Pregnancy: Symptoms, Test, Types, Stages,  Complications, Care And More



By: Adebowale Bello (Freelance Health Writer and DLHA Volunteer)

With Editorial contribution by The DLHA Team




Sadia is a 24-year-old recent graduate of Business Administration in a local university in North eastern Nigeria. She owns a hair dressing salon. She is seated with her mom, Aisha, as they discuss how her day went and the sales she made. Minutes into their discussion, she gets up hurriedly losing her pair of slippers as she runs in to the toilet to throw up.

Her eagle eyed mother worried for her daughter's safety, follows along with a hint of suspicion, sympathizing with Sadia while looking at her with a new expression on her face.

Could what she's thinking be true? Is Sadia pregnant???


Pregnancy is the life giving process. It is important to the survival as of the human species. A recent report indicates that there were an estimated 134 million births world-wide in 2021 alone; 34% of which occurred in Africa.

Image showing number of births by world regions


In this article, we will be discussing about pregnancy and what you need to know about it.



What is pregnancy?

Pregnancy or gestation is the growth or development of an offspring within a mother’s womb over a particular time frame or "gestation period".

Composite image of black pregnant woman and depiction of baby in womb.

Figure 1: Photo of black pregnant woman. Figure 2: Illustration of black baby growing in the womb of a black mother. Credit: Chidiebere Sunday Ibe.


This occurs when an egg {ova} in the female is fertilized by the sperm from the male which come together to form a baby {zygote}.

For humans, the gestation period is 40 weeks beginning from the first day of your last menstrual period and interestingly, a pregnancy can involve multiple offspring in the woman's womb.



Stages of Pregnancy


Pregnancy is divided into three trimesters of 3 months each with distinct features which we'll be looking at.

Trimester 1:

Here, your body begins to experience hormonal changes and is characterized by early pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness and fatigue.

In this trimester, the foetus’s vital organs begin to take shape, the nerves and muscles are functional as the baby increases in size.

Trimester 2:

At this period, your body has adapted to the hormonal changes and some symptoms might lessen with a different set of changes, notable of which is the growth of your abdomen due to growth of your child.

The foetus undergoes muscle, tissue and skin formation and becomes more active in movement.

Your baby can hear, make sucking motions with the mouth and can even scratch itself with its newly developed finger and toenails.

Taste buds and fingerprints also form alongside your baby's hair.

Trimester 3:

Your baby is about 6 months now and has gotten bigger. This growth puts more pressure on your body organs which could make you experience things such as tender breasts and shortness of breath.

Your baby's bones are fully formed and all vital organs are ready for use.

Your baby gets bigger and there's less space to move around as your baby gets ready to be brought into the world.


We've seen what pregnancy is and some brief information on the three trimesters. Let's now look at how to confirm early pregnancy and the different types of pregnancies there are.



How to confirm pregnancy

If you suspect that you may be pregnant because you have missed your period and or have had unprotected sex within the last 21 days or you have some of the early symptoms of pregnancy discussed below, then you should consider getting a pregnancy test done.


How and when can you do a pregnancy test?

A pregnancy test can be conducted on a sample of urine collected at any time of the day. It doesn't have to be in the morning. It can be performed from the first day of a missed period, or if you don't know when your next period is due, then do the test at least 21 days after you last had unprotected sex.


Where you can get a pregnancy test?

You can buy pregnancy testing kits from any dispensary, pharmacy store or chemist, or from a supermarket. They can give a quick result and you can do the test in private. Be aware that their reliability may vary depending on the brand.

You may also be able to get a pregnancy test at cost from your family doctor or free of charge from some family planning clinics.


How does a pregnancy test work?

All pregnancy tests detect the hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), which starts to be produced around 6 days after fertilisation.

Most pregnancy tests come in a box that contains 1 or 2 long sticks. You pee on the stick and the result appears on the stick after a few minutes. All tests are slightly different, so always check the instructions.


Pregnancy test results

Home pregnancy tests are reasonably accurate, but you need to follow the instructions correctly.

A positive test result will almost certainly be correct. However, a negative test result is less reliable. Test reliability may vary with the brand of the test kit.

The result may not be reliable if you:

  • do not follow the instructions properly;
  • take the test too early.

Some medicines can also affect the test results.

If you get a negative result and still think you're pregnant, wait a few days and repeat the test.

Speak to your family doctor, pharmacist or nurse if you get a negative result after a second test but your period has not arrived.



Types of pregnancy

There are 9 different types of pregnancy and we'll take a brief look at them.


1. Intrauterine pregnancy: This is the normal pregnancy which you are familiar with where the foetus grows inside the womb or uterus.


2. Intra-abdominal pregnancy: This is common after you have had a previous caesarean section, the scar from it may tear and the developing foetus could slip into the abdominal cavity. The survival of the foetus depends on the gestational age before it slipped into the abdomen.


3. Singlet pregnancy: Like the name implies, one egg meets with one sperm to create one baby.


4. Multiple pregnancy: Multiple eggs being fertilized by either one or two sperm which could lead to identical or fraternal twins, triplets, quadruplets and so on.


5. Ectopic pregnancy: This occurs when the foetus is not implanted in the womb and grows elsewhere probably at the mouth of the uterus or the fallopian tube. It leads to a miscarriage.

Drawing showing sites and frequencies of ectopic pregnancies.


6. Tubal pregnancy: is a type of ectopic pregnancy where the foetus grows in the fallopian tube which wasn't meant for growth. It also leads to a miscarriage and if not done naturally, the baby should be terminated.


7. High risk pregnancy: Certain factors such as some health conditions like diabetes and advancing age can make bearing a baby high risk for you as chances of complications increase.


8. Molar pregnancy: Two placenta develop in the womb which contains only one foetus. As this is not ideal, the foetus usually doesn't survive.


9. Lupus pregnancy: Women who live with the auto immune disease Lupus erythematosus are at high risk as the disease involves blood clotting.


Sometimes you are not sure if you're pregnant or not.

So what symptoms should you look out for to know if you're truly pregnant?



Symptoms of pregnancy

If you're eagerly wanting to start a family of your own, exhibiting pregnancy symptoms brings joy to you. On the other hand, if you are not looking to have a baby, the same symptoms could throw you into worries and anxiety.


The most common symptom associated with pregnancy is:

  • Missed period. You know how regular your period is and suddenly it isn't.


Some other notable symptoms of pregnancy include:

  • Strange cravings. You might have come across men relating their funny experiences dealing with weird cravings from their wives and this is an obvious sign of pregnancy.

As a woman, you could dislike certain foods which you used to like or could have a preference for some weird foods.


  • Tiredness. The hormonal change your body experiences leads to extra body fatigue which make you exhausted.


  • Morning sickness. Recall that in the introduction to this article we saw Sadia running to relieve herself of sickness. Morning sickness is a notable symptom of pregnancy. It involves frequent feelings of wanting to throw up (nausea) and or actually throwing up (vomiting). You may also salivate a lot more.

You may or may not feel sick while pregnant and though it's called morning sickness, it really can occur at any time of the day and usually starts when you are about 4-6 weeks pregnant already.


  • Tender breasts. You would notice your breasts being more sensitive and swollen due to the changes your body is experiencing. After a while, the soreness could disappear.


  • Weight gain. Now you're eating for two (you and your baby) so in the first trimester, you're likely to gain more weight as your baby develops.


  • Mood swings. Just as with other symptoms, this is due to hormonal changes as well.

The increase in progesterone and oestrogen levels could lead to things such as easy irritability and depression.



What are the common complaints during pregnancy?

Pregnancy comes with its own challenges and could be uncomfortable for women to cope with.

Let's have a look at some of the common complaints that you might have while pregnant.

1. Swollen joints.

While pregnant, you might notice that your ankles and wrists swell slightly and your footwear gets tighter which leaves you wondering if this isn't the footwear you've been using.

Your joints swell because your body retains more water while pregnant.

You can take measures such as wearing comfortable shoes and ensuring you're not standing for a long period of time.


2. Runny nose

 Most women are scared of their nose getting bigger while pregnant and apart from being bigger, it drips constantly.

This occurs primarily in the first trimester of pregnancy and could last for at least six weeks

Thankfully, it doesn't affect a sizable amount of pregnant women.


3. Skin changes

Your skin undergoes several changes as it adapts to the hormonal changes.

These changes are perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.

What are some of them?

  • Varicose veins {swollen veins}
  • Darker nipples.
  • A dark line from your navel to your private part.
  • Stretch marks around your abdomen as your stomach grows to accommodate your child.



What are the common complications of pregnancy?

Earlier we saw the different types of pregnancies which you can have and due to those varieties it is possible that a pregnancy could come with complications.

These complications could endanger the mother, the baby or both of them

Major complications that a pregnant woman may have during pregnancy can be grouped into pregnancy related or non-pregnancy related; and early or late. The table below shows a list of non-exhaustive major pregnancy complications by the groupings mentioned above.

Table listing common complications of pregnancy.

Table listing some common complications of pregnancy.


A few of the common complications of pregnancy are discussed briefly below.

1. Diabetes: Diabetes is a disease that leads to a high amount of sugar level in the blood and there are several types.

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Diabetes insipidus
  • Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy when your body is unable to make sufficient insulin to manage your blood sugar. This leads to a build-up of blood sugar {glucose} and if not managed could rise to dangerously high levels.

The high sugar levels increase your chances of needing to deliver through a caesarean section while also affecting the baby in several ways such as the baby being overweight and having breathing difficulties.


2. Obesity: In a research conducted in 2016 by the World Health Organization, it was estimated that 40% of women were overweight which results in a rise in obesity related pregnancy complications such as Pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and sleep apnea

The baby could also be overweight and could be born with birth defects and that's if it doesn't lead to a stillbirth.

If you're overweight, before getting pregnant, make efforts to lose some weight by increasing your physical activity and eating healthy food.


3. Urinary Tract Infections {UTI}: Even without being pregnant, women are always at risk of a UTI that can affect any part of the urinary system.

Researchers have discovered that urinary tract infections are more common in pregnant women likely due to the high level of progesterone in the body system and more pressure on the bladder as the uterus expands.

If you notice that you urinate frequently or see blood in your urine while experiencing abdominal and lower back pain, kindly visit your doctor.


4. Anaemia: This is a medical condition where the red blood cells count is lower than normal.  This results in reduced body oxygen supply and could lead to fatigue and dizziness as symptoms.

Anaemia is caused mainly by consumption of iron deficient diets and pregnant women can correct this by taking iron rich foods  like nuts and dried fruits and supplements



Pregnancy care

Now that you know about the types of pregnancies, symptoms and stages, let's take a look at how to care for your pregnancy {or your wife's pregnancy}

Taking care of your pregnancy begins long before you give birth (preconception care) and continues after delivery as it involves processes, treatments and procedures to smoothen the pregnancy and labour.


Steps to take before and during pregnancy.

1. Talk to your doctor or nurse early about your pregnancy plans.

2. Avoid toxic substances or chemicals.

3. If you use alcohol, quit.

4. If you smoke, quit.

5. Consume iron rich foods and supplements, including folic acid.

6. Attend antenatal programs and stay in constant touch with your doctor.

7. Eat balanced diet.

8. Keep an eye on your blood pressure level.

9. Monitor your weight.


Steps to take after delivery.

1. Get enough rest by sleeping when your baby is sleeping.

2. Allow others to help you bottle feed your baby so you can have some time to yourself.

3. Drink plenty of water.

4. Eat low fat foods and locally available fruits and vegetables like banana, mango, orange, dried dates, carrots, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes and sweet potatoes



Questions to ask your doctor about your pregnancy

As an expectant mother, you would definitely have questions regarding your growing baby and your Obstetrician or Family doctor should be willing to address your questions.

So, what questions should you ask your doctor? Here are some:

1. What can I eat or not eat?

2. How much weight can I gain?

3. What sleeping position is best?

4. How can my husband assist me?

5. What over the counter drugs can I take?

6. What exercises can I do?

7. How long can I work while pregnant?

8. What should I expect during delivery?

9. Would I be needing a caesarean section?

10. Can I still have sex while pregnant?


What if you want to prevent a pregnancy?



How to prevent a pregnancy

You may want to prevent a pregnancy for several reasons; probably because you've had enough kids or maybe because you aren't ready for a baby to be added to your family now.

Thankfully, there are a number of ways to prevent pregnancy though the only 100% prevention technique is abstinence from sex.

You can also naturally practice family planning.

Other preventive measures include:

1. Use of condoms {male or female}

2. Spermicides

3. Birth control pills

4. Intrauterine Contraceptive Devices { IUCD's}

5. Vasectomy or Hysterectomy.




Pregnancy is a natural process of life and advances in healthcare has greatly improved the safety of both mother and child.

So if you're pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, this article has helped give you an overview of pregnancy and what to expect.

Please note that this does not replace medical advice so kindly reach out to your doctor for professional consultation.





Published: January 2, 2023

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