Your baby’s development
Your baby is now practising their motor reflex, which causes ripples in the amniotic fluid as they turn around and do somersaults. The volume of amniotic fluid increases as your baby grows throughout your pregnancy, protecting them from any pressure that may be applied to your belly.
They use their arms to practise moving around and crawling, which will be important once they’re born as that’s how they reach their mother’s breast to stimulate your milk production and get food. Even though a baby is usually given straight to their mother so she can hold her newborn in her arms, this reflex is still a crucial part of their development. Babies crawling to their mother’s breast has been a key human instinct since early in our evolution as a species, and it remains important in our civilised world as it helps babies practise and expand their range of movements in their first few weeks and months outside the womb.
Week 20 is also when your baby’s eyebrows begin to develop, which will remain for their entire life. They can move their eyelids, though for the next few weeks they’ll keep them closed.
Another development this week is your baby’s memory. From now on, certain sounds or music they hear in the womb will be recognised by them after they’re born. So you might want to start singing or playing a lullaby to your baby in the evenings, as they’ll recognise it once they’re out of the womb and may get to sleep better when they hear it.
If you have an ultrasound scan between weeks 19 and 21, your doctor will take a close look at your baby’s limbs and their internal organs. Their little heart will be clearly recognisable, beating away, and their brain has now developed to the extent that its most important regions can clearly be seen. Your doctor will also check that their kidneys are anatomically correct and that their intestine allows substances to pass through.
What it’s like for the mum-to-be in week 20
If you’re already a mum, you’ll almost certainly have already felt your baby’s nimble movements as gentle tingling. Women in their second or third pregnancies are more sensitive to this than women who have never experienced it before.
First-time mums-to-be are bound to get a little impatient and ask when they’re going to feel their baby moving for the first time. In fact it’s already happened, but you didn’t notice it because it was very faint and you couldn’t identify it. You’ll begin to feel your baby moving for the first time at some point between week 20 and 24 if this is your first pregnancy. Week 20 is when they begin to move around more, so there’s every chance you’ll feel it as their movements will cause ripples in the amniotic fluid. The first thing you feel may well be “bubbly”, the result of the amniotic fluid moving around.
Whether it feels like a soap bubble bursting on your belly or a butterfly flapping its wings, these gentle “kicks” in your womb are some of the most exciting moments of your pregnancy and will stay with you for ever.
If the placenta is towards the front of your womb, or if your abdominal wall is particularly thick, your baby’s movements will be “muffled” and you won’t feel them until a bit later. You won’t be able to see them moving or feel them moving with your hand on your belly just yet.
Common signs and symptoms
There are various symptoms and precautionary measures your body takes as a result of the hormonal changes you’ve experienced over the last few weeks.
Increased vaginal discharge
From time to time, you’ll notice increased discharge from your vagina. This is your body’s way of “cleaning” the vagina – it’s especially important during pregnancy to keep the birth canal clean and free of bacteria. It does this by producing more fluids which “pick up” any pathogens in your vagina and thus transports them out of your body.
Your baby, meanwhile, is protected by the mucus plug, which is securely lodged at the entrance to your cervix and working hard to protect them from pathogens. There is still a chance that your vagina could suffer a bacterial imbalance and develop symptoms: in particular, pregnancy increases
the risk of a fungal infection known as vaginal mycosis. So be very careful when using public toilets and if you go swimming.
Your discharge should always be milky white or white and have a neutral smell. If either the colour or smell changes, it gets lumpy or it feels itchy, visit your doctor or midwife as soon as possible.
Back pain, pulling sensations in your abdomen and skin irritation
These symptoms are caused by the increased workload for your muscles, tendons and skin, though you may not experience them for very long and they can vary in severity.
Good ways to minimise symptoms are to do regular exercises, lift and carry objects properly (when you have to), adopt a good posture and make sure you get the breaks you need during the day.
You can pamper your skin and firm it up every day with a cream that is absorbed gently by your skin, such as HiPP Body Butter. Apply the body butter straight after a shower or a bath, while your skin is still moist.
Questions you may want to ask your doctor or midwife
Which sports can I do?
It’s important to be clear about which sports and training levels are suitable for your and your baby, and this will partly depend on how much you used to do before your pregnancy. If you’ve never done much sport before, you should find an activity during pregnancy that’s a bit gentler and strengthens your muscles, such as yoga, as opposed to something that trains endurance and stamina.
‘Swimming is a good option, and many women enjoy the feeling of lightness you get in a pool. As long as your pregnancy is progressing normally, you don't have to worry about public swimming pools – your body has now developed a few ways to protect you and your baby from bacteria.’ Dorothee Kutz, midwife
If diabetes (particularly type 1 diabetes) runs in your family, speak to your doctor about it.
There are clear signs and symptoms of diabetes, so mums-to-be regularly have their urine tested. If the result indicates possible diabetes, your doctor will carry out another test to confirm or dismiss their suspicions.
If diagnosed early, diabetes in pregnancy is easily treatable and will quickly pass. Only if it isn’t diagnosed until an advanced stage is there a risk of complications for your baby, and ultimately for you as well.
What should I do if I experience symptoms during my pregnancy?
If you experience symptoms or have an infection, and you want or need to take medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist for the right medication to take. Some medication is not allowed at all for pregnant women, while other medication is allowed but only at certain stages during pregnancy. Feel free to ask about natural, plant-based remedies too, as these can have a range of beneficial effects on the human body. Always remember to ask your doctor or pharmacist about the effect natural substances can have on your baby.
Information about the author:
Juliane Jacke-Gerlitz is a registered nurse. She has been working in the field of mother and breastfeeding counselling for more than ten years. Currently she is working as a medical writer and psychological consultant. Juliane Jacke-Gerlitz has been married for 22 years, is a mother of eight children and lives with her family in Halle.