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First Trimester Development

Life is an amazing continuum from the time of conception. Life in the womb is divided into 3 trimesters, each relating to three months of development. All the major changes occur in the first trimester. After this time nothing new develops or begins functioning. During the remaining 6 months in the womb the baby gains in size, strength and body weight.

The Father’s sperm fertilises the Mother’s egg cell. From the moment of conception, 46 chromosomes with 30,000 genes combined to determine all of your physical characteristics: sex; facial features; body type and the colour of your hair, eyes and skin. Even more amazing, intelligence and personality - the way you think and feel, your talents, tastes, athletic abilities and more - were already in place within your genetic code. At the moment of conception, you were already essentially and uniquely 'you' - no bigger than a grain of sugar.

First DayFirst Day :
Between 12 and 30 hours after fertilisation, cell division begins. At this stage, the cells are no larger than the head of a pin. Cells continue to divide every 12 to 15 hours - two into four, four into eight and so on. By the time you reach adulthood, there will have been 45 doublings of cells, producing about 30 million millions of cells. By the time you are born 41 of those doublings will have already taken place.

8 days8 days :
Now a ball of several hundred cells, the fertilised egg burrows into the wall of the mother’s womb.

24 days:
In just over three weeks you are already 4 mm long and rapidly developing. Your backbone, spinal column, and nervous system are forming, and the kidneys, liver, and intestines are taking shape. The heart is beating regularly now and is pumping your own blood, separate from your Mother’s.

1 month1 month (4 weeks) :
From one cell to millions of cells, you have grown 10,000 times over and are now 6-7 mm long. Already your eyes are developing, the buds of your arms and legs are appearing and forty pairs of muscles are forming along your spine. Your heart is no larger than a poppy seed at this stage.

5 weeks:
The pituitary gland is forming in the middle of the brain and the neural tube enlarges into three parts, soon to become a very complex brain. Your mouth and ears are taking shape and the spine and spinal cord grow faster than the rest of the body at this stage and give the appearance of a tail. This disappears as you continue to grow. Already your sex can be determined.

6 weeks6 weeks :
Your embryonic heart is fluttering at 140-150 beats per minute - twice as many as your mother’s. Your skeleton is already forming (in cartilage, not yet bone), and your brain coordinates how your muscles and organs move, and you have already begun to develop reflexes like responding to touch.

7 weeks7 weeks :
Your facial features are now visible, including the eyes, ears, nose, lips and tongue. The eyes have a retina and lens, and buds of milk teeth have appeared. The major muscle system is developed, and you are beginning to move spontaneously. You now have your own blood type, distinct from your mother’s. More than 100,000 new nerve cells are created every minute. Brain waves can now be recorded by an EEG.

2 months (8 weeks):
You now measure about three centimetres long and weigh in at just one gram. You are already well-proportioned with tiny fingers and toes, well-established hearing and balance mechanisms, individual fingerprints and a sturdy heart beat. Everything to be found in a fully grown human being has already been formed. You swim and move gracefully in your mother’s womb, swallowing and "breathing" amniotic fluid, which is good practice for your digestive system.

9 weeks9 weeks:
Already you can bend your fingers around an object placed in your palm. Your fingernails are forming and you may even start to suck your thumb. Already the brain and nerve fibres necessary for pain sensation are functioning, and you would try your hardest to avoid the source of any pain.

10 weeks:
Your heart is almost completely developed and closely resembles that of a newborn baby. The heart’s energy output is also well over 30 per cent of an adult’s. Already you are squinting, and puckering up your brow and frowning - next week you will be able to smile!

3 months3 months (12 weeks):
Now 9 cm long and weighing 45 grams, your brain, lungs and vocal chords are formed and you sometimes hiccup and even cry (silently). Already your behaviour shows distinct individuality and you can kick your legs, curl and fan your toes, make a fist, move a thumb, bend your wrist, turn your head, open your mouth and press your lips together.

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Second Trimester Development

13 weeks13 weeks:
Your face is looking prettier now and your facial expressions already resemble those of your parents. Your movements are more graceful and flowing and look more like water ballet, but your reflexes are getting more vigorous too and you will squirm if someone prods your Mother’s abdomen.

16 weeks4 months (16 weeks):
You now weigh 200 grams and measure 14 cm long - one third your birth size. Your mother feels the first flutters of the your kicking, swimming and somersaults within and her stomach is now expanding to accommodate you. You respond to light, sound, voices and music and you now have an adult’s taste buds and may even be able to savour your mother’s meals. Your heart is pumping 27 litres of blood every day and eyebrows, eyelashes and fine hair are appearing.

17 weeks17 weeks:
In the next three weeks you’ll go through a large growth spurt, doubling your weight and adding inches to your length. Your may have already discovered your first toy - the umbilical cord - which you enjoy pulling and grabbing. Sometimes you may even clutch it so tight that less oxygen gets through, but you don't hold onto it long enough to do any harm.

5 months5 months :
You sleep many hours of the day and you settle into your favourite "lie" to sleep. Your mother can even wake you up by tapping on her abdomen. She also feels your hiccups now, and you can hear and recognize her voice. Your hearing is so sensitive that you respond to sounds that are too high or too low for adults to hear, and a loud noise, such as a door slamming, may startle you. Though still small and fragile, you are growing rapidly and could possibly survive if you were born at this stage. Using an ultrasound device, the doctor can tell if you are a girl or a boy.

18 weeks

22 weeks22 weeks:
Although you have been able to move for several weeks, you may be so mobile now that your mother can't sleep at times. These movements are known as a "quickening". Your mother may be able to tell whether it is your elbow, foot or head poking against her abdominal wall.

6 months6 months :
You now weigh about 640 grams and measure about 23 centimetres. Fine, downy hair called lanugo begins to grow on your eyebrows and head. Your tender skin is protected by a waxy substance called vernix. Some of this substance may still be on your skin at birth at which time it will be quickly absorbed. Most of your skeleton has hardened now and you practice breathing by inhaling amniotic fluid into developing lungs. Babies born at this age have been known to survive.

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Third Trimester Development

7 months7 months :
Permanent eye teeth have now developed, and you can open and close your eyelids and look around. If someone shines a light on your mother’s abdomen, you will turn your head to see what it is. You can hear and recognise your mother’s voice and are beginning to accumulate some fat on your body regulate your body temperature. Your body is also in the process of building up antibodies against diseases that you might meet outside the womb.

8 months31 weeks :
This week you continue to open and shut your eyes. While you could distinguish light from dark from someone shining a torch on your mother’s belly three weeks ago, you can now track the light or even reach out to touch the moving glow. A baby is usually capable of living outside the womb at this stage and would be considered premature at birth.

9 months32 weeks:
You sleep about 90-95% of the day, and sometimes experiences REM sleep, which indicates you are having dreams!

39 weeks :
You continue to build the fat stores that will help regulate body temperature after birth. Your internal organs are fully developed and in place, but the lungs will be last to reach maturity. (Even after you’re born, it may take a few hours before you establish a normal breathing pattern.)

37 weeks40 weeks :
This marks the end of the normal gestational period. Approximately 3.5 kgs and 50 cm long, you are now ready to live outside of your mother's womb. Your head has now dropped down into your mother's pelvic basin ready to enter the birth canal. It is you who will determine the onset of labour.

birthBirth :
The act of birth is triggered by a number of processes, which notifies your mother's uterus that it is time to be born. The contractions begin and she goes into labour. Your umbilical cord will stop working now as you take your first breaths of air. The breathing will trigger changes in the structure of your heart and bypass arteries which will force all blood to now travel through the lungs.

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All these milestones have been documented by scientific research. Further detailed information is available on all the following sites:

  • Science for Unborn Human Life
  • Create Health - Amazing 3D/4D Ultrasound pictures can be viewed online. On the Create Health website click the TAB ‘Antenatal Screening’ and select ‘3D/4D Scanning’. Click on the right hand side of the screen to view the ‘Video Journey Through Pregnancy’ showing development of the unborn from 8 weeks to 32 weeks.
  • Foetal Development Pictures - Slideshow: Month by month from
  • Development of a foetus - using 3D embryo modelling and detailed descriptions of each of the development stages.
  • Medline Plus, a Service of the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health - Information on Foetal development with medical descriptions of features at different stages of development.
  • UNSW Embryology is described as “an educational resource developed for learning concepts in embryological development”. The site has detailed information for the advanced student.
  • Human Development using 3D modelling the very early stages of human development are described.

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Life begins at conception when the egg from the mother is fertilized by the sperm from the father. Conception is synonymous with fertilisation.

Fertilisation occurs around the middle of the woman’s menstrual cycle or about two weeks from the start of the last period. When one (millions started the journey) of the sperm travels up the Fallopian tube and fertilises the ovum there is an instant change in the chemistry of the newly fertilized ovum which prevents access for any other sperm. A new unique individual is created from the combination of the genetic material, and cell division begins.

Conception in a series of slides from

Pregnancy is the period from conception to birth. After the egg is fertilized by a sperm and then implanted in the lining of the uterus, it develops into the placenta and embryo, and later into a foetus. Pregnancy usually lasts 40 weeks, beginning from the first day of the woman's last menstrual period, and is divided into three trimesters, each lasting three months.

Human Reproduction: Fertilisation and Foetal Development – from fertilisation until approximately the 5th month of development

Human Life begins at the Moment of conception - There are English subtitles. The video begins with the initial cell divisions and can be concluded at 3 minutes. Students and teachers in Catholic Schools may want to watch the speech of Pope John Paul II.

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Amniotic Fluid

Amniotic fluid is a clear, slightly yellowish liquid that surrounds the unborn baby during pregnancy. It is contained in the amniotic sac.

The amniotic sac begins to fill with fluid around 2 weeks after fertilization and by the 10th week contains numerous nutrients which aid in the growth of the new life.

The baby floats in the amniotic fluid. During pregnancy the amniotic fluid increases in volume as the fetus grows. Amniotic fluid volume is greatest at about 34 weeks into the pregnancy (gestation), when it averages 800 ml. Approximately 600 ml of amniotic fluid surrounds the baby at full term (40 weeks gestation). This fluid is constantly circulated by the baby swallowing and "inhaling" existing fluid and then "exhaling" and urinating out the fluid.

Amniotic fluid performs many functions for the fetus, including:

  • Allowing the fetus freedom to move and enabling the skeleton to develop properly
  • Allowing the lungs to develop properly
  • Maintaining a relatively constant temperature around the fetus, thus protecting the fetus from heat loss
  • Protecting the fetus from outside injury by cushioning sudden blows or movements

Just before the baby is born the amniotic sac breaks and the fluid is released, commonly known as when a woman's "water breaks".

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Change in the Mother's Body during Pregnancy

When a woman is pregnant, a series of changes take place in her body. These will prepare her for when the baby is born. These changes are caused by special chemicals called pregnancy hormones – progesterone and oestrogen. These chemicals are always present in a woman’s body but they increase during pregnancy. They are usually produced by the ovaries. From the third month of pregnancy onward, they are produced by the placenta. Several other changes also occur in pregnant women:

  • Her weight increases by 10 to 15 kgs
  • Her womb or uterus gets larger. Its usual capacity is 2-5 cubic centimetres and increases to 5.000 to 7,000 ccm
  • Her breasts get larger in preparation for breast-feeding the baby
  • Her blood increases by about 50% in order to meet the needs of the baby
  • The ligaments of her pelvis become more relaxed and elastic making it easier for the baby to be born

For more information check the Expectant Mother’s Guide and Healthline.

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Ultrasound involves the use of high-frequency sound waves to create images of organs and systems within the body.

An ultrasound machine creates images that allow various organs in the body to be examined. The machine sends out high-frequency sound waves, which reflect off body structures. A computer receives these reflected waves and uses them to create a picture. Unlike with an x-ray or CT scan, there is no ionizing radiation exposure with this test. A clear, water-based conducting gel is applied to the skin over the area being examined to help with the transmission of the sound waves. A handheld probe called a transducer is moved over the area being examined.

It has been observed that the 3D/4D ultrasound technology provides much clearer imaging than the previously used 2D scans. As Jude Crino, director of the Perinatal Ultrasound Unit at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, observed "When I give a patient a 2-D image, it's not uncommon for them to ask two or three times, 'What is this? Could you point this out?' If you give them a 3-D image, they are immediately able to recognize it, because it looks like a baby." (4-D Ultrasound gives Video view of foetuses in the Womb, February 25, 2005)

Actual photographs of the baby in the womb can also be obtained using a procedure known as embryoscopy and foetoscopy. An endoscopy allows the direct examination of an embryo during the first trimester by insertion of a lighted instrument through the mother's abdominal wall and uterus, without violating the amniotic cavity. The technique may be used to obtain tissue specimens for analysis or to perform needed surgery. Testing can be done as early as 3 weeks after conception. The face can be visualized as early as 4 weeks . A foetoscopy is also a procedure in which a foetus may be directly observed in utero, in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy, using a foetoscope introduced through a small incision in the abdomen under local anaesthesia. Photographs may be taken, and amniotic fluid, foetal cells, or blood may be sampled for prenatal diagnosis of many congenital anomalies or genetic defects. A foetoscopy carries a significant risk related to rupture of foetal membranes.

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Placenta and the umbilical Cord

While in the mother’s uterus the unborn baby needs food and oxygen to survive. Everything he needs is taken in through the placenta. This is a network of blood vessels which begins to form as soon as the beginning life attaches itself to the wall of the uterus. The baby is connected to the placenta by the umbilical cord. A thin tissue separates the placenta from the baby’s own bloodstream. This acts as a filter to block any harmful substances which might be present in the mother’s blood. The baby receives all the food and oxygen he needs from the mother’s body via the placenta and umbilical cord. Waste goes back along the same route through the placenta and mother’s body gets rid of the waste. The baby as a separate entity is totally dependent on his mother for all nutrients and oxygen necessary for growth.

Human Reproduction: Fertilisation and Foetal Development - provides a series of animations from fertilisation until approximately the 5th month of development. The umbilical cord is clearly depicted. Approximately 1 and a half minutes into the presentation there is a description of the function of the placenta.

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Foetal Surgery

With developments in medicine more amazing procedures are being performed on babies in the womb. One of the stories that captured worldwide attention was the story of Samuel Armas, diagnosed with spina bifida. Startling photography was taken by Michael Clancy.

In another remarkable operation Leah Bowlen’s feet were saved by an operation when she was only 22 weeks in-utero.

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Exercise and Healthy Eating

It is vital that a woman does the correct exercise and maintains a healthy diet during her pregnancy.

Information on appropriate exercises during pregnancy is available at The Better Health Channel.

A source of Dietary Information is available from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) and the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA).

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Childbirth includes both labour (the process of birth) and delivery (the birth itself); it refers to the entire process as an infant makes its way from the womb down the birth canal to the outside world.

Childbirth usually begins spontaneously, about 280 days after conception. The average length of labour is about 14 hours for a first pregnancy and about eight hours in subsequent pregnancies. However, many women experience a much longer or shorter labour.

Labour can be described in terms of a series of phases.

During the First stage of labour the cervix dilates (opens) from 0–10 cm and the muscular wall of the uterus begins to contract as the cervix relaxes and expands. As a portion of the amniotic sac surrounding the baby is pushed into the opening, it bursts under the pressure, releasing amniotic fluid. This is called "breaking the bag of waters." The contractions increase and the baby is pushed towards the cervix.

As the mother enters the Second stage of labour, her baby's head appears at the top of the cervix. Uterine contractions get stronger. The infant passes down the vagina, helped along by contractions of the abdominal muscles and the mother's pushing. When the entire head is out, the shoulders follow. The attending practitioner suctions the baby's mouth and nose to ease the baby's first breath. The rest of the baby usually slips out easily, and the umbilical cord is cut.

In the Final stage of labour, the placenta is pushed out of the vagina by the continuing uterine contractions. The placenta is pancake shaped and about 10 inches in diameter. Continuing uterine contractions cause it to separate from the uterus at this point. It is important that the entire placenta be removed from the uterus.

Approximately 4% of babies are in what is called the "breech" position when labour begins. This is when the baby's bottom or legs are positioned to enter the birth canal instead of the head.
If the labour is not progressing as it should or if the baby appears to be in distress, the doctor may opt for a forceps delivery. A forceps is a spoon-shaped device that resembles a set of salad tongs. It is placed around the baby's head so the doctor can pull the baby gently out of the vagina. The Vacuum-assisted birth, developed as a gentler alternative to forceps, is when the doctor uses a device called a vacuum extractor, placing a large rubber or plastic cup against the baby's head. A pump creates suction that gently pulls on the cup to ease the baby down the birth canal.

A caesarean section, also called a c-section, is a surgical procedure in which incisions are made through a woman's abdomen and uterus to deliver her baby.

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Change in the Newborn at Birth

At birth, an infant's body undergoes a number of amazing changes that allow him to survive outside the womb and adapt to life in a new environment.

LUNGS AND CIRCULATORY SYSTEM - At birth, the baby's lungs are filled with amniotic fluid and are not inflated. The baby takes the first breath within about 10 seconds after delivery. It sounds like a gasp, as the newborn's central nervous system reacts to the sudden change in temperature and environment.

TEMPERATURE REGULATION - A developing baby produces about twice as much heat as an adult. That heat dissipates as blood flows into the mother's circulation via the placenta and is cooled. A small amount of heat is removed through the developing baby's skin, the amniotic fluid, and the uterine wall. After delivery, the newborn begins to lose heat. Receptors on the baby's skin send messages to the brain that the baby's body is cold. The baby's body then creates heat by shivering and by burning stores of brown fat, a type of fat found only in fetuses and newborns.

LIVER - In the unborn baby, the liver acts as a storage site for sugar (glycogen) and iron. When the baby is born, the liver produces substances that help the blood to clot and begins breaking down waste products.

GASTROINTESTINAL TRACT - A baby's gastrointestinal system doesn't fully function until after birth. However, in the womb, it does allow the baby to absorb nutrients from the placenta.

URINARY SYSTEM - The developing baby's kidneys begin producing urine by 9 - 12 weeks into the pregnancy. After birth, the newborn will usually urinate within the first 24 hours of life and the kidneys become more able to remove waste from the bloodstream.

IMMUNE SYSTEM - The womb is a relatively sterile environment. But as soon as the baby is born, he or she is exposed to a variety of bacteria and other potential disease-causing substances. Although newborn infants are more vulnerable to infection, their immune system can respond to infectious organisms. Newborns do carry some antibodies from their mother, which provide protection against infection. Breastfeeding also helps improve a newborn's immunity.

SKIN - Newborn skin will vary depending on the length of the pregnancy. Premature infants have thin, transparent skin. The skin of a full-term infant is thicker. A fine hair called lanugo might cover the newborn's skin, especially preterm babies. The hair should disappear within the first few weeks of the baby's life. A thick, waxy substance called vernix may cover the skin. This substance protects the fetus from constant exposure to amniotic fluid in the womb. Vernix should wash off during the baby's first bath.

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Premature babies

Simply defined, a premature infant is a baby born before 37 weeks gestation. Multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets, etc.) make up about 15% of all premature births.

A premature infant will have a low birth weight and is likely to have organs that are not fully developed. The infant will need special care in a nursery until the organ systems have developed enough to sustain the baby’s life without medical support. This may take weeks to months depending on how early the baby is born.

Amilia Taylor was only 290 grams when she was born prematurely at almost 22 weeks.

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A miscarriage is when a woman loses the baby in the early stages of the pregnancy before the baby is able to live outside the womb. Most miscarriages occur before the 12th week. Approximately 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 normal pregnancies miscarry.

The commonest causes of miscarriage include: a genetic abnormality of the baby, a hormonal imbalance in the mother, abnormalities of the uterus, drugs and medical disorders in the mother as well as a trauma such as a motor car accident.

Sometimes the cervix does not completely seal as it should once pregnancy is established. If this happens then a miscarriage can occur, generally after the 12th week. Also previous damage to the cervix can be a factor producing miscarriages.

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Multiple Births

When a mother gives birth to two or more babies at the same time it is called a multiple birth.
Identical twins (or monozygotic twins) happen when a single sperm fertilises an egg, and then, at a very early stage, the fertilised egg divides into two and starts forming two babies. Identical twins are the same sex and happen about once in every 250 live births. Some of these twins have their own separate placenta (afterbirth) and sac to grow in the mother’s uterus (womb) but many share the same placenta and sac.

Non-identical twins (fraternal or dizygotic twins) happen when two separate eggs are fertilised by two different sperm so that two embryos (the beginnings of a baby) are formed. Each has its own separate place in the uterus and separate placenta and sac. They may be the same sex or different sexes. Dizygotic twins are more likely to happen when there are twins in the mother’s family. If a mother is a non-identical twin, she has about a 10% chance of having twins herself. (A mother of twins who is not a twin herself, has about a 5% chance of having another set of twins). If the father is a twin, this does not make it more likely that the parents will have twins. About two births in every hundred are dizygotic twins.

Siamese twins (or conjoined twins) are extremely rare. They are twins who come from the same egg (monozygotic) but the embryo does not separate completely to form two separate babies. This means that the babies are joined together in some way. Some can be separated by an operation without too much difficulty. In other cases they share vital organs and cannot be separated without the death of one or both twins.

Ryan and Leo Gerth are twins – but with a difference! Their story gained international attention and some interesting comment. Information has been recorded on a wide range of multiple births from twins to decaplets.

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Breast Feeding

Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for the first 6 months of life. It contains appropriate amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, and provides the digestive proteins (enzymes), minerals, vitamins, and hormones that infants need. Breast milk also contains antibodies from the mother that can help the baby resist infections.

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Babies with Disabilities

Babies are often born with various kinds of disabilities. Essential Baby (an Australian website) includes a wide range of contributions by parents who have had this experience.

A very special website has been set up for little Bethany who was born with Lissencephaly – it is a chronicle of her development and the challenges that she has faced in her young life. Beth lives with her parents south of Sydney in Australia.

Be Not Afraid is an online outreach to parents who have received a poor or difficult prenatal diagnosis and continued with their pregnancies. The family stories, articles, and links within this site are presented as a resource for those who may have been asked to make difficult decisions as a result of the diagnosis. As one parent said “By sharing our experiences, we hope to offer encouragement to those who may be afraid to continue on”. Be not afraid has a distinct faith component. However it is a source of encouragement and support for all parents in this situation.

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Genes, Chromosomes and DNA

Genes are the instructions that tell your body how it should be built and what it can do. An organism has the same genes for its entire life. Genes are located in the centre or nucleus of each cell in tiny but complex molecules called chromosomes. There are many genes within each chromosome. The chromosome molecules contain all sorts of information about what makes you special and different from everyone else. The dominant genes determine your characteristics. For instance, the gene from your father might tell the body that the eyes should be blue while the gene from the mother might tell the body that the eyes should be brown. The dominant gene determines the actual colour of your eyes.

Chromosomes come in pairs. In your body, one chromosome of each pair came from your mother and one came from your father. At conception your mother’s egg contributed 23 chromosomes (information about the mother) and your father’s sperm contributed 23 chromosomes (information about the father) which combined to make up 46 chromosomes for the new person.

The combination of one of the chromosomes in the egg and one in the sperm will determine whether the baby is a boy or a girl. All the chromosomes in the egg cell are X chromosomes. However the sperm has about half X and half Y chromosomes. If a Y chromosome joins up with an X and makes an XY the baby will be a boy. If an X joins up with another X to make an XX then the baby will be a girl.

The relationship between Genes, DNA and chromosomes is very complex. The Science Museum explained it this way. There are 6000 million base pairs of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in the nucleus of almost every one of your cells. The DNA is packaged into 46 bundles called chromosomes. These long strands of information encode two sets of 80,000 different genes, one set inherited from each of your parents. A single gene ranges in size from a hundred base pairs to millions of base pairs.

A project called The Human Genome Project set out to map the details of the human genetic code in the cells of the human body. After 13 years of detailed scientific study the following statement was made: “Although the completion of the Human Genome Project was celebrated in April 2003 and sequencing of the human chromosomes is essentially ‘finished’, the exact number of genes encoded by the genome is still unknown.”

The following video links provide a variety of information on cells, DNA, genes and chromosomes:

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Human Genome Project

The Human Genome Project (HGP) refers to the international 13-year effort, formally begun in October 1990 and completed in 2003, to discover all the estimated 20,000-25,000 human genes and make them accessible for further biological study. Another project goal was to determine the complete sequence of the 3 billion DNA subunits (bases in the human genome).

The HGP has downloadable material for use by students and teachers.

In July 2000 Dr Carl Wieland made some interesting comment in his article, The Human Genome Project: how should we view it?

In June and July 2007 Alex Williams reflected on the HGP in his articles Astonishing DNA complexity uncovered and Astonishing DNA complexity update.

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Foetal alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome refers to growth, mental, and physical problems that may occur in a baby when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy. Using or abusing alcohol during pregnancy can cause the same risks as using alcohol in general. However, it poses extra risks to the developing baby. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it easily passes across the placenta to the fetus. Because of this, drinking alcohol can harm the baby's development.

A pregnant woman who drinks any amount of alcohol is at risk, since no "safe" level of alcohol use during pregnancy has been established. Alcohol use appears to be the most harmful during the first 3 months of pregnancy. However, drinking alcohol anytime during pregnancy can be harmful.

The National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and Related Disorders Inc. (NOFASARD) was established and incorporated in Adelaide in 1998. It is Australia's peak body representing parents, carers and others interested in or affected by Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). NOFASARD currently receives no operational funding and is staffed totally by volunteers.
Women warned to swear off booze, AAP, 3 December 2007 - “Pregnant women must be warned of the risk of causing irreversible brain damage to their unborn children by drinking, drug and rehabilitation groups say.”

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome babies cry for help, The Age, 10 December 2003 - “FAS is the west's most common and preventable cause of mental retardation. Alcohol freely crosses the placenta and sends the baby's blood alcohol content to the same level as its mother's, causing malformation.”

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Smoking during Pregnancy

A woman who smokes while pregnant is at increased risk of experiencing a wide range of problems including ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage and premature labour. Women who smoke are up to three times more likely to give birth to a low weight baby compared to non-smokers. Low birth weight babies are more vulnerable to infection and other health problems, such as breathing difficulties.

Some of the pregnancy complications more commonly experienced by women who smoke include:

  • Ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus – usually in the fallopian tube)
  • Foetal death (death of the baby in the uterus)
  • Miscarriage
  • Problems with the placenta, including early detachment from the uterine wall and blocking the cervical opening (placenta previa)
  • Premature rupture of the membranes
  • Premature labour.

Every time a pregnant woman smokes a cigarette, her unborn baby is deprived of oxygen resulting in:

  • Retarded growth and development
  • Increased risk of cleft lip and cleft palate
  • Increased heart rate and disruption of the baby’s breathing movements in the womb due to the effects of nicotine.

Some of the problems at birth caused by maternal smoking include:

  • Increased risk of premature birth.
  • Increased risk of miscarriage and infant death.
  • Lower birth weight - on average, about 250g less than normal.
  • Twice the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Some of the problems caused by maternal smoking while breastfeeding can include:

  • The chemicals in cigarettes can pass from the mother to the baby via breast milk.
  • Smoking reduces the amount of vitamin C in breast milk.
  • Smoking can reduce milk production.

Smoking during pregnancy can impair a child’s health for years to come. Health effects may include:

  • Decreased lung function
  • Higher incidence of asthma