Pregnancy: Week 8

At week eight, you are two months into your pregnancy and six weeks into your baby’s development. It’s an exciting time for both the expectant mother and the child, who is quickly developing. Additionally, it is at this point when you can stop referring to it as an embryo and use the word “fetus”, as all human body parts are now present in some shape or form.

Physiological Development

Rapid development continues into week eight as your baby’s nerve cells start connecting to form the earliest iterations of its neural pathways and breathing tubes start to extend to its developing lungs from the throat. External genitalia is forming but it is not developed enough to be able to tell the sex of the child. Currently, your little one is the size of a kidney bean and although it is constantly in motion, you won’t be feeling it—yet.

Week 8 Ultrasound

For many women, week 8 is when they have their first ultrasound, as many practitioners will not perform one earlier than that unless there is some abnormality or if the patient is high-risk. By week eight, an ultrasound will be able to detect multiple pregnancies, rule out pregnancy problems (like ectopic pregnancies), check the size and heartbeat of the fetus, tell you how the umbilical cord is working, and the placenta’s size. As for physical characteristics, you may be able to start seeing a clearly defined head, which, at this point, will look incredibly large compared to the rest of the body and the beginnings of arms and legs.

Changes in You

You’ll likely find that you’re more tired than usual and that your clothes are getting a bit snug. Your increased need to urinate will likely be affecting your sleep, which accounts for part of the increased fatigue. One of the stranger pregnancy symptoms is having more vivid dreams and/or remembering dreams that would usually have been forgotten. Common themes involve bizarre dreams about childbirth, dreams about the gender of the child, sexual dreams, etc. Pregnant women often experience problems sleeping whether due to specific symptoms or just being generally uncomfortable. Many doctors recommend sleeping on your left side as it increases the number of nutrients and blood that reach the placenta. If you are having trouble sleeping, try following some of these tips:

  • Put a pillow between your knees
  • Purchase a body pillow to help support you when you sleep on your side; you may find it especially helpful to keep a pillow under your abdomen.
  • Refrain from eating large meals before bed.
  • Practice breathing exercises when you have trouble falling asleep.
  • If you have problems falling asleep that cause you to stay up too late and not get enough rest, start getting into bed earlier to compensate.
  • Do not sleep on your back—this encourages backaches, low blood pressure, and problems with your digestive system and breathing, and decreases circulation to your baby and your heart.
  • Do not sleep on your stomach—at eight weeks, you may still be able to sleep on your stomach without discomfort, but it won’t be long before you can no longer do so. It’s smarter to start becoming accustomed to side sleeping, especially if you are normally a back or stomach sleeper.

What You Should Be Doing

If you have not done so already, week eight is a great time to purchase a bra that is both supportive and leaves room for you to grow, as you will likely gain a cup size or two during pregnancy. A bra with plenty of support, as well as chest exercises, will help combat sagging at a later date.

This week would be a good time to look into genetic testing. There are two types of prenatal tests: screening tests, which simply determine if a fetus is at high risk for a specific condition, and diagnostic testing, which diagnoses certain fetal conditions.

Screening tests

  • Nuchal translucency screening (first-trimester screening) uses ultrasound to measure the thickness of fluid that is built up at the back of the baby’s neck. Thicker-than-normal buildup can be a sign of Down syndrome (trisomy 21), heart problems, and trisomy 18. The test is typically performed between weeks eleven and fourteen, but it’s never too early to start considering it. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that all pregnant women undergo this test.

About Trisomy 18

“Trisomy” means that there is an extra chromosome present; Down syndrome and trisomy 18 are the first and second most common trisomy syndromes, respectively. Many babies who have trisomy 18 do not survive long enough to be born; those who do have severe physical defects and health problems, such as cleft palate and lung, heart, kidney, and stomach/intestine defects, as well as severe developmental problems. Out of those that make it full-term, half are stillborn; out of the half that is born alive, only around 10% of babies with trisomy 18 live to see their first birthday.

  • Modified sequential screening is the second half of first-trimester screening and is recommended for women who show abnormal results on the ultrasound tests, though those who had regular results may want to have it anyway. Two blood samples are taken to measure the proteins being made by the placenta and developing child and the results give further information on possible chromosomal abnormalities and other health issues.
  • Triple and quad screen tests are similar, with the former usually performed between weeks fifteen and twenty and the latter performed between weeks sixteen and eighteen. Both use blood tests to determine the presence of certain substances; for the triple screen tests, AFP (a protein that the fetus produces), hCG (placenta-produced hormone), and estriol (estrogen that is produced by the placenta and the fetus) are measured. The quad screen measures the same three substances plus inhibin-A, which is produced by the ovaries and placenta.
  • Carrier screening is testing that is performed in order to see if you or your partner are carriers for genetic mutations that cause inherited disorders. Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anemia, Canavan disease, familial dysautonomia, and cystic fibrosis are all examples of autosomal recessive disorders (meaning that in order for the child to have the disorder, he or she must inherit a particular recessive gene from both parents) that genetic testing can identify. Carrier screening can allow prospective parents to know if their baby is at risk of having a serious genetic condition and plan for more testing accordingly. Those who have a family history of genetic disorders are especially encouraged to have carrier testing, as well as individuals who are part of certain ethnic groups. Remember—for a child to have an autosomal recessive disorder, both parents must have the recessive gene and the child must inherit both. There is only a 25% chance of two carrier parents having a child with the recessive disorder, but because some of them can be extremely severe and fatal, parents who both test positive may opt for further testing on their child.   

Diagnostic testing

 Screening tests simply indicate if a fetus is at risk for certain conditions; only a diagnostic test can tell you with a high degree of certainty if your child has a genetic disorder.

  • Amniocentesis is a type of diagnostic testing performed after the sixteenth week of pregnancy; an obstetrician inserts a hollow, thin needle through your abdomen and into the uterus, where it withdraws a small amount of fluid from around the fetus. Two tests are usually performed on the sample—chromosome analysis, which will rule out chromosomal-based birth defects, and alpha-fetoprotein, which tests for neural tube defects. There are other tests that can be performed; women should talk to their doctor or genetic counselor about their options. Amniocentesis has a 1 in 300 chance of causing miscarriage and it cannot detect all birth defects.
  • Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) is recommended when the woman/couple is part of one or more of the following groups: over 35 female, one parent is a carrier of a chromosomal rearrangement, the mother has had a child that has a chromosomal abnormality, the mother is a carrier of the x-linked gene, and both parents are carriers of a recessive gene. For a CVS, a sample is taken of the chorion (a membrane that will later develop into a placenta) and analyzed for birth defects. This test is usually taken from week ten to week twelve and carries a small risk of miscarriage.

The End of Week 8

As week eight ends, you are entering the last month of your first trimester. This is still a critical period of development for your baby, so continue with your healthy lifestyle changes and get plenty of rest and exercise.

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