An embryo is the developing offspring during the first 8 weeks following conception, and subsequently the term fetus is used until birth.* In many societies' medical or legal definitions, human pregnancy is somewhat arbitrarily divided into three trimester periods, as a means to simplify reference to the different stages of prenatal development. The first trimester carries the highest risk of miscarriage (natural death of embryo or fetus). During the second trimester, the development of the fetus can be more easily monitored and diagnosed. The beginning of the third trimester often approximates the point of Point of fetal viability|viability, or the ability of the fetus to survive, with or without medical help, outside of the uterus.*In the United States and United Kingdom, 40% of pregnancies are Unintended pregnancy|unplanned, and between a quarter and half of those unplanned pregnancies were unwanted pregnancies.* Of those unintended pregnancies that occurred in the US, 60% of the women used birth control to some extent during the month pregnancy occurred.*
TerminologyOne scientific term for the state of pregnancy is gravidity (adjective "gravid"), Latin for "heavy" and a pregnant female is sometimes referred to as a Gravidity|gravida.* Similarly, the term Parity (medicine)|parity (abbreviated as "para") is used for the number of times a female has given birth, counting twins and other multiple births as one pregnancy, and usually including stillbirths. Medically, a woman who has never been pregnant is referred to as a nulligravida, a woman who is (or has been only) pregnant for the first time as a primigravida,* and a woman in subsequent pregnancies as a multigravida or multiparous.* Hence, during a second pregnancy a woman would be described as gravida 2, para 1 and upon live delivery as gravida 2, para 2. An in-progress pregnancy, as well as abortions, miscarriages, or stillbirths account for parity values being less than the gravida number. In the case of twins, triplets etc., gravida number and parity value are increased by one only. Women who have never carried a pregnancy achieving more than 20 weeks of gestation age are referred to as nulliparous.*
InitiationAlthough pregnancy begins with Implantation (human embryo)|implantation, the process leading to pregnancy occurs earlier as the result of the female gamete, or oocyte, merging with the male gamete, spermatozoon. In medicine, this process is referred to as fertilization; in lay terms, it is more commonly known as "conception." After the point of fertilization, the fused product of the female and male gamete is referred to as a zygote or fertilized egg. The fusion of male and female gametes usually occurs following the act of sexual intercourse, resulting in spontaneous pregnancy. However, the advent of assisted reproductive technology such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilisation have made achieving pregnancy possible without engaging in sexual intercourse. This approach may be undertaken as a voluntary choice or due to infertility.
The process of fertilization occurs in several steps, and the interruption of any of them can lead to failure. Through fertilization, the Egg (biology)|egg is activated to begin its developmental process, and the haploid Cell nucleus|nuclei of the two gametes come together to form the genome of a new diploid organism.
At the beginning of the process, the sperm undergoes a series of changes, as freshly ejaculated sperm is unable or poorly able to fertilize.* The sperm must undergo capacitation in the female's reproductive tract over several hours, which increases its motility and destabilizes its membrane, preparing it for the acrosome reaction, the enzymatic penetration of the egg's tough membrane, the zona pellucida, which surrounds the oocyte. The sperm and the egg cell, which has been released from one of the female's two ovaries, unite in one of the two fallopian tubes. The fertilized egg, known as a zygote, then moves toward the uterus, a journey that can take up to a week to complete. Cell division begins approximately 24 to 36 hours after the male and female cells unite. Cell division continues at a rapid rate and the cells then develop into what is known as a blastocyst. The blastocyst is made up of three layers: the ectoderm (which will become the skin and nervous system), the endoderm (which will become the digestive and respiratory systems), and the mesoderm (which will become the muscle and skeletal systems). Finally, the blastocyst arrives at the uterus and attaches to the uterine wall, a process known as implantation (human embryo)|implantation.
The mass of cells, now known as an embryo, begins the embryonic stage, which continues until cell differentiation is almost complete at eight weeks. Structures important to the support of the embryo develop, including the placenta and umbilical cord. During this time, cells begin to differentiate into the various body systems. The basic outlines of the organ, body, and nervous systems are established. By the end of the embryonic stage, the beginnings of features such as fingers, eyes, mouth, and ears become visible.
Once cell differentiation is mostly complete, the embryo enters the final stage and becomes known as a fetus. The early body systems and structures that were established in the embryonic stage continue to develop. Sex organs begin to appear during the third month of gestation. The fetus continues to grow in both weight and length, although the majority of the physical growth occurs in the last weeks of pregnancy.
DurationHealthcare professionals name three different dates as the start of pregnancy:
Since these are spread over a significant period of time, the duration of pregnancy necessarily depends on the date selected as the starting point chosen.
As measured on a reference group of women with a menstrual cycle of exactly 28-days prior to pregnancy, and who had spontaneous onset of labor, the mean pregnancy length has been estimated to be 283.4 days of gestational age as timed from the first day of the last menstrual period as recalled by the mother, and 280.6 days when the gestational age was retrospectively estimated by obstetric ultrasound measurement of the fetal biparietal diameter (BPD) in the second trimester.* Other algorithms take into account a variety of other variables, such as whether this is the first or subsequent child (i.e., pregnant woman is a primipara or a multipara, respectively), the mother's race, parental age, length of menstrual cycle, and menstrual regularity), but these are rarely used by healthcare professionals. In order to have a standard reference point, the normal pregnancy duration is generally assumed to be 280 days (or 40 weeks) of gestational age.
There is a standard deviation of 8–9 days surrounding due dates calculated with even the most accurate methods. This means that fewer than 5 percent of births occur on the day of being 40 weeks of gestational age; 50 percent of births are within a week of this duration, and about 80 percent are within 2 weeks.*
However, new research published in 2013 in the journal Human Reproduction suggests that the natural length of pregnancies can vary by as much as 37 days. By analyzing women's urine for the presence of three hormones associated with the onset of pregnancy, the researchers say that they were able to pinpoint the precise point at which a woman ovulates and a fertilized embryo implants in the womb. They followed 125 pregnancies and found that the average time from ovulation to birth was 268 days (38 weeks and two days). The authors of the research say it's too early to make any clinical recommendations, but did conclude they "think the best that can be said is that natural variability may be greater than we have previously thought, and if that is true, clinicians may want to keep that in mind when trying to decide whether to intervene in a pregnancy."*The most common system used among healthcare professionals is Naegele's rule, which was developed in the early 19th century. This calculates the expected due date from the first day of the last normal menstrual period (LMP or LNMP) regardless of factors known to make this inaccurate, such as a shorter or longer menstrual cycle length. Pregnancy most commonly lasts for 40 weeks according to this LNMP-based method, assuming that the woman has a predictable menstrual cycle length of close to 28 days and conceives on the 14th day of that cycle.
Accurate dating of pregnancy is important, because it is used in calculating the results of various Prenatal diagnosis|prenatal tests, (for example, in the triple test). A decision may be made to Induction (birth)|induce labour if a fetus is perceived to be overdue. Furthermore, if LMP and ultrasound dating predict different respective due dates, with the latter being later, this might signify slowed fetal growth and therefore require closer review.
The stage of pregnancy defined as the beginning of legal fetal viability varies around the world. It sometimes incorporates weight as well as gestational age.* It ranges from 16 weeks in Norway, to 20 weeks in the US and Australia, 24 weeks in the UK and 26 weeks in Italy and Spain.*
Preterm, term and posttermPregnancy is considered "at term" when gestation has lasted 37 complete weeks (occurring at the transition from the 37th to the 38th week of gestation), but is less than 42 weeks of gestational age (occurring at the transition from the 42nd week to the 43rd week of gestation, or between 259 and 294 days since LMP). "Full term" refers to the gestation having lasted 40 weeks from the first day of the mother's last menstrual cycle|menstrual period. This is the end of gestation on average. Alternatively expressed, this corresponds to a gestational age of 40 weeks and 0 days, or 280 days, or approximately 9 months, and occurs at the transition from the 40th to the 41st week of gestation. On average, it corresponds to an embryonic age of 38 weeks or 266 days.
Events before completion of 37 weeks (259 days) are considered Premature birth|preterm; from week 42 (294 days) events are considered Postmature birth|postterm.* When a pregnancy exceeds 42 weeks (294 days), the risk of complications for both the woman and the fetus increases significantly.* Therefore, in an otherwise uncomplicated pregnancy, obstetricians usually prefer to induce labour at some stage between 41 and 42 weeks.*Birth before 39 weeks by C section, even if considered "at term", results in an increases risk of complications and premature death, when not medically needed.* This is from factors including underdeveloped lungs, infection due to underdeveloped immune system, problems feeding due to underdeveloped brain, and jaundice from underdeveloped liver. Some hospitals in the United States have noted a significant increase in neonatal intensive care unit patients when women schedule deliveries for convenience and are taking steps to reduce induction for non-medical reasons.* Complications from Caesarean section are more common than for live births.
Recent medical literature prefers the terminology preterm and postterm to premature and postmature. Preterm and postterm are unambiguously defined as above, whereas premature and postmature have historical meaning and relate more to the infant's size and state of development rather than to the stage of pregnancy.*
ChildbirthChildbirth is the process whereby an infant is born.
A woman is considered to be in labour when she begins experiencing regular uterine contractions, accompanied by changes of her cervix – primarily effacement and dilation. While childbirth is widely experienced as painful, some women do report painless labours, while others find that concentrating on the birth helps to quicken labour and lessen the sensations. Most births are successful vaginal births, but sometimes complications arise and a woman may undergo a cesarean section.
During the time immediately after birth, both the mother and the baby are hormonally cued to bond, the mother through the release of oxytocin, a hormone also released during breastfeeding. Studies show that skin-to-skin contact between a mother and her newborn immediately after birth is beneficial for both the mother and baby. A review done by the World Health Organization found that skin-to-skin contact between mothers and babies after birth reduces crying, improves mother-infant interaction, and helps mothers to breastfeed successfully. They recommend that neonates be allowed to bond with the mother during their first two hours after birth, the period that they tend to be more alert than in the following hours of early life.*
Postnatal periodThe postnatal period begins immediately after the birth of a child and then extends for about six weeks. During this period, the mother's body begins the return to prepregnancy conditions that includes changes in hormone levels and uterus size.
DiagnosisThe beginning of pregnancy may be detected either based on symptoms by the pregnant woman herself, or by using medical tests with or without the assistance of a medical professional. Approximately 1 in 475 women at 20 weeks, and 1 in 2500 women at delivery, refuse to acknowledge that they are pregnant, which is called denial of pregnancy.* Some non-pregnant women have a very strong belief that they are pregnant along with some of the physical changes., and in natural medicine as the lightening because of the release of pressure on the upper abdomen and renewed ease in breathing. However, it severely reduces bladder capacity, increases pressure on the pelvic floor and the rectum, and the mother may experience the perpetual sensation that the fetus will "fall out" at any moment.* It is also during the third trimester that maternal activity and sleep positions may affect fetal development due to restricted blood flow. For instance, the enlarged uterus may impede blood flow by compressing the lower pressured vena cava, with the left lateral laying positions appearing to providing better oxygenation to the infant.*It is during this time that a baby born Premature birth|prematurely may survive. The use of modern medical intensive care technology has greatly increased the probability of premature babies surviving, and has pushed back the boundary of viability to much earlier dates than would be possible without assistance.* In spite of these developments, premature birth remains a major threat to the fetus, and may result in ill health in later life, even if the baby survives.
Prenatal developmentPrenatal development is divided into two primary biological stages. The first is the embryo|embryonic stage, which lasts for about two months. At this point, the fetus|fetal stage begins. At the beginning of the fetal stage, the risk of miscarriage decreases sharply,* • Lennart Nilsson, A Child Is Born (book)|A Child is Born 91 (1990): at eight weeks, "the danger of a miscarriage … diminishes sharply."
• "*Women's Health Information*", Hearthstone Communications Limited: "The risk of miscarriage decreases dramatically after the 8th week as the weeks go by." Retrieved 2007-04-22. and all major structures including the head, brain, hands, feet, and other organs are present, and they continue to grow and develop. When the fetal stage commences, a fetus is typically about 30 mm (1.2 inches) in length, and the heart can be seen beating via ultrasound; the fetus can be seen making various involuntary motions at this stage.Electrical brain activity is first detected between the 5th and 6th week of gestation, though this is still considered primitive neural activity rather than the beginning of conscious thought, something that develops much later in fetation. Synapses begin forming at 17 weeks, and at about week 28 begin to multiply at a rapid pace which continues until 3 to 4 months after birth.
Physiological changesDuring pregnancy, the woman undergoes many physiology|physiological changes, which are entirely normal, including cardiovascular, hematology|hematologic, metabolism|metabolic, renal and respiration (physiology)|respiratory changes that become very important in the event of complications. The body must change its physiological and homeostatic mechanisms in pregnancy to ensure the fetus is provided for. Increases in blood sugar, breathing and cardiac output are all required. Levels of progesterone and oestrogens rise continually throughout pregnancy, suppressing the hypothalamic axis and subsequently the menstrual cycle.
The fetus inside a pregnant woman may be viewed as an unusually successful allograft, since it genetically differs from the woman. The main reason for this success is an increased Immune tolerance in pregnancy|maternal immune tolerance during pregnancy. However, this increased immune tolerance in pregnancy can also cause an increased susceptibility to and severity of some infectious diseases.
ManagementPrenatal medical care is the medical and nursing care recommended for women Pre-conception counseling|before and prenatal care|during pregnancy. The aim of good prenatal care is to identify any potential problems early, to prevent them if possible (through recommendations on adequate nutrition, exercise, vitamin intake etc.), and to manage problems, possibly by directing the woman to appropriate specialists, hospitals, etc. if necessary.
NutritionA balanced, nutritious diet is an important aspect of a healthy pregnancy. Eating a healthy diet, balancing carbohydrates, fat, and proteins, and eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, usually ensures good nutrition. Those whose diets are affected by healthissues, religious requirements, or ethical beliefs may choose to consult a health professional for specific advice.
Adequate periconceptional folic acid (also called folate or Vitamin B9) intake has been shown to decrease the risk of fetal neural tube defects such as spina bifida, a serious birth defect. The neural tube develops during the first 28 days of pregnancy, explaining the necessity to guarantee adequate periconceptional folate intake. Folate (from folia, leaf) is abundant in spinach (fresh, frozen, or canned), and is found in green vegetables|green leafy vegetables e.g. salads, beets, broccoli, asparagus, citrus fruits and melons, chickpeas (i.e. in the form of hummus or falafel), and Egg (food)|eggs. In the United States and Canada, most wheat products (flour, noodles) are fortified with folic acid.Docosahexaenoic acid|DHA omega-3 is a major structural fatty acid in the brain and retina, and is naturally found in breast milk. It is important for the woman to consume adequate amounts of DHA during pregnancy and while nursing to support her well-being and the health of her infant. Developing infants cannot produce DHA efficiently, and must receive this vital nutrient from the woman through the placenta during pregnancy and in breast milk after birth.Several micronutrients are important for the health of the developing fetus, especially in areas of the world where insufficient nutrition is prevalent. In developed areas, such as Western Europe and the United States, certain nutrients such as Vitamin D and calcium, required for bone development, may require supplementation.Dangerous bacteria or parasites may contaminate foods, including Listeria and Toxoplasma gondii. Careful washing of fruits and raw vegetables may remove these pathogens, as may thoroughly cooking leftovers, meat, or processed meat. Soft cheeses may contain Listeria; if milk is raw, the risk may increase. Cat feces pose a particular risk of toxoplasmosis. Pregnant women are also more prone to Salmonella infections from eggs and poultry, which should be thoroughly cooked. Practicing good hygiene in the kitchen can reduce these risks.
Weight gainThe amount of healthy weight gain during a pregnancy varies. Weight gain is only partly related to the weight of the baby and growing placenta, and includes extra fluid for circulation, and the weight needed to provide nutrition for the growing fetus. Most needed weight gain occurs later in pregnancy.
The Institute of Medicine recommends an overall pregnancy weight gain for those of normal weight (body mass index of 18.5–24.9), of 11.3–15.9 kg (25–35 pounds) having a singleton pregnancy. Women who are underweight (BMI of less than 18.5), should gain between 12.7–18 kg (28–40 lbs), while those who are overweight (BMI of 25–29.9) are advised to gain between 6.8–11.3 kg (15–25 lbs) and those who are obese (BMI>30) should gain between 5–9 kg (11–20 lbs).During pregnancy, insufficient or excessive weight gain can compromise the health of the mother and fetus. The most effective interventions for weight gain in underweight women is not clear. Being or becoming very overweight in pregnancy increases the risk of complications for mother and fetus, including cesarean section, gestational hypertension, pre-eclampsia, macrosomia and shoulder dystocia. It can make losing weight after the pregnancy difficult.
Around 50% of women of childbearing age in developed countries like the United Kingdom are overweight or obese before pregnancy. A systematic review found that diet is the most effective way to reduce weight gain and associated risks in pregnancy. The review did not find evidence of harm associated with diet control and exercise.
Medication useDrugs used during pregnancy can have temporary or permanent effects on the fetus. Therefore many physicians would prefer not to prescribe for pregnant women, the major concern being over teratogenicity of the drugs.
Drugs have been classified into categories A,B,C,D and X based on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rating system to provide therapeutic guidance based on potential benefits and fetal risks. Drugs, including some multivitamins, that have demonstrated no fetal risks after controlled studies in humans are classified as Category A. On the other hand drugs like thalidomide with proven fetal risks that outweigh all benefits are classified as Category X.
Exposure to toxinsVarious toxins pose a significant hazard to fetuses during development. A 2011 study found that virtually all U.S. pregnant women carry multiple chemicals, including some banned since the 1970s, in their bodies. Researchers detected polychlorinated biphenyls, organochlorine pesticides, perfluorinated compounds, phenols, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, perchlorate PBDEs, compounds used as flame retardants, and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), a pesticide banned in the United States in 1972, in the bodies of 99 to 100 percent of the pregnant women they tested. Bisphenol A (BPA) was identified in 96 percent of the women surveyed. Several of the chemicals were at the same concentrations that have been associated with negative effects in children from other studies and it is thought that exposure to multiple chemicals can have a greater impact than exposure to only one substance.
Sexual activityMost women can continue to engage in sexual activity throughout pregnancy.*Sex during pregnancy: What's OK, what's not - MayoClinic.com* Most research suggests that during pregnancy both sexual desire and frequency of sexual relations decrease. In context of this overall decrease in desire, some studies indicate a second-trimester increase, preceding a decrease during the third trimester. Some individuals are sexually attracted to pregnant women (pregnancy fetishism, also known as maiesiophilia).
Sex during pregnancy is a low-risk behavior except when the healthcare provider advises that sexual intercourse be avoided for particular medical reasons. Otherwise, for a healthy pregnant woman who is not ill or weak, there is no safe or right way to have sex during pregnancy: it is enough to apply the common sense rule that both partners avoid putting pressure on the uterus, or a partner's full weight on a pregnant belly.
ExerciseRegular aerobic exercise during pregnancy appears to improve (or maintain) physical fitness; however, the quality of the research is poor and the data was insufficient to infer important risks or benefits for the mother or infant.The Clinical Practice Obstetrics Committee of Canada recommends that "All women without contraindications should be encouraged to participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises as part of a healthy lifestyle during their pregnancy". Although an upper level of safe exercise intensity has not been established, women who were regular exercisers before pregnancy and who have uncomplicated, healthy pregnancies should be able to engage in high intensity exercise programs, such as jogging and aerobics for less than 45 minutes, with no adverse effects if they are mindful of the possibility that they may need to increase their energy intake and are careful to not become overheated. In the absence of either medical or obstetric complications, they advise an accumulation of 30 minutes a day of exercise on most if not all days of the week. In general, participation in a wide range of recreational activities appears to be safe, with the avoidance of those with a high risk of falling such as horseback riding or sking or those that carry a risk of abdominal trauma, such as soccer or hockey.The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that in the past, the main concerns of exercise in pregnancy were focused on the fetus and any potential maternal benefit was thought to be offset by potential risks to the fetus. However, they write that more recent information suggests that in the uncomplicated pregnancy, fetal injuries are highly unlikely. They do, however, list several circumstances when a woman should contact her health care provider before continuing with an exercise program. Contraindications include: Vaginal bleeding, dyspnea before exertion, dizziness, headache, chest pain, muscle weakness, preterm labor, decreased fetal movement, amniotic fluid leakage, and calf pain or swelling (to rule out thrombophlebitis).
SymptomsEven uncomplicated pregnancies commonly cause a variety of symptoms that can cause minor, major or even quite severe discomfort. Relieving these symptoms is an important part of management of pregnancy.
GastrointestinalConstipation is believed to be caused by decreased bowel mobility secondary to elevated progesterone (normal in pregnancy), which can lead to greater absorption of water, but it can also be caused or worsened by iron supplementation. Constipation can decrease as pregnancy progresses, with a rate as high as 39% at 14 weeks of gestation reducing to 20% at 36 weeks in one study at a time when iron supplementation was common. Dietary modification with more fiber or fiber supplementation is the usual management for constipation in pregnancy.
Hemorrhoids|Haemorrhoids (piles) are swollen veins at or inside the anal area, resulting from impaired venous return, straining associated with constipation, or increased intra-abdominal pressure in later pregnancy.They are more common in pregnant than non-pregnant women. Most pregnant women in countries where the diet is not heavily fiber-based may develop hemorrhoids, although they will usually be asymptomatic. Hemorrhoids can cause bleeding, itching, soiling or pain, and they can become strangulated. Symptoms may resolve spontaneously after pregnancy, although hemorrhoids are also common in the days after childbirth. Conservative treatments for hemorrhoids in pregnancy include dietary modification, local treatments, bowel stimulants or antidepressants, or phlebotonics (to strengthen capillaries and improve microcirculation). Treatment with oral hydroxyethylrutosides may help improve first and second degree hemorrhoids, but more information on safety in pregnancy is needed. Other treatments and approaches have not been evaluated in pregnant women.
SkinStriae gravidarum (pregnancy-related stretch marks) occur in 50% to 90% of women, and are caused both by the skin stretching and by the effects of hormonal changes on fibers in the skin. They are more common in younger women, women with skin of color, women having larger babies and women who are more overweight, and they sometimes run in families. Stretch marks generally begin as red or purple stripes (striae rubra), fading to pale or flesh-color (striae alba) after pregnancy that will generally be permanent. They appear most commonly on the abdomen, breasts, buttocks, thighs, and arms, and may cause itching and discomfort. Although several kinds of multi-component creams are marketed and used, along with vitamin E cream, cocoa butter, almond oil and olive oil, none have been shown to prevent or reduce stretch marks in pregnancy. The safety for use in pregnancy of one herbal ingredient used in some products, Centella asiatica, has been questioned. Some treatments used to reduce scarring, such as topical tretinoin lasers, are sometimes used on stretch marks, but evidence on them is limited. Topical tretinoin has been shown to cause malformations in animals, without adequate human studies on safety in human pregnancies.
MusculoskeletalBack pain#Pregnancy|Back pain and pelvic pain are common, can be very debilitating and can worsen in later pregnancy. Estimates of prevalence ranging from 35% to 61% have been reported, with half or more beginning from the fifth month. It is believed to be caused by changing posture and can be worse in the evening. Trials have shown benefit from exercising in water, massage therapy, and back care classes. Support from pillows while sleeping might be able to help. Back care classes for pregnancy include a variety of *exercises and guidance*. General exercise that is not tailored to strengthen the back may not prevent or reduce back pain, but more research is needed to be sure. Maternity support belts have not been shown to reduce low back pain in pregnancy. They may have some adverse effects, including pain and skin irritation for the mother, and potential effects on the fetus.
Leg cramps (spasms in the calves) can be very painful, and possibly affect almost half of all pregnant women. Leg cramps usually occur at night, lasting from seconds to minutes. Although a variety of interventions such as compression stockings, salt, calcium and magnesium are sometimes used, it is not known whether any are both effective at reducing leg cramps and safe for the fetus.
ComplicationsEach year, according to the WHO, ill-health as a result of pregnancy is experienced (sometimes permanently) by more than 20 million women around the world. Furthermore, the "lives of eight million women are threatened, and more than 500,000 women are estimated to have died in 1995 as a result of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth."The following are some of the complaints that may occur during and/or after pregnancy due to the many changes which pregnancy causes in a woman's body:
Concomitant diseasesIn addition to complications of pregnancy that can arise, a pregnant woman may have concomitant diseases in pregnancy|concomitant diseases, that is, other diseases or conditions (not directly caused by the pregnancy) that may become worse or be a potential risk to the pregnancy.
EpidemiologyThe incidence of pregnancy among the female population, as well as the ages at which it occurs, differ significantly by country and region, and are often influenced by a multitude of factors, such as cultural, social and religious norms; access to contraception; and the prevalence of (higher) education. The total fertility rate (TFR) in 2013 was estimated to be highest in Niger (7.03 children born per woman) and lowest in Singapore (0.79 children/woman).https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2127rank.htmlIn Europe, the average childbearing age has been rising continuously for some time. In Western, Northern, and Southern Europe, first-time mothers are on average 26 to 29 years old, up from 23 to 25 years at the start of the 1970s. In a number of European countries (Spain), the mean age of women at first childbirth has now even crossed the 30-year threshold.
This process is not restricted to Europe. Asia, Japan and the United States are all seeing average age at first birth on the rise, and increasingly the process is spreading to countries in the developing world like China, Turkey and Iran. In the U.S., the age of first childbirth was 25.4 in 2010.http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_01.pdf
Society and cultureIn most cultures, pregnant women have a special status in society and receive particularly gentle care. At the same time, they are subject to expectations that may exert great psychological pressure, such as having to produce a son and heir. In many traditional societies, pregnancy must be preceded by marriage, on pain of ostracism of mother and Legitimacy (law)|(illegitimate) child.
Depictions of pregnant women can serve as mystically connotated symbols of fertility. The so-called Venus of Willendorf with its exaggerated female sexual characteristics (huge breasts and belly, prominent mons pubis) has been interpreted as indicative of a rite|fertility cult in paleolithic Europe.
Overall, pregnancy is accompanied by numerous customs that are often subject to ethnological research, often rooted in traditional medicine or religion. The baby shower is an example of a modern custom.
Pregnancy is an important topic in sociology of the family. The prospective child is preliminarily placed into numerous social roles such as prospective heir or welfare recipient. (This may accelerate weddings.) The parents' relationship and the relation between parents and their surroundings are also affected.
ArtsDue to the important role of the Mother of God in Christianity, the Western visual arts have a long tradition of depictions of pregnancy.
Pregnancy, and especially pregnancy of unmarried women, is also an important motif in literature. Notable examples include Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Goethe's Faust: The First Part of the Tragedy|Faust.