“Is our baby developing normally?”, “Who will our baby look like?”, “How will our older child react?” Here are 25 facts about pregnancy to help guide you through this period.
By Kenza Bennis
1. Folic acid
This vitamin contributes to the development of your growing baby’s cells, blood, brain and nervous system. A folic acid deficiency could stunt growth or cause a birth defect such as spina bifida. “We therefore recommend that women start taking folic acid supplements three months before they expect to become pregnant,” says Dr. Nathaël Leduc Arbour, family physician and head of the birthing unit at the CSSS des Sommets. “We then recommend they continue with prenatal multivitamins containing folic acid during the pregnancy.” Iron, calcium and vitamin D are also important for both the expecting mom and her baby.
Generally speaking, pregnancy is a happy time, but some women do experience feelings of depression. It’s important to pay attention to how much space these feelings take up. “During pregnancy, women may feel hyper-sensitive because of all the hormonal changes,” explains psychologist Karine Lapointe. “They react more strongly to all kinds of things, are much more sensitive and doubt themselves much more easily.” These feelings are all normal, but you should watch out for telltale signs of something more serious. “If mom-to-be is feeling very sad, cries often, has lost her appetite or is no longer showing interest in friends, family or hobbies, she should talk to her doctor. She could be suffering from depression,” warns the psychologist. About 10% of pregnant women experience moderate or severe depression during pregnancy. Fathers are also at risk for depression during this period. They may be worried and stressed. It is therefore important to nurture good communication within the couple during this period and to seek help when needed.
3. Cigarettes, alcohol and drugs
Women are advised to stop smoking during pregnancy as it affects the baby’s normal development and increases the risk of miscarriage and premature delivery. Second-hand smoke is also a hazard since it’s even more toxic than the smoke that smokers inhale. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is also to be avoided. Current scientific findings are not conclusive about how much alcohol can be consumed without risk to the baby, which is why doctors recommend that pregnant women refrain from drinking alcohol altogether. Once consumed, alcohol passes directly from the mother’s bloodstream into the baby’s bloodstream through the placenta and may cause birth defects (heart, kidneys, eyes, etc.) and cognitive impairment. Pregnant women should also stay away from drugs as these substances also pass through the placenta and can affect foetal development.
4. Foetal development
From the day of conception up until delivery, babies develop non-stop in their mother’s womb. They start off as an egg the size of a pinhead, turn into an embryo that then transforms into a foetus. As the weeks go by, their organs develop, nails grow and blood forms. Did you know that babies start to suck their thumbs after 14 weeks of pregnancy? After 21 weeks, they start to play with their feet and hands. At 26 weeks, facial features become more defined and, at 37 weeks, all their organs are functional. At this stage, babies are considered to be at full term and ready to be born. All that’s left is to wait!
5. Medical exams
The first visit with your health professional usually takes place before the 12th week of pregnancy. The doctor, midwife or nurse will conduct a complete physical exam (heart rate, weight, height, gynaecological exam, etc.). If there are no health issues and the pregnancy is progressing normally, doctor appointments are then scheduled every four to six weeks. At week 31, the appointments are set for every two or three weeks, and then starting at week 37, they turn to every week. “There’s also an ultrasound scheduled towards the 20th week to make sure the baby is healthy, and there are some prenatal screening tests recommended such as the test for Down syndrome, the gestational diabetes test and the group B strep test,” says Dr. Nathaël Leduc Arbour.
6. Brothers and sisters
Are you expecting your second child? Ideally, you should talk to your older child a few months before the birth of his sibling. “One good way to prepare older children for the arrival of a little brother or sister is by using books already written on the subject as a lead-in,” suggests psychologist Karine Lapointe. “Also, you can answer your older child’s questions at his own pace, to give him the time he needs to get used to the idea.” Small acts such as placing his hand on your tummy so he can feel the baby, asking him to help you choose clothes for the newborn or even suggesting that he put some stuffed animals in the cradle, can also make the situation more real for your older child.
What will your baby look like? Will he have daddy’s eyes or mommy’s? “We were very surprised when our son was born,” admits Étienne, father to 6-year-old Siméon, 3-year-old Margot, and 8-month-old Jeanne. “He was blond with blue eyes, whereas my wife has brown hair and brown eyes, and I have brown hair and hazel eyes. Siméon actually gets his blue eyes from his grandparents.” Physical characteristics like eye and hair colour, height, facial features and so on are passed on from parents to their children through genes. Half of a child’s genetic make-up (23 chromosomes out of 46) comes from the father, and the other half from the mother. Nature takes care of the rest, mixing up the genes and distributing characteristics from the parents to the child at random!
During pregnancy, several different hormones prepare the woman’s body for the baby’s arrival. Each hormone works hard to accomplish its purpose.
- BHCG (or hCG): this is the hormone tested in pregnancy tests. It is secreted as soon as the fertilized egg implants in the uterus. In the first few weeks, it ensures the embryo’s survival. Its presence is what causes the nausea that many women experience.
- Progesterone and estrogen prepare the uterus to host the baby. The same hormones are responsible for fatigue and for the changes in your breasts.
Oxytocin is produced in large quantities during the delivery. It’s what provokes uterine contractions. Its production also helps to strengthen the mother/child bond.
It’s possible and even advisable to exercise during pregnancy, but some activities should be avoided. This is the case for sports that could cause falls or injuries to the stomach like tennis, soccer, combat sports, downhill skiing and hockey, as well as activities that involve changes of altitude or pressure, like scuba diving. “I always liked to keep active during my pregnancies,” says Catherine, mother of three. “I would bike ride, snowshoe and hike. I did go downhill skiing once, but I didn’t enjoy it because I was afraid of falling.” Some foods are also to be avoided during pregnancy to prevent illnesses such as listeriosis. These mostly include raw or insufficiently cooked meats, fish and seafood, raw eggs and unpasteurized cheese.
10. Twins and multiple pregnancies
In 2014, there were 2,631 multiple births (twins, triplets, etc.) in Quebec, representing 3% of all births. A woman will have a higher chance of having fraternal twins, i.e. babies that develop from two different eggs, if there are already fraternal twins in her family. However, identical twins, i.e. babies that develop from the same egg, are the luck of the draw. Heredity does not play a part. Multiple pregnancies are considered high-risk pregnancies. “They are at greater risk for complications and premature births,” explains Dr. Nathaël Leduc Arbour.
11. Kegel exercises
Here are some simple exercises pregnant women can do any time they think of it! They involve tightening the pelvic floor muscles, which requires an action similar to holding in the need to urinate, and then releasing. You can ask your health-care professional to check if you are doing them correctly. “Doing Kegel exercises will help during delivery, as they help reduce the risk of tearing and prepare the muscles used to push out the baby,” explains Nathalie Bisson, midwife at the CSSS Jeanne-Mance. By strengthening the muscles that support the bladder, you will also help avoid small leaks of urine when coughing, laughing or lifting heavy objects. These exercises also tone the vaginal muscles and make it easier to reinitiate sexual intercourse. “I recommend doing the exercises several times a day, even after pregnancy. The only thing to avoid is doing the exercises while urinating, since this could increase the risk of infection,” adds the midwife.
As their tummies start protruding, moms slowly begin to feel love spring for this tiny being growing in their bodies. “The bond usually becomes more tangible during the second trimester of the pregnancy when moms start to feel their baby move,” says psychologist Karine Lapointe. “Even if dads don’t physically feel their baby’s presence, they connect with them as well, but a little later on,” she explains. “This feeling usually comes towards the end of the second trimester or beginning of the third, around the time they see their baby at the ultrasound.” After the delivery, spending time with and caring for the baby also help to strengthen the parent/child attachment.
13. Baby’s movements
Babies start to move from the 8th week of pregnancy on, but women only begin to feel the movement between week 15 and week 23. After week 30, women can expect to feel their babies move at least 10 times a day. “At this stage, moms don’t necessarily always feel their baby move because they’re in action during the day,” specifies midwife Nathalie Bisson. “However, if you’re worried because you think your baby is no longer moving, drink a sweet fruit juice and lie down on your left side for two hours. You should feel your baby move at least six times. If that isn’t the case, call Info-Santé (811), the hospital or your midwife.”
Does pregnancy mean nausea? Not necessarily. “I would say half my patients suffer from nausea,” says Dr. Nathaël Leduc Arbour. And those who do don’t always suffer from it with the same intensity. It also varies from one pregnancy to the next. “I hardly felt sick at all during my first pregnancy,” says Véronique, mother to 20-month-old Éloi, and expecting mom once again. “But at the start of my second pregnancy, I couldn’t open the fridge without feeling nauseous! I didn’t eat a proper meal for weeks. I would munch on salad, bananas, cereal and energy drinks for pregnant women.” Fortunately, the nausea usually becomes less intense around week 14 and generally disappears around week 20.
OLO (an acronym taken from the French to mean eggs, milk and oranges) is the name of a program set up for pregnant women living in low-income situations. The women participating in the program receive an egg, a litre of milk, a glass of orange juice and multivitamins every day from their l ocal CSSS. This allows them to meet a significant portion of their daily requirements in protein, calcium and vitamins C and D to help ensure they deliver a healthy baby with a healthier weight. Emmanuelle Touchette, who has 1-year-old twin girls, was one of the moms who benefited from the program. “Every Thursday, the nurses would weigh us and take our blood pressure. Then they’d talk to us about different subjects like the delivery, breastfeeding, and colicky babies,” she says. “I loved these sessions because I learned so many things and I felt ready for the arrival of my twins. They would also give us coupons for free orange juice, eggs and milk from the grocery store. That encouraged me to eat well.”
Even if the expecting dad is not experiencing any physical changes, pregnancy is an important period for him as well. He often has the same fears and worries as the expecting mom with regard to the delivery and his new role as a parent. Fathers can get involved in different ways throughout the pregnancy. For example, they can support their partners by talking to them about their concerns, accompanying them to medical appointments and coming to prenatal classes. Caressing mom-to-be’s tummy, talking to the baby and preparing baby’s room are also ways for dad to start establishing a bond with his unborn child. The father’s involvement is also good for the expecting mom. “His presence is reassuring,” says psychologist Karine Lapointe. What’s more, it reduces the mother’s stress and the risk of complications during delivery. Recent studies even show that expecting dads’ life habits can also impact their children’s health. So, just like moms, dads should eat well and avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
“When will my baby start to move?”, “Can I drink coffee?”, “Can I still drive towards the end of my pregnancy?” It’s normal to ask yourself all kinds of questions. Finding the answers will help you have a more positive experience of pregnancy and reduce the stress related to all these changes. A good idea is to note your questions down and ask your doctor, midwife or a nurse at your next appointment. Prenatal classes, books and reference sites that talk about pregnancy are also good tools. “We went to prenatal classes and I read a little from the book my girlfriend was reading,” says Daniel, father to 20-month-old Éloi. “But Véronique would read a lot more, and before each visit to the doctor she would prepare a list of questions to ask.”
There are many resources available to support and guide you through your pregnancy to help make it a positive experience.
Tobacco, drugs and alcohol
Twins and triplets
Association de parents de jumeaux et de triplés de la région de Montréal
Someone to talk to
Did you know that too much stress during pregnancy could have repercussions for your baby years later? Recent studies show that a child whose mother experienced major stress during pregnancy could, for example, be more at risk for attention deficit and behavioural disorders. This is why it’s important to find ways to reduce your stress levels during pregnancy. Prioritizing, learning to say no, setting aside time to relax, exercising, as well as eating well and getting enough sleep (if possible!) could all help in better controlling your stress.
Generally speaking, most jobs are safe for pregnant women. However, employers may be required to adapt the position to the pregnant employee, assign her other tasks or offer preventive leave. This is the case when, for example, the work is physically demanding or requires long periods of standing. The same applies if the job involves working with young children or sick people, if there are toxic materials to handle, or if tasks must be performed in a hot and noisy environment. If a woman believes her working conditions represent a risk for her pregnancy, “she must see her doctor and ask the doctor to fill out the form for the CSST’s ‘Safe working conditions for a safe maternity experience’ program,” says Dr. Nathaël Leduc Arbour. “The CSST will then decide if she is eligible.”
Each pregnancy is unique – just as each child, each parent/child relationship and each person’s approach to parenthood is unique. Weight gain, for example, can differ from one woman to the next, and even from one pregnancy to the next. Some pregnant women have fabulous skin and others have acne. The body adapts differently each time. It never reacts the same way to the hormones. A second pregnancy often makes the tummy protrude faster than the first. On the other hand, it’s not rare in your second pregnancy to start feeling your baby’s movements much sooner than with your first. Each pregnancy is an adventure of its own!
22. Hearing voices
No, it’s not crazy to talk to your baby during the pregnancy! Between weeks 20 and 24, babies can start to hear sounds coming from outside the womb. Your baby is in fact more sensitive to deeper sounds like daddy’s voice. “My partner is pregnant again and I know that the baby can hear my voice,” says Jocelyn, father to 20-month-old Félix. “At night, I bend over my girlfriend’s tummy and talk to the baby to say good night. It’s my way of communicating and bonding with my baby.”
Do you want to know more about your pregnancy? Make the most of the Internet! For example, you can sign up for a personalized newsletter from Naître et grandir that sends you information every week related to your stage of pregnancy or to your child up to 5 years old. “I’ve been signed up since the start of my first pregnancy,” says Véronique, who is now expecting her second child. “For the baby on the way, it tells me which organs are forming and when. For my 18-month-old son, it gives me ideas on age-appropriate activities I can do with him.” On our website you will also find an entire section with our Features in English.
To sign up for our newsletter (in French)
Features section (in English)
Our website also offers:
A due date calculator (in French)
Images of foetal development (in French)
An entire section on pregnancy (in French)
A birthing plan to download (in French)
24. X and Y chromosomes
Upon conception, the embryo already has the two chromosomes that will determine the sex. If the embryo has two X chromosomes, it will be a girl. If it has the X and Y pair of chromosomes, it will be a boy. However, it’s only at the 8th week of pregnancy that these chromosomes enter into action to actually define the sex. At the end of week 12, the foetus’ reproductive system and genital organs are completely formed. So, is it a girl or a boy? Some couples prefer to keep it a surprise while others ask to know at the ultrasound. On average there are 105 boys born for every 100 girls.
“My sister used to have a lot of nightmares when she was pregnant. Not me. But since the 6th month of my pregnancy, I’ve been waking up at five in the morning and can’t fall back asleep,” says Véronique, who is pregnant with her second child. Like Véronique, many women sleep poorly during pregnancy, especially during the first and last trimesters. At the beginning, the production of hormones makes women feel more tired. Then, as the baby grows, sleep can become uncomfortable or disturbed due to the frequent need to pee (the baby pushing on your bladder), back pains or leg cramps. Towards the end of the pregnancy, most women wake up an average of three times per night.
Physical changes due to the pregnancy, the effects of hormones and the new baby’s arrival all cause couples to experience a wide range of emotions.
Pregnancy is a good time to start building a relationship with your unborn child.
It’s normal to have fears and a lot of questions.
Doctors, midwives, nurses, prenatal classes, books and reference sites that talk about pregnancy are all good sources of information.
Source: Naître et grandir magazine, October 2015
Research and copywriting: Kenza Bennis
Scientific review: Marie Fortier, nurse and prenatal class instructor
Photos : GettyImages/mihailomilovanovic, Maxim Morin, iStock/GlobalStock et selvanegra, GettyImages/Rawpixel, iStock/Wisky, GettyImages/Marija Jovovic et Eva-Katalin, iStock/wjenningsphotography et NicolasMcComber