A woman becomes pregnant the moment the male and female elements, the sperm and the ovum, unite to form a new life; that is the act of conception. Pregnancy is a normal bodily function. Every husband should understand what is happening inside his wife’s body during pregnancy; and as soon as a wife believes that she is pregnant, she should consult her physician, to make sure that such is the case, and to seek his advice on how best to maintain her health during the months that are to follow.
We have already seen what happens every month when pregnancy does not occur; how the ovum or egg is carried along the Fallopian tube into the womb, which has been prepared to receive it. If pregnancy does not occur, this egg passes off in the menstrual flow.
If, however, the woman becomes pregnant, the fate of the ovum is very different! It is fertilized and becomes firmly attached to the wall of the uterus, through a spongy mass known as the placenta (also known as the after-birth), and a small tube called the umbilical cord. Through these, the fetus (as the growing ovum is called during development) derives its nourishment from the blood of the mother. In order to protect the unborn babe, a membrane containing fluid grows between the placenta and the child, forming a sort of soft pad or cushion. This is known as the amniotic sac, or, more popularly, the bag of waters.
At birth, after the baby is bom, the umbilical cord is cut close to the baby’s body and carefully tied. This gradually shrinks and disappears, the navel showing where it originally emerged. The placenta is discharged from the mother’s body shortly after, and all shreds of this must be carefully removed from the womb, otherwise, poisoning and perhaps death may result.
The fetus grows rapidly inside the mother’s womb, and is about ten inches long at the end of the fifth month. By the time the baby is ready to be bom (at the end of the ninth month), it is‘eighteen or more inches in length. After the fourth month, it begins to move about inside the mother, and these movements can be felt.
Since so much space is occupied inside the woman’s body by the growing baby, other organs become displaced, to a certain extent, to make room for it; but these internal adjustments are made by nature without much discomfort to the mother, as a rule. It is a common belief among women that the morning sickness, which is often experienced by them, is due to these displacements; but, as a matter of fact, they are only of secondary importance. The most important factor is that the male half of the fertilised ovum is supplied by the male. This is a protein, which is foreign to the maternal body, and slightly poisons it, since it represents a foreign substance. These poisons are, of course, minute in quantity, but they serve to disturb the normal bodily functioning of the mother, particularly at night, when they tend to accumulate, owing to the inactivity of the body. The result is that nausea and often vomiting occur in the morning, these being attempts on the part of the body to rid itself of the toxic material which has accumulated. It has nothing to do with any food she may have eaten.
If this morning sickness becomes chronic and troublesome, the woman should remain in bed, eating a light breakfast as usual, but avoiding all unnecessary movements. Immediate relief can usually be obtained by placing a hot compress over the region of the stomach, covered with a dry towel. A simple sedative will also help to relieve this condition.
The mental factor is highly important. Instead of anticipating the morning sickness, the woman should not think of it, but occupy her mind the night before by reading an interesting book until she actually falls asleep. When she awakens in the morning, she should immediately divert her mind to things which interest her, disregarding, if possible, any signs of nausea. In this way, it may quite possibly pass off, and she will feel well for the rest of the day. If, however, the nausea and vomiting are persistent, the advice of her physician should be sought at once.
One of the surest signs of pregnancy is the cessation of menstruation, which does not occur again until after the child is bom. However, this is not an infallible sign. Since the sperm-cells take several hours to reach the ovum, and impregnate it, a woman who is just about to menstruate may, in fact, do so and yet be pregnant! This fact should not be overlooked by women who might assume that, just because they menstruated, they have not been “caught”. Such cases are relatively rare, but they occur just the same.
During the course of pregnancy, other changes are taking place in the woman’s body. The breasts become enlarged and sensitive, and begin to secrete milk some time before the baby is bom. As a matter of fact, the first fluid secreted in the breast is not milk at all, but a mild laxative, intended to act upon the baby’s bowels and empty them. This is the first meal which the newly-bom baby imbibes. After that, milk is regularly secreted.
Some women become nervous, melancholy and irritable during pregnancy, partly because of the physiological changes taking place within them, but mainly because they begin to brood over the change in their personal appearance. Husbands should appreciate and understand these feelings on the part of their wives, and make allowances for them; indeed, they should endeavor to show them, in every way possible, that they still love them as much as ever, and prove this by little acts of thoughtfulness and kindness, which they might ordinarily overlook. These will cheer and encourage the woman enormously, making her happy and replacing the former despondency. The majority of women go through the period of pregnancy without any such unpleasant mental and emotional reactions, however.
One problem which frequently arises in the minds of newly married couples is: Can sexual relations be continued safely after pregnancy has occurred? If so, for how long a period? In the animal world, this never occurs; the pregnant female will not let a male near her until after her offspring are bom. In the case of human beings, however, where the sex act is not only physical, but mental and spiritual as well, this does not apply, and couples who love each other would find it difficult, if not impossible, to remain apart for this length of time. As a matter of fact, all physicians now agree that sexual intercourse during pregnancy has no harmful effect upon the woman or her unborn child, up to a short time before the child is bom. If she is liable to miscarry, great care should be exercised, and gentle methods employed; but for the average, healthy woman, no harm can come from normal intercourse at this time. If there is any doubt in your mind as to its advisability, consult your doctor and get his frank opinion on this matter. You should, in fact, make him your confidante during the entire period of pregnancy.