drops lower in the vagina. The main job of the cervix is to carry the baby in place till delivery. However, it also guards the fetus against infections by forming a mucus secretion between the vagina and the inside of the uterus. Besides, the cervix maintains the sterility of the upper female reproductive tract. This protects the uterine cavity from bacterial invasions under normal conditions also. The cervix also has a major role during childbirth.
The major obstruction to the expulsion of the fetus is the uterine cervix. Before pregnancy, the cervix is closed, long, and firm. During pregnancy, the cervix gradually softens up which allows it to stretch when labor contractions begin in the uterus. As the body gets ready for labor, the cervix gets widened, and finally opens up. The cervix dilates widely to allow the baby to pass through. The cervical dilation lasts until the cervical opening is as large as the head of the fetus. Once the cervix has dilated, the fetusâ€™ head moves directly into the birth canal and then eventually leading to delivery. If the cervix begins to open before 37 weeks, it leads to premature birth.
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