Pregnancy is the carrying of one or more offspring, known as a fetus or embryo, inside the womb of a female. In a pregnancy, there can be multiple gestations, as in the case of twins or triplets. Childbirth usually occurs about 38 weeks after conception; i.e., approximately 40 weeks from the last normal menstrual period (LNMP). The World Health Organization defines normal term for delivery as between 37 weeks and 42 weeks.
The beginning of pregnancy may be detected in a number of different ways, either by a pregnant woman without medical testing, or by using medical tests with or without the assistance of a medical professional.
Most pregnant women experience a number of symptoms, which can signify pregnancy. The symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, excessive tiredness and fatigue, craving for certain foods not normally considered a favorite, and frequent urination particularly during the night.
A number of early medical signs are associated with pregnancy. These signs typically appear, if at all, within the first few weeks after conception. Although not all of these signs are universally present, nor are all of them diagnostic by themselves, taken together they make a presumptive diagnosis of pregnancy. These signs include the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in the blood and urine, missed menstrual period, implantation bleeding that occurs at implantation of the embryo in the uterus during the third or fourth week after last menstrual period, increased basal body temperature sustained for over 2 weeks after ovulation, Chadwick's sign (darkening of the cervix, vagina, and vulva), Goodell's sign (softening of the vaginal portion of the cervix), Hegar's sign (softening of the uterus isthmus), and pigmentation of linea alba – Linea nigra, (darkening of the skin in a midline of the abdomen, caused by hyperpigmentation resulting from hormonal changes, usually appearing around the middle of pregnancy).
Pregnancy detection can be accomplished using one or more various pregnancy tests, which detect hormones generated by the newly formed placenta. Clinical blood and urine tests can detect pregnancy 12 days after implantation. Blood pregnancy tests are more accurate than urine tests. Home pregnancy tests are urine tests, and normally cannot detect a pregnancy until at least 12 to 15 days after fertilization. A quantitative blood test can determine approximately the date the embryo was conceived.
In the post-implantation phase, the blastocyst secretes a hormone named human chorionic gonadotropin, which in turn stimulates the corpus luteum in the woman's ovary to continue producing progesterone. This acts to maintain the lining of the uterus so that the embryo will continue to be nourished. The glands in the lining of the uterus will swell in response to the blastocyst, and capillaries will be stimulated to grow in that region. This allows the blastocyst to receive vital nutrients from the woman.
Despite all the signs, some women may not realize they are pregnant until they are quite far along in their pregnancy. In some cases, a few woman have not been aware of their pregnancy until they begin labour. This can be caused by many factors, including irregular periods (quite common in teenagers), certain medications (not related to conceiving children), and obese women who disregard their weight gain. Others may be in denial of their situation.
An early sonograph can determine the age of the pregnancy fairly accurately. In practice, doctors typically express the age of a pregnancy (i.e., an "age" for an embryo) in terms of "menstrual date" based on the first day of a woman's last menstrual period, as the woman reports it. Unless a woman's recent sexual activity has been limited, she has been charting her cycles, or the conception is the result of some types of fertility treatment (such as IUI or IVF), the exact date of fertilization is unknown. Without symptoms such as morning sickness, often the only visible sign of a pregnancy is an interruption of the woman's normal monthly menstruation cycle, (i.e., a "late period"). Hence, the "menstrual date" is simply a common educated estimate for the age of a fetus, which is an average of 2 weeks later than the first day of the woman's last menstrual period. The term "conception date" may sometimes be used when that date is more certain, though even medical professionals can be imprecise with their use of the two distinct terms. The due date can be calculated by using Naegele's rule. The expected date of delivery may also be calculated from sonogram measurement of the fetus. This method is slightly more accurate than methods based on LMP.
Diagnostic criteria are: Women who have menstrual cycles and are sexually active, a period delayed by a few days or weeks is suggestive of pregnancy; elevated B-hcG to around 100,000 mIU/mL by 10 weeks of gestation.