During the second trimester of pregnancy it is normal to see your doctor or midwife about every 4 weeks, which means you will probably have an appointment between week 16 and week 18. It is at this stage of pregnancy that you will also be offered your anatomy ultrasound (also called the anomaly scan), although some doctors prefer to wait until closer to 20 weeks. During the anomaly scan your doctor may be able to tell you whether you are expecting a girl or a boy; however, bear in mind that not all babies cooperate during the ultrasound, so getting a definite answer is still not guaranteed. If you would rather keep the gender a surprise let the radiographer know beforehand so they know not to tell you. Some women like to find out the gender as early as possible so they can start preparing the nursery and considering names.
You may be starting to experience a dull pain in your back by week 18 of pregnancy. This can range from a mild discomfort to an intense pain that makes moving difficult. Whilst uncomfortable and inconvenient, this is rarely a sign of anything being seriously wrong; however, if it becomes excruciating or persists for a prolonged period you should seek medical advice. The likelihood is that the plethora of changes occurring during pregnancy are responsible for these aches and pains and it is thought that up to 80% of pregnant women will experience some form of backache.
So, why is back pain so common? For a start, by week 18 your uterus is the size of a decent-sized water balloon, and this added weight is all resting on your lower, front abdomen. This has not only changed your center of gravity, meaning you may lose your balance more easily, but is also putting additional strain on the muscles and ligaments of your lower back. Additionally, your body is now producing significant amounts of a pregnancy hormone called relaxin. As the name suggests, this hormone is responsible for loosening your joints and ligaments. This does allow your body to safely carry your growing baby, particularly as he or she gets larger and heavier over the coming months; however, in the short term it can exacerbate any back pain you may already have.
If you are struggling with a bad back, there are steps you can take to ease the discomfort. Consider scheduling a pregnancy massage, or ask your husband to step in as an amateur masseuse. It also helps to get plenty of exercise, avoid excessive weight gain and wear a supportive tummy band. If your job involves being on your feet for prolonged periods, make sure you take breaks and sit down regularly. Some over-the-counter painkillers can be taken in moderation whilst pregnant, but discuss this with your doctor first so they can advise you on the safest option.
As a final note, now that your baby is growing more rapidly, it is especially important to continue with your prenatal vitamins. One of the most valuable vitamins is iron, which mothers-to-be need, both to maintain their own red blood cell count, as well as providing their developing baby with an adequate supply. If you start experiencing unusual symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, and certain cravings, it may be indicative of an iron deficiency. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider, who will be able to check your iron levels and prescribe a supplement if necessary.
Your baby’s foetal age is now 16 weeks. He or she is approximately 12.5 to 14cm long and weighs between 140 and 200g. There is variation baby to baby, but at this stage most babies are about the size of a turnip.
On the topic of size, over the last few weeks, your baby will have been going through a rapid growth spurt, increasing in size by about 50% each week. This will continue for a while, but the rate will begin to slow as the weeks go on.
By week 18, your baby is looking very human. The ears have moved into their final positions, fingernails have formed, and the eyes are in the right location. Internally, the reproductive organs have developed to the point that they are probably visible on an ultrasound scan. For girls, the fallopian tubes and uterus have already formed, and for boys, the penis is clearly formed and identifiable. Although, be warned, male babies are quite adept at hiding their ‘boy bits’ during an ultrasound!
Your baby’s nervous system is also developing well now. The myelin sheaths that form over nerve cells and are crucial in transmitting signals between cells, are starting to develop. This rapid nerve growth coincides with more extensive brain development, as the nervous system begins to send increasingly detailed information to the brain, allowing your baby to recognise and process more stimuli. This is a very early way in which your baby’s unique personality starts to develop.
A final interesting observation, your baby is learning how to yawn. You might even be able to see them trying out their new found skill during your ultrasound.
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