“Is our baby developing normally?” “Who will they look like?” “How will our other kids react?” These are just a few of the litany of questions that expectant couples may ask themselves. Here are 25 facts about pregnancy that will help you navigate this exciting time.
1. Folic acid
Folic acid is involved in the formation of your baby’s brain, nervous system, and blood cells. Folic acid deficiency can cause growth retardation and birth defects such as spina bifida. “It’s recommended that women start taking folic acid supplements three months prior to pregnancy,” says family doctor Nathaël Leduc Arbour. “Then, during pregnancy, they should take prenatal multivitamins containing folic acid.” Iron, calcium, and vitamin D are also important for the health of mother and baby.
2. Negative emotions
Pregnancy is generally a happy time, but pregnant women are not immune from depression. If negative feelings start taking up too much space, there may be cause for concern. “During pregnancy, women may feel on edge due to hormonal changes,” explains psychologist Karine Lapointe. “They often have stronger reactions to all kinds of things and feel more sensitive and insecure.” These feelings are normal, but there are some warning signs to watch out for. “If the mother-to-be experiences persistent sadness, cries a lot, has no appetite, and has lost interest in her loved ones and hobbies, she should talk to a doctor, as these could be signs of depression,” Lapointe warns. Studies show that 7 to 12 percent of pregnant women experience moderate to severe depression. Partners may also be at risk for depression during the pregnancy. Indeed, they have their own concerns and can feel stressed. Therefore, it’s important for couples to keep the lines of communication open and ask for help as needed.
Read our article on prenatal depression to learn more.
3. Cigarettes, cannabis, alcohol, and other drugs
It’s best to stop smoking during pregnancy, as smoking interferes with the baby’s development and increases the risk of miscarriage and premature birth. Secondhand smoke is also dangerous, because it is even more toxic than the smoke inhaled by smokers. Pregnant women should also avoid drinking alcohol. Scientific studies have not established whether there’s a safe limit for alcohol consumption during pregnancy. This is why doctors recommend that their patients stop drinking while they’re pregnant. Any alcohol consumed is transferred directly from the mother’s bloodstream to the baby’s via the placenta and can cause birth defects in the heart, kidneys, eyes, and other organs. In addition, alcohol can have long-term effects on a child’s cognitive abilities (such as their memory), along with their language, motor, and social skills. Pregnant women should also not use cannabis or other recreational drugs, as these substances also pass through the placenta and can interfere with fetal development.
Do you have more questions about tobacco, cannabis, and alcohol use? Read our articles:
4. Fetal development
From fertilization to delivery, your baby is constantly developing in the womb. They start out as an egg the size of a pinhead, then grow into an embryo that turns into a fetus. As the weeks go by, their organs, nails, and blood form. Did you know that babies start sucking their thumb after 14 weeks? After 21 weeks, they start playing with their hands and feet. By 26 weeks, their facial features are becoming more defined, and by 37 weeks, all their organs have fully formed. At this point, a baby is considered full-term and is ready to be born. All that’s left to do is wait!
5. Medical checkups
You should have your first prenatal checkup with a health care provider before the 12th week of your pregnancy. Your doctor, midwife, or nurse will do a complete physical examination (pulse, weight, height, etc.) at this appointment. They may also do a gynecological exam. If you have no health problems and your pregnancy is progressing normally, you should meet with your health care provider every four to six weeks thereafter. Starting at week 31, you will see your health care provider every two to three weeks. From week 37 onward, you will see them once a week. “Around 20 weeks, we’ll do an ultrasound to see if the baby is healthy, and we’ll recommend screening tests for conditions like Down’s syndrome, gestational diabetes, and group B strep,” says Dr. Nathaël Leduc Arbour.
Are you a parent expecting a new baby? Ideally, you should talk to your children a few months before your due date. “Reading books about becoming a big brother or sister is a good way to prepare your kids for the arrival of a new sibling,” says psychologist Karine Lapointe. “You can also answer any questions they have and give them time to come to terms with the idea.” Small gestures may help make the situation more concrete for your child: place their hand on your belly so they can feel the baby kick, ask them to help you pick out baby clothes, or suggest that they put stuffed animals in the baby’s room.
Books for kids
- There’s a House Inside My Mummy, written by G. Andreae, illustrated by V. Cabban, Orchard, 2019.
- Le ventre de maman, Sophie Lebot, Éditions Lito, 2022, 24 pp.
- Lettres à mon cher petit frère qui n’est pas encore né, written by F. Kessler, illustrated by A. Pilon, GrassetJeunesse, 2015, 32 pp.
- Ma mère, c’est la plus forte : une histoire sur la naissance, written by C. Durand, illustrated by A. Larouche, Cynthia Durand, 2014, 32 pp.
- Neuf mois, written by A. Delaunois, illustrated by G. Després, Isatis, 2015, 24 pp.
- P’tit Loup devient grand frère, written by O. Lallemand, illustrated by É. Thullier, Auzou, 2015, 24 pp.
What will your baby look like? What colour will their eyes be? “We were surprised when our son was born,” says Étienne, father of Siméon, 6, Margot, 3, and Jeanne, 8 months. “He’s blond with blue eyes, while my partner has brown hair and brown eyes, and I have brown hair and blue-green eyes. It turns out that Siméon got his blue eyes from his grandparents.” Physical traits, such as eye colour, hair colour, height, and facial features, are passed on genetically from parents to children. Each parent contributes half of the baby’s genetic material (23 of 46 chromosomes). Nature does the rest, mixing genes and randomly passing on characteristics from the parents to their baby.
Several hormones prepare a woman’s body for pregnancy and childbirth. Each one has an important role to play.
- BHCG (or hCG): This is the hormone detected by pregnancy tests. Released when the fertilized egg implants in the uterus, it is essential to the embryo’s survival in the first few weeks of pregnancy. It also causes nausea.
- Progesterone and estrogen prepare the uterus to support the baby. They also cause sleepiness and breast enlargement.
- Oxytocin causes the uterus to contract and is released in large quantities during childbirth. It also promotes bonding between mother and child.
9. What to avoid during pregnancy
Exercise is not only allowed but encouraged during pregnancy, though some activities should still be avoided. These include sports that can cause falls or stomach injuries, such as tennis, soccer, combat sports, downhill skiing, and hockey, as well as activities that involve changes in pressure or altitude, such as scuba diving. “I always loved being active during my pregnancies,” says Catherine, mother of three. “I would bike, snowshoe and hike. I went downhill skiing once, but I didn’t enjoy it because I was afraid of falling down.” Certain foods should also be avoided during pregnancy due to the risk of contracting diseases such as listeriosis. These include raw or undercooked meat, fish and seafood; raw eggs; and unpasteurized cheeses.
10. Twins and multiple pregnancies
In 2020, there were 2,398 multiple births (twins, triplets, etc.) in Quebec. That’s nearly 3 percent of all births recorded in the province that year. There is a higher chance of having fraternal twins, that is, babies from two different eggs, if there is a history of fraternal twins on the mother’s side of the family. In contrast, identical twins, or babies that come from the same egg, are the product of chance—genetics don’t play a role. Multiple pregnancies are considered high-risk. “There is a greater risk of complications and premature birth,” says Dr. Nathaël Leduc Arbour.
Kegel exercises (commonly called Kegels) are designed to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles by repeatedly contracting and relaxing them. The exercises are named after their inventor, a gynecologist named Dr. Arnold Kegel. There are several different ways to perform Kegels. Don’t be shy to ask your midwife, your nurse, your doctor, or a physiotherapist specialized in abdominal and pelvic rehabilitation for guidance. Many women are not even aware of their perineum until they’re pregnant, even though it’s such an important part of the body. The pelvic floor supports the uterus, bladder, and rectum. By strengthening the muscles that support the bladder, you can prevent small urine leaks that might happen when coughing, laughing, or dancing! Note that women should not perform Kegels while urinating, as this may increase the risk of developing an infection. Kegels also tone the muscles of the vagina, making it easier to resume penetrative sex after childbirth.
To learn how to strengthen your pelvic floor, abs, and legs, read our article on strengthening muscles after childbirth.
As an expectant mother’s belly grows, so does her love for the baby developing inside her. “The attachment bond often becomes more concrete in the second trimester of pregnancy, when the mother starts to feel the baby move around,” says psychologist Karine Lapointe. While the other parent does not share this physical connection, they also bond with their baby. However, this may happen a little later. “For the father, this feeling usually appears toward the end of the second trimester or at the beginning of the third, once he sees his child at the ultrasound,” adds Lapointe. After childbirth, spending time with baby and caring for them helps the parent-child bond grow.
13. Baby’s movements
Babies move around as early as the 8th week of pregnancy, but these movements can only be felt much later, usually between weeks 15 and 22. In a first pregnancy, women usually start noticing their baby’s movement between 18 and 20 weeks, while women who have given birth several times before can usually feel their baby moving between 16 and 18 weeks. After 28 weeks of pregnancy, you should feel at least six movements in a two-hour period. “At this stage, however, moms don’t always notice their baby moving because they’re still fairly active,” says Nathalie Bisson, a midwife at the CSSS Jeanne-Mance. If you’re worried because it seems like you can’t feel your baby moving after 28 weeks, lie on your left side for two hours and drink some water from time to time. You should feel your baby move at least six times. As soon as this happens, you can get up (no need to wait the whole two hours). If your baby moves less than six times in two hours, call Info-Santé (811) or your doctor, nurse, or midwife.
Does pregnancy always cause nausea? Not necessarily. “I would say that about half of my patients suffer from nausea,” says Dr. Nathaël Leduc Arbour. In addition, the intensity of symptoms varies from person to person, and even from pregnancy to pregnancy. “I had almost no nausea during my first pregnancy,” says Véronique, mother of 20-month-old Éloi and currently expecting another child. “But at the beginning of my second pregnancy, I couldn’t even open the fridge without feeling sick! I didn’t eat a full meal for weeks. I just grazed on lettuce, bananas, cereal, and nutritional pregnancy drinks.” Fortunately, nausea starts to subside after week 14 and usually stops around week 20. Note: Your pharmacist may be able to prescribe an anti-nausea and vomiting medication for pregnant women without you having to wait for your next medical appointment.
The OLO program is for low-income pregnant women. During their pregnancy, participants receive personalized nutrition coaching along with eggs, milk, frozen vegetables, and prenatal multivitamins. This allows them to meet a significant portion of their daily needs for protein, calcium, and vitamins C and D so they can give birth to a healthy baby with a good birth weight. Emmanuelle Touchette, mother of 1-year-old twins, participated in this program with other expectant moms. “Every Thursday, the nurses would weigh us and take our blood pressure. Then, they would talk to us about different things like childbirth, breastfeeding, and colic,” she says. “I loved the sessions because I learned so much from them. They made me feel prepared for the birth of my twins.”
16. The role of non-birthing parents
Even though non-birthing parents (often the baby’s father) do not experience the physical changes of pregnancy, this is still a very important time for them. They often have the same fears and concerns as the mother, for instance, about the birth and their new role as a parent. The non-birthing parent can still be involved in a variety of ways during the pregnancy, for example by supporting their partner, talking with her about her concerns, going to medical appointments, and participating in prenatal classes. Stroking the mother’s belly, talking to the baby, and getting the baby’s room ready are also ways non-birthing parents can begin bonding with their child. “They offer a comforting presence,” says psychologist Karine Lapointe. In addition, having an involved partner reduces the mother’s stress and decreases the risk of complications during the delivery. Recent studies even show that the non-birthing parent’s lifestyle habits can impact their child’s health. So, they should also eat well and avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
17. Where to go when you have questions
“When will my baby start kicking?” “Can I drink coffee while I’m pregnant?” “Can I drive during my last trimester?” It’s normal to have questions like these. Finding the answers will help you enjoy your pregnancy and avoid unnecessary stress. Write down your questions and bring them up with your doctor, midwife, or nurse at your next appointment. Prenatal classes, books about pregnancy, and pregnancy reference websites are also good resources. “We went to prenatal classes, and I read parts of the book my partner used as a reference,” says Daniel, father of 20-month-old Eloi. “But Véronique did most of the reading. Before every doctor’s visit, she would make a list of questions.”
There are many resources available to help you have a better pregnancy.
INSPQ. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two, INSPQ, 2022.
Fortier, Marie. Mes cours prénataux : tout sur la grossesse, l’accouchement et le retour à la maison, Caractère, 2014, 304 pp.
Brabant, Isabelle. Une naissance heureuse : bien vivre sa grossesse et son accouchement. Montreal, Fides, 2013. 584 pp.
Tobacco, alcohol, and drugs
Twins and triplets
Association de parents de jumeaux et de triplés de la région de Montréal
apjtm.com (French only)
19. Stress and pregnancy
Did you know that high stress levels during pregnancy can affect your baby years later? Recent studies show that a child whose mother experienced significant stress when she was pregnant may, for example, be at greater risk for attention and behavioural problems. That’s why it’s important to find ways to reduce your stress during pregnancy. Making a list of your priorities, learning to say no, giving yourself time to relax, exercising, eating well, and getting enough sleep (if possible!) can help you keep your stress levels under control.
20. Working while pregnant
Most jobs are safe for pregnant women. However, the employer may have to adapt the employee’s position, assign them other tasks, or provide preventive leave. This is the case, for example, if the work is physically demanding or requires the employee to stay on their feet for a long time. The same is true for positions that involve working with young children or sick people, handling toxic materials, or exposure to heat and noise. If a woman thinks her job poses a risk to her pregnancy, “she should go to her doctor and fill out the Safe Maternity Experience Program application,” says Dr. Nathaël Leduc Arbour. “The CNESST will decide whether she is eligible.”
21. Every pregnancy is different
Remember, every pregnancy is unique—as is every child and every parent-child relationship. There’s no right way to experience motherhood or fatherhood. Weight gain, for example, can be different from one woman to another or even from one pregnancy to another. Some pregnant women have glowing skin while others get acne. The body responds to pregnancy hormones differently with each pregnancy. For example, women often start “showing” earlier in their second pregnancy compared to their first. It’s also not uncommon to feel the baby moving earlier than in your first pregnancy. Every pregnancy is its own adventure!
22. Talking to your baby
There’s nothing weird about talking to your baby during pregnancy! Between the 20th and 24th weeks of pregnancy, babies start to hear sounds from outside their mom’s belly. Your baby is also more sensitive to low-pitched sounds, such as a man’s voice. “We’re pregnant again, and I know our unborn baby can hear my voice already,” says Jocelyn, father of 20-month-old Félix. “At night, I put my head near my partner’s belly so I can talk to them and say goodnight. It’s my way of communicating with them and creating a bond.”
23. Online resources
Need more information about pregnancy? Head to the internet! For example, you could subscribe to the personalized Naître et grandir newsletter, which gives you helpful information tailored to your pregnancy stage and/or the age of your child (up to age 5). “I’ve been a subscriber since the beginning of my first pregnancy,” says Véronique, who is expecting her second child. “It lets me know which of my baby’s organs are starting to develop in real time, plus it offers ideas for age-appropriate activities I can do with my 1½ year old son.”
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Our website also has the following resources:
24. How your baby’s sex is determined
Right from conception, the embryo carries the two chromosomes that will determine the sex of your baby. If the embryo has XX chromosomes, you’re having a girl. If it has XY chromosomes, you’re having a boy. These chromosomes don’t start to activate and define your baby’s sex until the 8th week of pregnancy. At the end of the 12th week, the reproductive system and genitalia of the fetus are now fully developed. Are you having a boy or a girl? Some couples prefer to keep it a surprise, while others want to find out at their ultrasound appointment. On average, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls.
“My sister had a lot of nightmares when she was pregnant. I don’t, but ever since the sixth month of my pregnancy, I’ve been waking up around 5 a.m. and then can’t get back to sleep,” says Véronique, who is expecting her second child. Like Véronique and her sister, many women experience poor sleep during pregnancy, especially in the first and last trimesters. At the beginning of pregnancy, hormones increase feelings of fatigue. Then, as the baby grows, discomfort may disrupt sleep: frequent urination (the baby weighs on the bladder), back pain and leg cramps, etc. By the end of their pregnancy, most women wake up an average of three times a night.
The physical and hormonal changes brought on by pregnancy and the prospect of becoming a parent cause expecting couples to experience a range of emotions.
Pregnancy is a good time to start building a relationship with your unborn child.
It’s normal to feel scared and have a lot of questions.
Your doctor, midwife, or nurse, along with prenatal classes, books, and pregnancy reference websites, are good sources of information.
Updated: June 2022
Source: Naître et grandir magazine, October 2015
Research and copywriting: Kenza Bennis
Scientific review: Roxanne Piché, nurse clinician, CHU Sainte-Justine
Photos: GettyImages/mihailomilovanovic, Maxim Morin, iStock/GlobalStock and selvanegra, GettyImages/Rawpixel, iStock/Wisky, GettyImages/Marija Jovovic and Eva-Katalin, iStock/wjenningsphotography and NicolasMcComber