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Pregnancy

Getting pregnant (conception) happens when a man’s sperm fertilises a woman’s egg.

If you have had sex without using contraception, you could be at risk of pregnancy. The 'withdrawal method', where a man takes his penis out before he ejaculates, is not a reliable form of contraception as there may be pre-ejaculate on his penis.

How pregnancy happens

  • During sex, sperm released from the penis swim into the vagina, through the cervix, into the womb and then into the fallopian tubes looking for an egg to fertilise
  • If there is an egg in the tube, hundreds of sperm will try to reach it
  • One sperm may attach itself on the egg wall and slowly penetrate its way into the centre of the egg. This can take about three hours
  • Once the sperm is in, the wall hardens to stop other sperm getting in as well
  • The fertilised egg will then move down the fallopian tube into the womb
  • After about 10 days the fertilised egg begins to attach itself to the thick womb lining and the pregnancy has begun
  • The embryo will then develop into a baby in the womb

Signs of pregnancy

The signs you are pregnant can include:

  • Feeling tired
  • Swollen or tender breasts
  • Missing a period
  • A shorter, lighter period than usual
  • Appetite changes and going off some foods
  • Nausea or vomiting (known as ‘morning sickness’ but it can happen at any time of day)
  • Feeling bloated
  • Period-like cramps
  • Frequent urinating
  • Mood changes

If you think you are pregnant, don’t panic. Home pregnancy tests are available from pharmacies and cost up to £13. They are very accurate. You can also get a free pregnancy test at many family planning clinics, GPs or young person’s clinics.

If the results are positive, try talking to your partner, your family or guardian and your GP about your next steps.

Whatever you decide, you will need support so talk to the people close to you.

Stages of pregnancy (or trimesters)

A normal pregnancy usually lasts from 37-42 weeks (nine months) and is measured from the first day of the last period.

First trimester

  • At six weeks, all the major organs are forming and the heart begins to beat. The embryo is just over 1cm long
  • At 12 weeks, the embryo has become a fetus and has arms, legs, fingers, toes and a face. It will be about 76mm long

Second trimester

  • By 20 weeks, the bones are hard and the mother may feel kicks or even hiccups
  • The foetus can also hear sounds like voices
  • By 24 weeks, the eyes are open. A baby born at this stage could survive but it may need help from doctors and could suffer major health problems

Third trimester

  • The foetus continues growing and putting on weight. The lungs will still be developing
  • At 36 weeks, the baby will usually settle into a head-down position, ready to be born

When is a woman fertile?

  • To get pregnant, a woman needs to have sex around the time she ovulates (when her body releases an egg into the fallopian tube). This usually lasts 8-9 days
  • A woman usually ovulates 12-16 days before the start of her next period

Contraception

To avoid pregnancy, contraception must be used to stop sperm meeting an egg. This can be a barrier method such as a condom that stops the sperm entering the woman’s body, or a method that stops an egg being produced, such as the contraceptive pill. See Contraception section.

Abortion

  • An abortion is when a pregnancy is ended (terminated) by removing the fertilised egg or embryo from the womb either by taking pills or by surgery
  • Abortions are legal up to 24 weeks in Wales, England and Scotland, but not in Northern Ireland
  • Abortions must be performed in an NHS hospital or an approved clinic
  • They are a safe medical procedure and do not affect your ability to have children in the future. However many women experience feelings of guilt, stress, depression and a sense of loss afterwards
  • Abortions are an emotive subject with many opinions for and against. It is important that you make your own decision after you have all the facts. It is your body so you decide
  • Before making any decision, talk to your GP to get all the information you need

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