Most women will only discover they are pregnant when they notice they’ve skipped a period, at about 4-5 weeks gestation. That’s if they are in-tune with their body. Those who don’t chart their menstrual cycles might take a little longer to realise that something is afoot. It might be six or seven weeks, perhaps even longer, before their body gives them the clues to go to the pharmacy for a home pregnancy test kit.

Gestational age vs. fetal age

There are two different ways to measure the age of an in-utero baby. Gestational age is measured from the first day of a woman’s last normal period (before she fell pregnant). Foetal age is calculated from conception. Therefore, gestational age is typically two weeks more than foetal age.

How developed is an embryo when a woman finds out she is pregnant?

For the benefit of this fact check, let’s look at the progress of an embryo from five weeks gestation.

Week 5

The embryo has a heart and it has started beating. The neural tube, connecting the brain with the spinal cord, will soon close, and his or her intestines are growing, as are the kidneys, liver and appendix. Facial features are forming.

Week 6

The embryo’s heart is beating at around 150 beats per minute, twice the rate of your own. He or she is developing more facial features: openings where nostrils will be, dark spots where eyes are, pits to mark where the ears are. Hands and feet are paddle-like, and muscle fibres are starting to weave together.

Week 7
The unborn baby is now 10,000 times bigger than when they were first conceived. Much of the development this week is concentrated on their cranium, accumulating brain cells at a rate of 100 per minute. The embryo’s skin is very thin and veins are as clearly visible beneath.
Week 8

The unborn baby no longer resembles a tadpole. By now, the embryonic tail has gone and organs, muscles and nerves are starting their important tasks. Eyelids are beginning to cover their eyes, and the toes lose their webbed appearance.

Week 9
The embryo has ankles and wrists, arms can bend at the elbow and everything is being refined, from ears and nose to eyes and muscles.
Week 10
The unborn baby at this point is referred to as a foetus (Latin for “little one”). Tooth buds are appearing in their gums and their stomach is now producing digestive fluids, while the kidneys are expelling larger amounts of urine. Their head is almost half the length of the entire body and bones and cartilage are forming this week too.
*Source: pregnancy development websites including Parents.comwhattoexpect.com, babycenter.com.au and bellybelly.com

Embryo/foetal development and abortion

Whatever point a pregnancy is discovered, whether it’s five weeks or 10 weeks, it is clear that significant development has already taken place.

Up to nine weeks, a pregnant woman can access abortion drug RU486, a two-step process involving mifepristone and misoprostol. She can purchase it at a pharmacy and self-administer at home.

However, due to the nature of pregnancy with the rapid development of the embryo/foetus, and the supporting organs including the placenta and womb, it is not simply like having a normal period. Bleeding is heavy (a woman’s blood volume increases 50% during pregnancy) and pregnancy hormones are raging, making for what many women describe as an extremely traumatic experience.

After 10 weeks, other methods are used to abort the foetus and end the pregnancy, due to the unborn baby’s rapid development.

Fact check: by the time you discover you are pregnant, your unborn baby has already progressed significantly towards the child that is born at full term. Your embryo or foetus or baby is not a clump of cells but a rapidly developing human being.

Confused, scared?

Unplanned pregnancy can be complex and frightening, but there is help available for you, wherever you’re at.

I need help

 

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