Normal Pregnancy in a Female
William Carey University
Dr. Robin C. Dennis
The pathology of pregnancy is a long, complex process that involves the fertilization of an ovum and its growth into a fetus. Pregnancy introduces a variety of hormonal changes to the human body, so it is important to understand how this process and these physiological changes affect women and the developing fetus. A typical pregnancy lasts about nine months, and it is important that pregnant women understand pregnancy and what goes on during each phase of the process. In addition, the female body and the developing embryo are susceptible to a range of health issues, so a number of complications can occur between conception and birth. By equipping patients with accurate information and helping them understand the process of pregnancy, as well as potential risks and complications, nurses can help patients become more aware of their body, the one developing in them, and the decisions that they make leading up to childbirth. Background
A large number of the risks and complications associated with pregnancy are greatest from seventeen to fifty six days after conception, “before [the] first obstetric visit, and before many women know they are pregnant” (‘Preconception’, 2009). As a result, issues that can be minimized or prevented often become larger problems in the later stages of pregnancy. For this reason, it is suggested that couples use a form of contraception to plan ahead and prevent unexpected pregnancy. This planning “facilitate[s] [the] desired timing of pregnancy” and helps couples consider other factors such as “maternal age and interpregnancy interval,” which are both important for determining the risks and complications that may occur during pregnancy (‘Preconception’, 2009). In addition, tracking menstrual cycles also helps couples more accurately determine the date of conception and “encourages prenatal care” (‘Preconception’, 2009). It should be noted, however, that no studies have proven preconception care to reduce and/or prevent complications that may occur later in a later phase of pregnancy. Planning pregnancy and accurately tracking the date of conception, though, makes patients more likely to receive early prenatal care, which can help reduce some of the stress and anxiety that women experience while pregnant (‘Preconception’, 2009) Physiological Changes in a Normal Pregnancy
As mentioned previously, pregnancy brings the onset of several major physiological changes in the female body. Women experience several symptoms or “presumptive signs” that may be indicators of pregnancy (Jarvis, 2012, p. 824). Several of these presumptive signs include “amenorrhea, breast tenderness, nausea, fatigue, and increased urinary frequency” (Jarvis, 2012, p. 824). In addition to presumptive signs, women also experience “positive signs of pregnancy” (Jarvis, 2012, p. 824), which are direct causes of pregnancy and more accurate indicators. These changes usually take place in major organ systems. According to Luks (2011) the major organ systems affected are as follows: 1. Cardiovascular, 2. Respiratory, 3. Gastrointestinal, 4. Renal, 5. Hematologic (p. 93). Each of these organ systems experience major changes as a result of pregnancy. For instance, there is "[around a] 40% increase in cardiac output and circulating blood volume [in pregnant women]” (Luks, 2011, p. 90). This takes place during the first trimester, but it continues throughout pregnancy and spikes during the third trimester. This change in the cardiovascular system is normal and is handled well by most women; however, it can cause problems in women with cardiovascular issues, such as “valvular lesions … [and] pulmonary hypertension” (Luks, 2011, p. 90). Much like the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system experiences “minute ventilation increases[,] … [which eventually] reach levels [of] 30%-50%...
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Luks, A. M. (2011). Pregnancy and Critical Care Medicine Part 1: Normal Physiologic Changes in Pregnancy. Critical Care Alert, 18(12), 89-93.
Preconception Counseling. [serial online]. (2009).; Available from: Dynamed, Ipswich, MA. Accessed December 8, 2013.
Tan, T. (2008). “Is My Baby Normal.” The New Art and Science of Pregnancy and Childbirth : What You Want to Know From Your Obstetrician. Hackensack, N.J.: World Scientific. 39-44.
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