3.6 Pregnancy and Embryonic Development

After implantation, finger-like projections appear on the trophoblast called chorionic villi which are surrounded by the uterine tissue and maternal blood. The chorionic villi and uterine tissue become interdigitated with each other and jointly form a structural and functional unit between developing embryo (foetus) and maternal body called placenta.

The placenta facilitate the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the embryo and also removal of carbon dioxide and excretory/waste materials produced by the embryo.

The placenta is connected to the embryo through an umbilical cord which helps in the transport of substances to and from the embryo. Placenta also acts as an endocrine tissue and produces several hormones like human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), human placental lactogen (hPL), estrogens, progestogens, etc.

In the later phase of pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin is also secreted by the ovary. Let us remember that hCG, hPL and relaxin are produced in women only during pregnancy. In addition, during pregnancy the levels of other hormones like estrogens, progestogens, cortisol, prolactin, thyroxine, etc., are increased severalfolds in the maternal blood.

Increased production of these hormones is essential for supporting the fetal growth, metabolic changes in the mother and maintenance of pregnancy. Immediately after implantation, the inner cell mass (embryo) differentiates into an outer layer called ectoderm and an inner layer called endoderm. A mesoderm soon appears between the ectoderm and the endoderm.

These three layers give rise to all tissues (organs) in adults. It needs to be mentioned here that the inner cell mass contains certain cells called stem cells which have the potency to give rise to all the tissues and organs.

What are the major features of embryonic development at various months of pregnancy? The human pregnancy lasts 9 months. Do you know many months pregnancy last in dogs, elephants, cats? Find out. In human beings, after one month of pregnancy, the embryo’s heart is formed.

The first sign of growing foetus may be noticed by listening to the heart sound carefully through the stethoscope. By the end of the second month of pregnancy, the foetus develops limbs and digits. By the end of 12 weeks (first trimester), most of the major organ systems are formed, for example, the limbs and external genital organs are well-developed.

The first movements of the foetus and appearance of hair on the head are usually observed during the fifth month. By the end of 24 weeks (second trimester), the body is covered with fine hair, eye-lids separate, and eyelashes are formed. By the end of nine months of pregnancy, the foetus is fully developed and is ready for delivery.

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