Welcome to Week 24! You have now been pregnant for about six months, and a lot has happened inside your uterus. Your baby now has fully grown eyelashes and eyebrows; and a full head of wispy, white hair.
You probably don’t need us to tell you this, but your uterus is growing rapidly now. At 24 weeks, it has migrated so the top is well above your belly button, causing your belly button to push outwards. A typical uterus at this stage is about the size of a football.
Most of your pregnancy symptoms will be fairly constant by now, with no major surprises over the next few weeks. However, it is not uncommon for mothers-to-be to start worrying as their pregnancy goes on. The list of worries that could be making your mind race at all times of the day and night include, when and where you will go into labour, whether your baby will be healthy, and whether you will have everything ready in time. First time mums often worry about how their lives will change; women going through their second, or later, pregnancy worry about how the new arrival will fit into the existing family dynamics. Money may be a concern for some women, and others may be feeling nervous after hearing the birth stories of their friends, families and colleagues.
It is natural to have some anxiety, after all, this is a major life event; but for some mothers-to-be, normal day-to-day anxiety can escalate into clinical anxiety and/or depression. In fact, it is estimated that up to 20% of pregnant women experience some type of depression, ranging from mild episodes to more serious conditions. The risk of depression amongst pregnant women is greater in those who have previously been diagnosed with depression. Symptoms of depression often overlap with normal symptoms of pregnancy but can include:
- A feeling of sadness that is overwhelming and lasts for days at a time.
- Serious sleep disturbances, including an inability to fall asleep or excessive sleeping during the day.
- Loss of interest in food.
- Increased desire to cause self-injuries. Perhaps a reliance on drugs and alcohol.
- Suicidal thoughts.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, you should seek help from a trained professional immediately. Fortunately, depression and anxiety can be treated during pregnancy, usually via a combination of therapy and medication. If you were on antidepressants before becoming pregnant, you shouldn’t stop taking them just because you’re pregnant, as many are perfectly safe in pregnancy. Other non-drug treatments have also been shown to help, including a healthy diet, massage, and exercise.
The most important thing of all if you are feeling overwhelmed and depressed, is to share your anxieties and fears with your partner and other close family members and, if your feelings intensify, seek medical advice.
Guess what? By 24 weeks, your baby’s facial features are virtually fully formed. Everything is in the right place and at the right proportions. Your baby’s eyes are still fused shut, but a good ultrasound image, will give a very real representation of what your baby will look when you finally hold them in your arms.
Despite this, your baby is still much smaller and leaner than a full-term baby. At 24 weeks, your baby’s foetal age is 22 weeks. He or she is likely between 20 and 28cm in length and weighs about 570g. Whilst most of the major development is done, your baby’s lungs are not yet ready for action. They are developing the bronchial branches, which provide passages for air, as well as the slippery substance called surfactant that will lubricate the lungs after birth. At Week 24, it is very, very early and far from ideal, but it is possible for babies to survive a premature delivery. One of the biggest medical problems they would face would be their underdeveloped lungs.
For most babies, though, these weeks are all about increasing their body fat. Your baby is gaining as much as 85 – 115g a week now. As your baby grows and his or her organ systems mature, the nature of amniotic fluid in your uterus is also changing. Early on, amniotic fluid resembles blood in its composition, minus the red blood cells. As the pregnancy goes on, and your baby swallows and excretes amniotic fluid, the fluid that surrounds your baby begins to include waste products including dead skin cells, lanugo, and vernix caseosa that has shed from your baby’s skin.
“Whilst it is true that babies this far along can possibly survive with the appropriate intensive care, many babies born at this age have permanent health issues.”
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