Week 3 of pregnancy: A new life begins

Working out which week of your pregnancy you are in starts from the first day of your last period. Even though you weren’t pregnant during the first 14 days, they are included because your egg was fertilised in this cycle. Ovulation took place between day 14 and day 17 of your cycle, which means your baby’s amazing journey begins in week 3 of your pregnancy.

Size of your baby in week 3

If your egg is fertilised, a strong shell will form around it to prevent other sperm from penetrating the egg.

The egg, which now contains genetic information from you and from the father, begins to divide over the next few days. Two days after the sperm fuses with the egg, it consists of four cells. A day later, it consists of 12-16 cells. The divided egg now looks like a mulberry in the way it bulges, and in fact doctors refer to the egg at this stage as a morula (from the Latin morus = mulberry). The fertilised egg is still less than a millimetre in size and can’t be seen with the naked eye. Even a conventional ultrasound can’t detect it, which means you can’t tell for certain that pregnancy has begun. Five days after its fertilisation, the egg reaches your uterus. At this stage it’s still incredibly small and seemingly insignificant, but nonetheless it already contains everything it needs to grow.

Your baby’s development

If the sperm successfully fuses with the egg, pregnancy begins and the fertilised egg begins to move towards the uterus. The egg starts to divide 24 hours after fertilisation and, from then on, it divides every 12 to 15 hours. This early stage is when the key elements and components of the human body start to take shape.

Five days after the sperm and egg meet, the divided egg reaches the uterus.

The uterus provides the best possible environment for your baby to grow and develop. The lining has grown to a thickness of 7 to 8 mm, which is ideal for implantation and supplying the fertilised egg with everything it needs.

Seven days after the egg was fertilised and began to divide, this remarkable clump of cells embeds itself in the uterus lining. The shell that formed around the egg helps this process, and this shell now disintegrates and forms the hormone progesterone. This increases the thickness of the uterus lining, which helps keep the egg securely in place.

Once implantation occurs, you are definitely pregnant. Now, an incredible time of growth and development begins.

What it’s like for the mum-to-be in week 3

At this stage, you don’t yet know the happy news, though you might be able to sense it – your woman’s intuition may already be telling you that you’re pregnant. An ultrasound image wouldn’t detect your baby, a pregnancy test would come up negative, and you won’t experience any physical symptoms. However, you may well feel extremely happy and complete. These positive emotions are caused by the hormone progesterone, which is now present in your uterus.

Potential signs and symptoms

Some women notice small spots or discharge of blood. This is called implantation bleeding, and it’s a good sign as implantation results in small wounds in the uterus lining.

You might feel a slight pulling pain in your abdomen, which is due to the implantation. In week 3, some women will also start to get slightly sore breasts. These symptoms are not unique to implantation and can be misread as symptoms of ovulation rather than a sign that pregnancy is beginning.

How you can help your body at the beginning of your pregnancy

A balanced diet is crucial in order for the egg to grow as it should. Make sure you get plenty of vitamins – and remember that some vitamins are fat-soluble, which means that fats are required for their absorption and processing within the body. 

We don’t just get fats from meat: cheese, milk, butter and other dairy products contain fats, as do oils. Fats don’t necessarily have to come from animals either. Vegetable fatty acids are unsaturated, making them more digestible for our metabolism (plus there are lots of creative ways to use them when cooking!). 

Eat fresh food as much as possible and enjoy everything nature has to offer. Try to avoid processed food and make raw fruit and vegetables a frequent part of your diet, as these are good sources of vitamins which will help your body cope with pregnancy. Fruit and vegetables also contain high amounts of fibre, which will become increasingly important as your pregnancy progresses.

Midwife’s advice

‘In the early stage of pregnancy, many women want to eat big, hearty meals. Don’t worry, your little Peanut will survive. This stage will pass, and then you can start to eat more healthily again.’ Dorothee Kutz, midwife

Food containing plenty of iron and folic acid (a vitamin which plays a major role in blood formation and cell growth) is particularly recommended. Pregnant women need a lot of folic acid, as it also helps avoid developmental disorders in their unborn baby.

However, folic acid is extremely sensitive, so getting enough of it in your diet during pregnancy is almost impossible. As a result, we recommend that you start taking special dietary supplements (usually in combination with iodine) from the moment you decide you want to try for a baby. Speak to your doctor or midwife about the supplement that’s right for you!

Iron transports the all-important oxygen in our blood. As pregnant women are feeding both themselves and their unborn baby, they need large amounts of iron and have regular check-ups where their blood is taken to measure its iron levels.

What you should definitely avoid

If you’re pregnant, there are certain things you should avoid as they will impair your child’s healthy development and your personal wellbeing.

  • Alcohol:

Alcohol weakens your body, particularly if you consume it regularly. It has also been shown to impede a baby’s development. Each mouthful of alcohol will reach your baby, as it passes straight through the placenta.

  • Nicotine:

Nicotine increases your heart rate and makes your body stressed. It can quickly lead to an addiction, which is not compatible with a healthy pregnancy. It enters the bloodstream, so it reaches the developing uterus lining (which receives a rich supply of blood and can therefore contain all kinds of toxins). Nicotine can result in insufficient intrauterine blood flow, which will impair your child’s development.

  • Stress:

If you know for sure that you’re pregnant, you should avoid stress as much as possible. Even working in day and night shifts can disrupt your body’s natural rhythm in a small way, which can have a damaging effect on your baby’s development.

Midwife’s advice

‘Some women don’t know that they’re pregnant right at the start, and they might drink alcohol or smoke. Don’t feel guilty about it. The “all or nothing” principle still applies: either the pregnancy will last, or unfortunately it won’t. However, this may then be due to other reasons. As soon as you know that you’re pregnant, you should, of course, stop smoking and avoid alcohol.’ Dorothee Kutz, midwife

Top tips

  • Keep calm if you think you might be pregnant.
  • Buy a reliable pregnancy test.
  • Make an appointment with your gynaecologist.
  • Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling.

Questions you may want to ask your doctor or midwife

Getting sufficient vitamins and minerals

Particularly at the beginning of pregnancy, there is a risk of your baby developing deformities as a result of deficiencies.  One example is neural tube defects, which are caused by the expectant mother not getting enough folic acid, a substance which is crucial for generating fresh cells. For this reason, supplements containing folic acid are recommended if you’re trying for a baby or are pregnant. Early on in your pregnancy, you’ll need 400 micrograms a day, considerably more than the 300 micrograms needed by a woman who is not pregnant. From week 12, your daily folic acid requirements will increase to up to 800 micrograms.

Many supplements that contain folic acid also contain iodine. If you have thyroid disease or a hormonal imbalance in your thyroid gland, iodine is not recommended and you should take a supplement that does not contain iodine.

The best thing to do is to discuss your personal circumstances with your doctor or midwife. 

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.