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SITEMAP   UK GCSE level age ~14-16, ~US grades 9-10 Biology revision notes

Human sexual reproduction: 3. Pregnancy, developments and health of mother and child

Doc Brown's Biology exam study revision notes

There are various sections to work through, after 1 they can be read and studied in any order.

Sub-index of biology notes on human sexual reproduction

(3) Pregnancy and the development of the embryo and foetus and the health of mother and child

(3a) Pregnancy

Around the 14th day of the menstrual cycle ovulation takes place, and an egg is released from the ovary and travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus where it can interact with sperm from sexual intercourse.

Ultimately fertilisation is the fusion of the nuclei from a male gamete (sperm cell) and a female gamete (egg cell/ovum).

Genetically: female gamete of 23 chromosomes + male gamete of 23 chromosome ==> zygote of 46 chromosomes

For more details see Genetics - inherited characteristics and human sexual reproduction

If a fertilised egg lands on the uterus lining and becomes implanted, the woman becomes pregnant.

If so, the level of progesterone stays at a high level to maintain the lining of the uterus during pregnancy, hence the period of the menstrual cycle ceases.

If the egg is not fertilised by sperm it will die after about a day and pass out through the vagina and menstrual cycle will continue as normal.

development of embryo foetus baby in uterus womb umbilical cord ks3 science gcse biology igcse(3b) Gestation period

The development of the fertilised egg, embryo, foetus and baby.

About 24 hours after fertilisation the fertilised egg undergoes mitosis cell division i.e. splits into two cells. After about 4 days further mitosis cell division results in an embryo of 32 cells.

About a week after ovulation, copulation, fertilisation and cell division, the embryo develops to the point when it can implant (embed) itself into the wall of the uterus in the womb

Then the placenta begins to develop so oxygen and nutrients from the mother can reach the embryo (later foetus and baby), and waste products removed.

The early stages of foetal development are characterised by increasing complexity whereas the later stage development is characterised by increase in size.

After ~a month the embryo is ~6 mm long and now has a brain, head, eyes, ears and legs.

After  ~9 weeks the body is ~25 mm long and amazingly, completely formed and is now called a foetus.

After ~3 months the foetus is ~54 mm long and begins to look like a baby.

After ~5 months the foetus is ~160 mm long and can start kicking and fingernails can be felt.

After ~7 months, the foetus is ~370 mm and is considered viable - meaning it has a good chance of surviving if it was born prematurely before completion of the normal gestation period of 9 months.

After ~9 months (~39-40 weeks) the 'baby' is now ~ 520 mm long, fully developed and ready to be born.

development of embryo foetus baby in uterus womb umbilical cord ks3 science gcse biology igcse(3c) The importance of good health in pregnancy - antenatal care

The placenta and umbilical cord allows the blood of the mother and foetus to interact through membranes (but not directly) so nutrients and oxygen reach the foetus and waste products are removed.

Under any circumstances, good health, i.e. free of any health issues, is desirable, put health is particularly important for a pregnant woman.

Hopefully, the mother is eating a nutritious balanced diet and all bodily functions working normally as well as taking exercise.

A healthy mental state is also important and most peoples lives require coping with the ups and downs of normal life.

It is fundamentally important to avoid drug abuse, smoking and alcoholic drinks whose consequences for the unborn child can be devastating.

Harmful substances from these 'activities' can be passed through the placenta and umbilical cord to enter the bloodstream of the unborn child.

the development of the foetus can be adversely affected by harmful chemicals passed on from the mother and the baby after birth may suffer from health issues after birth.

(3d) Summary of the processes involved in labour and birth

Birth begins when the strong muscles of the uterus begin to contract.

This causes the breaking of the amniotic sac and fluid surrounding the baby.

The contractions of the muscles in the uterus wall increase pushing the baby towards the cervix.

The dilation of the cervix begins so the baby can get through.

The vagina stretches to allow the baby passage through the vagina.

Immediately after birth, the baby is still attached to the placenta, and is removed by tying and cutting the umbilical cord.

The placenta breaks away from the wall of the uterus and passed out - the delivery of the afterbirth

(3e) The relative merits of breast-feeding compared to bottle-feeding using formula milk

It should be said, that in most cases, the baby feeding method is a personal choice.

There are many comparison 'pros and cons' points, so I've just picked out a few examples.

Advantages of breast feeding

Compared formula-milk, the nutrients in breastmilk are better absorbed and used by the baby, including carbohydrate sugars, protein and vitamins.  Breastmilk has the best formulation of nutrients for the baby's brain growth and nervous system development.

Breast milk is better for fighting infections and other conditions. It is known that breastfed babies have fewer infections and hospitalizations than formula milk fed infants. During breastfeeding, antibodies and other pathogen-fighting factors pass from a mother to her baby and strengthening its immune system.

Breast milk is free, always fresh and no need to rush down to the shop for formula milk!

The skin to skin touching is good for baby-mother bonding.

Disadvantages of breast feeding

If the mother takes in particularly harmful substance in lifestyle choices, they can be passed on through breast milk e.g. nicotine fro smoking and ethanol from alcoholic drinks.

Even caffeine from coffee is passed on to the baby and can cause problems like restlessness and irritability.

It is also possible to pass on some pathogens via breast milk.

Advantages of bottle-milk feeding

With forward planning, convenient, since either parent (or other carer) can feed the baby a bottle at any time, a more parental sharing situation.

Some women have problems in breast feeding e.g. insufficient milk production or too stressful to cope with.

No harmful toxins are passed from formula milk, which is sterile too.

Disadvantages of bottle-feeding

Formula milk involves costs, it isn't cheap, and the poorer the mother's situation, the greater the relative financial burden.

It is not as nutritious as breast milk, though it should provide the necessary dietary requirements. Formula milk cannot match the complexity of mother's breast milk.

It does not provide the same cover for fighting infections and the baby's immune system development (see breast feeding above).

For more higher level details on genetics and cell division see ...

Cell division - cell cycle - mitosis, meiosis, sexual/asexual reproduction, binary fission

Genetics - inherited characteristics and human sexual reproduction

Keywords, phrases and learning objectives for this part on pregnancy and health of mother and child

Be able to describe a pregnancy in terms of the development of the embryo, foetus (fetus), fertilised egg in the gestation period.

Understand the importance of good health of a mother in pregnancy to produce a healthy child and be aware that harmful substances can pass through placenta.

Know that breast milk is better than formula milk, but be able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of breast feeding and bottle feeding.



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