Monday, October 31, 2011


Illustration of prenatal development, from the two-cell, or zygote, stage through the embryonic stage, in which the major body systems develop, to the fetal stage, during which the baby's brain develops and the body adds size and weight.
(Illustration by GGS Information Services.)
  • Week 3: Beginning development of the brain, heart, blood cells, circulatory system, spinal cord, and digestive system.
  • Week 4: Beginning development of bones, facial structures, and limbs (presence of arm and leg buds); continuing development of the heart (which begins to beat), brain, and nervous tissue.
  • Week 5: Beginning development of eyes, nose, kidneys, lungs; continuing development of the heart (formation of valves), brain, nervous tissue, and digestive tract.
  • Week 6: Beginning development of hands, feet, and digits; continuing development of brain, heart, and circulation system.
  • Week 7: Beginning development of hair follicles, nipples, eyelids, and sex organs (testes or ovaries); first formation of urine in the kidneys and first evidence of brain waves.
  • Week 8: Facial features more distinct, internal organs well developed, the brain can signal for muscles to move, heart development ends, external sex organs begin to form.
By the end of the embryonic stage, all essential external and internal structures have been formed. The embryo is now referred to as a fetus. 

Fetal stage
Prenatal development is most dramatic during the fetal stage. When an embryo becomes a fetus at eight weeks, it is approximately 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) in length from crown to rump and weighs about 3 grams (0.1 ounce). By the time the fetus is considered full-term at 38 weeks gestation, he or she may be 50 centimeters (20 inches) or 3.3 kilograms (7.3 pounds). Although all of the organ systems were formed during embryonic development, they continue to develop and grow during the fetal stage. Examples of some of the major features of fetal development by week are as follows:

  • Weeks 9–12: The fetus reaches approximately 8 cm. (3.2 in.) in length; the head is approximately half the size of the fetus. External features such as the face, neck, eyelids, limbs, digits, and genitals are well formed. The beginnings of teeth appear, and red blood cells begin to be produced in the liver. The fetus is able to make a fist.
  • Weeks 13–15: The fetus reaches approximately 15 cm. (6 in.) in length. Fine hair called lanugo first develops on the head; structures such as the lungs, sweat glands, muscles, and bones continue to develop. The fetus is able to swallow and make sucking motions.
  • Weeks 16–20: The fetus reaches approximately 20 cm. (8 in.) in length. Lanugo begins to cover all skin surfaces, and fat begins to develop under the skin. Features such as finger and toenails, eyebrows, and eyelashes appear. The fetus becomes more active, and the mother can sometimes begin to feel fetal movements at this stage.
  • Weeks 21–24: The fetus reaches approximately 28.5 cm. (11.2 in.) in length and weighs approximately 0.7 kg (1 lb. 10 oz.). Hair grows longer on the head, and the eyebrows and eye lashes finish forming. The lungs continue to develop with the formation of air sac (alveoli); the eyes finish developing. A startle reflex develops at this time.
  • Weeks 25–28: The fetus reaches approximately 38 cm. (15 in.) in length and weighs approximately 1.2 kg (2 lb. 11 oz.). The next few weeks mark a period of rapid brain and nervous system development. The fetus gains greater control over movements such as opening and closing eyelids and certain body functions. The lungs have developed sufficiently that air breathing is possible.
  • Weeks 29–32: The fetus reaches approximately 38–43 cm. (15–17 in.) in length and weighs approximately 2 kg (4 lb. 6 oz.). Fat deposits become more pronounced under the skin. The lungs remain immature but breathing movements begin. The fetus's bones are developed but not yet hardened.
  • Weeks 33–36: The fetus reaches approximately 41–48 cm. (16–19 in.) in length and weighs 2.6–3.0 kg (5 lb. 12 oz. to 6 lb. 12 oz.). Body fat continues to increase, lanugo begins to disappear, and fingernails are fully grown. The fetus has gained a high degree of control over body functions.
  • Weeks 36–38: The fetus reaches 48–53 cm. (19–21 in.) in length is considered to be full-term by the end of this period. Lanugo has mostly disappeared and is replaced with thicker hair on the head. Fingernails have grown past the tips of the fingers. In a healthy fetus, all organ systems are functioning.

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