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0 to 8 weeks pregnant

Weeks 1 to 2 - preparing for ovulation

Your weeks of pregnancy are dated from the first day of your last period. This means that in the first 2 weeks or so, you are not pregnant. Your body prepares for ovulation as usual.

You ovulate (release an egg) around 2 weeks after the first day of your period. This depends on the length of your menstrual cycle.

What to expect in the first trimester

Week 3 - fertilisation

After you release an egg (ovum), it travels down the fallopian tube. This is the tube that transports the egg from the ovary to the womb (uterus). After sex, there may be sperm in the fallopian tube. At the moment of conception, one of the sperm enters and fertilises the egg.

After fertilisation, the fertilised egg continues to move towards the womb. It begins as a single cell that divides again and again.

By the time the fertilised egg reaches the womb, it has become a hollow ball of cells known as a blastocyst. When the blastocyst reaches the womb, it attaches to the lining of the womb and starts to develop into an embryo.

Week 4 - implantation

In weeks 4 to 5 of early pregnancy, the blastocyst grows and develops within the lining of the womb.

The outer cells reach out to form links with your blood supply. After some time, they will form the placenta (afterbirth).

The inner group of cells develop into the embryo. These inner cells form three layers at first.

Each of these layers grow to be different parts of the body:

  • inner layer - this becomes the breathing and digestive systems and includes the lungs, stomach, gut and bladder
  • middle layer - this becomes the heart, blood vessels, muscles and bones
  • outer layer - this becomes the brain and nervous system, the eye lenses, tooth enamel, skin and nails

In these early weeks, the embryo attaches to a tiny yolk sac. This sac provides nourishment to the embryo. A few weeks later, the placenta forms in full and takes over the transfer of nutrients to the embryo.

Cells from the placenta grow deep into the wall of the womb. Here, they establish a rich blood supply. This makes sure the embryo receives all the oxygen and nutrients it needs.

Week 5 of pregnancy

This is the time of the first missed period. This is when most women start to think they may be pregnant.

The embryo produces more of the pregnancy hormone (hCG). This causes your ovaries to stop releasing eggs. Your ovaries will also produce more oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones stop your period and help the placenta (afterbirth) to grow.

The pregnancy hormone, hCG, is also present in your pee. Home pregnancy tests detect the levels of hCG in your pee.

At this stage, the nervous system is developing in the embryo. The foundations for the major organs are also in place. The embryo is around 2mm long and is about the size of a sesame seed.

The embryo's outer layer of cells develops a groove and folds to form a hollow tube called the neural tube. This will become the brain and spinal cord.

At the same time, the heart is forming as a simple tube-like structure. The embryo has some of its own blood vessels and blood begins to circulate. A string of these blood vessels connects you to the embryo, and will become the umbilical cord.

Confirming your pregnancy with your GP

Week 6 of pregnancy

At 6 to 7 weeks, the embryo develops a large bulge where the heart is and a bump at the head end of the neural tube. This bump will become the brain and head. The embryo is curved and has a tail – it looks a bit like a small tadpole.

You can sometimes see the heart beating on a vaginal ultrasound scan at this stage.

The developing arms and legs become visible as small swellings (limb buds). Little dimples on the side of the head will become the ears, and there are thickenings where the eyes will be. The embryo has a thin layer of see-through skin. By the end of week 6, the embryo is about the size of a lentil.

Week 7 of pregnancy

By 7 weeks, the embryo has grown to about 10mm long from head to bottom. This measurement is called the 'crown-rump length'.

The brain is growing rapidly. This results in the head growing faster than the rest of the body. The embryo has a large forehead, and the eyes and ears continue to develop.

The inner ear starts to develop. But the outer ear on the side of the head will not appear for a couple more weeks.

The limb buds start to form cartilage, which will develop into the bones of the legs and arms. The arm buds get longer and the ends flatten out. These will become the hands.

Nerve cells continue to multiply and develop. The brain and spinal cord (nervous system) starts to form. By the end of week 7, the embryo is about the same size as a pea.

Week 8 of pregnancy

By the time you are 8 weeks pregnant, the embryo is called a 'foetus'.

At this stage, the legs are getting longer and look a little like paddles. The different parts of the leg are not distinct yet. It will be a bit longer before the knees, ankles, thighs and toes develop.

The foetus is still inside its amniotic sac. The placenta continues to develop and forms structures that help attach the placenta to the wall of the womb.

The foetus is still getting its nourishment from the yolk sac. By the end of week 8, the foetus is roughly the same length as a raspberry.

Tips during pregnancy - HSE

Page last reviewed: 30 September 2022
Next review due: 30 September 2025

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.