Pregnancy normally lasts about 40 weeks from conception to delivery of the baby. During this time, a single fertilized cell develops into a fully grown fetus that is able to survive outside the uterus. For the fetus to develop, it must be protected in the uterus and nourished by the mother. Although this process usually progresses smoothly, sometimes problems may develop.
Problems during pregnancy may affect the mother, the fetus, or both. Many of the most common disorders are mild and short-lived, but others may be severe or even life-threatening to the mother or the fetus.
The first article in this section deals with common complaints that occur at some time during most pregnancies. These complaints are usually minor and can often be relieved by simple self-help measures. High-risk pregnancies and pre-existing conditions that should be taken into consideration when planning a pregnancy are discussed next. The remaining articles in this section cover various problems that may occur at different stages of pregnancy.
In developed countries, pregnancy is no longer a major health risk for most women. In some cases, problems in pregnancy can be averted by good antenatal care and a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy. Pregnant women can stay healthy by eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly (see Exercise and relaxation in pregnancy).
For more information on the development of a normal pregnancy, see Pregnancy and Childbirth.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.