Baby's Development in the Womb: A Week-By-Week Guide

Your baby begins as a tiny cluster of cells, but during the nine-month process of pregnancy, they develop facial features, a beating heart, and kicking legs. Find out what's happening with your baby's development each week.

Fetus inside the womb
Photo: Getty Images
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Week 1

pregnancy week 1 uterus
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This concept may be a little hard to wrap your head around, but even though you're technically in the first week of pregnancy, you're not quite expecting yet. Here's the deal: Because it's generally impossible to know the exact moment of conception, most health care providers count 40 weeks from the first day of your last menstrual period (LMP) to calculate your due date. According to this method, the beginning of "pregnancy" dates from about two weeks before the sperm penetrates the egg— which is where you are right now.

Already spotted that pink line on a home pregnancy test? You're further along than you think, so skip ahead to Week 4.

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Week 2

pregnancy week 2
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So far your baby doesn't exist, but this is the week you ovulate. Your ovary releases a ripened egg (ovum) into your fallopian tube, where it will patiently await the sperm that have survived the 6- to 8-inch trek through your cervix and uterus. While 75 to 900 million sperm embark on this journey, less than a thousand actually make it past your cervix—and only one lucky swimmer will have the honor of penetrating the egg at the moment of conception.

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Week 3

Fetal Development Pregnancy week 3
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Amazingly, your child's sex and inherited genetic characteristics—such as eye color, hair color, skin, and body type—have been set since the moment of conception. Your developing baby, now called a zygote, has 46 chromosomes (23 from you and 23 from your partner). These chromosomes help determine your baby's sex and traits such as eye and hair color, and, to some extent, personality and intelligence.

After fertilization, the ball of cells, now an embryo, will wrap up its journey through the fallopian tube and burrow itself into the wall of your uterus for nourishment—a process known as implantation.

If you're having multiples, the deed has already been done. Fraternal twins occur when two separate eggs are fertilized by two different sperm and each baby has their own placenta and amniotic sac. If one fertilized egg splits and develops into two fetuses, the result is identical twins. They may share a placenta, but each baby usually has a separate amniotic sac.

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Week 4

Fetal Development Pregnancy week 4
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So what's going on in your womb this week? Your embryo may be minuscule, but trust us: Super-important developments are already under way. This week the embryo splits into two parts. One half will become the placenta, a special tissue that delivers must-have nutrients and oxygen to your baby throughout your entire pregnancy. In the other half, the embryo itself continues to grow, and a sheet of cells has just begun to create the neural tube, where your baby's brain, spinal cord and backbone will ultimately form.

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Week 5

Pregnancy week 5
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This week, your baby's heart will start beating for the first time! (Neither you nor your doctor can hear it yet, but it may be possible to see the movement on an ultrasound.) And your little one has been really busy growing! The embryo now has three distinct layers: the outer ectoderm, which will form the nervous system, ears, eyes, inner ear, and many connective tissues; the endoderm, or inner layer, which will grow into internal organs like the lungs, intestines, and bladder; and the middle mesoderm, which will eventually make way for the heart and circulatory system. In the weeks to come, the mesoderm will also evolve into bones, muscles, kidneys, and reproductive organs.

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Week 6

Pregnancy week 6
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By the end of this week, your baby will have tripled in size! Their heart is now beating with a regular rhythm. It's still too faint to be picked up by your doctor's stethoscope, but if you have an ultrasound at some point over the next few weeks, it will probably be visible as a tiny, pulsing dot in the middle of their little body. Fun fact: From now until birth, your child's heart will beat about 150 times a minute—twice the average adult rate. Also this week, your baby's brain hemispheres are forming, and brain waves can now be recorded.

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Week 7

Pregnancy week 7
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Your baby is already developing amazingly distinct facial features. Dark spots mark the areas where their eyes and nostrils will be, and a little mouth and ears are starting to form, too. Your baby's brain is also growing more complex; if you could take a peek, it would be clearly visible inside the transparent skull. In fact, nerve cells in your baby's brain are growing at an amazing rate—100,000 cells per minute! And they're started to move in small, jerky motions, although you won't feel these movements until about your fourth month of pregnancy.

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Week 8

Pregnancy week 8
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Your baby's growth spurt continues: In the last two weeks, they have quadrupled in size. As they get bigger, delicate facial features are becoming more refined, with their ears, upper lip, and the teeny tip of their nose all clearly visible. Their eyelids will also take shape for the first time this week and their heart is growing stronger by the day.

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Week 9

Pregnancy week 9
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Even though you still have to wait another eight weeks to find out if your new addition will be a boy or a girl, this week, your baby gets the goods they'll need to, well, make their own baby one day. That's right—reproductive organs are beginning to form now, along with some other key organs, like the pancreas and gallbladder.

At this point, your baby has doubled in size and their head, which is about half the length of their entire body, is tucked down toward their chest. Their tiny fingers are growing longer, and the ends are slightly enlarged right now; this is where those unique fingerprints will ultimately form.

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Week 10

Pregnancy week 10
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Up until now, your baby was classified as an embryo, but by the end of this week, they will be a fetus. Lots of changes are on the way! Paddle-like, or webbed, hands and feet will now separate into fingers and toes, bones will begin to harden, and their kidneys are now producing urine. Most impressive? At this point, your baby's brain is developing at astounding rates— nearly 250,000 neurons are forming every minute! The end of the embryonic stage also marks a turning point for development dangers; your baby is much less susceptible to them now.

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Week 11

Pregnancy week 11 female
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Did you know your baby can breathe underwater? They're doing it right now. At weeks 10 and 11, the fetus will start to inhale and exhale small amounts of amniotic fluid, which helps your baby's lungs to grow and develop. Also this week, your baby's ears are scooting up to the sides of their head. Sure, your baby's head is still disproportionally large compared to the rest of their body, but this will even out as they continue to grow and develop in the womb.

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Week 12

Pregnancy week 12
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As your baby's muscles start to bulk up at this stage, they're getting busy stretching and kicking. When you put your hand on your belly, your baby will likely wiggle in response because their reflexes are starting to develop, though it's too early to feel their movements. They'll also start to open and close their fingers, curl their toes, and jerk and kick their arms and legs.

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Week 13

fetal development week 13
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Your baby is constantly getting bigger and cuter, and their face is looking more human-like every day. Their ears have moved up from their neck into place and their eyes—which are looking more and more like your own baby blues (or browns, or greens)—have moved from the sides of the head to the front of the face.

Up until now, their head has been outpacing their body, but now their body is growing faster. Their legs still need to grow longer, but this week, their arms will lengthen to be proportionate with their body, and they'll be able to stick their thumb in their mouth. Also by now, all of your baby's essential organs and systems have formed.

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Week 14

Pregnancy week 14
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The roof of your baby's tiny mouth is fully formed now, and their constant sucking reflexes are helping to create full, cherubic cheeks. If you're having a boy, the prostate is forming, and if you're having a girl, the ovaries are moving down into the pelvis.

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Week 15

Pregnancy week 15
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Lanugo, your baby's first ultrafine downy hair, now covers their back, shoulders, ears, and forehead. It helps them retain body heat, but once they gain enough fat to do the job, this hair will fall off—probably before birth. Facial expressions are your baby's newest trick; they can frown, squint, grimace and wince. Don't worry—they're just flexing their facial muscles, not indicating their mood.

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Week 16

Pregnancy week 16
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Your baby's delicate skeleton continues to harden from rubbery cartilage to bone. Even so, their bones will remain somewhat flexible for an easier trip through the birth canal. The umbilical cord has fully matured with one vein and two arteries that are protected by Wharton's jelly (a thick substance that makes the cord slippery so it can move freely around your baby). By the way, if you're having a girl, hundreds of thousands of eggs are forming in the ovaries this week—your future grandchildren!

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Week 17

Fetal Development Pregnancy week 17
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Finally, your baby's arms, legs, and trunk have caught up to the size of their head. Baby starts plumping up this week, as body fat is deposited under their skin and sweat glands develop. Also worth noting: The placenta is almost as big as your baby. It provides vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and oxygen, along with removing waste and filtering carbon dioxide.

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Week 18

Pregnancy week 18
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Do you and your partner talk to your baby? Well, with the bones and nerves in their ears now developed enough to function, they can hear all sorts of sounds—including blood coursing through the umbilical cord, your growling tummy, and your heartbeat. In fact, sudden or loud noises may startle them. Go ahead and sing, tell stories, or play music for your baby now. Even though your baby doesn't understand what these sounds are now, eventually they'll recognize your voice better than any other.

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Week 19

Pregnancy week 19
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Vernix caseosa begins to coat the skin. The greasy, cheese-like white coating helps regulate body temperature and protects your baby's skin while it's submerged in amniotic fluid. By the time your baby is born, most of the vernix will be gone. Your baby's heartbeat is growing stronger now and it's about twice as fast as yours.

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Week 20

Pregnancy week 20 male
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Your baby is as happy as a clam in your womb, as their well-developed limbs continue to explore by curling, flexing, and kicking. And as their hair, nails, and eyebrows continue to sprout, your fetus is looking remarkably more and more like mom and dad every day.

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Week 21

Pregnancy week 21
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Part of your baby's growth spurt at this point is likely because their stomach is now equipped to start absorbing energy-boosting nutrients from the amniotic fluid they're swallowing in there. Most of your baby's nourishment is still coming directly from the placenta, though.

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Week 22

Fetal Development Pregnancy Week 22
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Your baby's previously see-through skin will now become opaque. However, it will remain wrinkly, red, and covered in vernix until more fat helps to fill it out. Also this week, they're fine-tuning their sense of touch (thanks to maturing brain cells and nerve endings). Your baby may experiment with these newfound skills by feeling their face or anything else they can get their hands on.

This week, your baby's eyebrows start growing and hair will start sprouting on the scalp, but this varies—your baby may grow a thick head of dark hair or they may enter the world bald.

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Week 23

Pregnancy week 23
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Billions of brain cells will develop in your baby's brain over the next couple of weeks. These will control all of your baby's movements and sensory, and basic life functions like breathing. Also around this time, some major changes are happening with your baby's lungs. Surfactant is being produced, a substance that enables the air sacs to inflate and the lungs to fully expand. Right now they're still breathing amniotic fluid, but when they're born, they'll be ready for air.

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Week 24

Pregnancy week 24
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You might notice that your baby is very busy during the next few weeks. Right now they're small enough to have plenty of room to move and groove in your belly. They may even respond to your soothing voice or the rubbing of your belly by calming down, while loud sounds or a tap on your belly could cause them to become alert. Also, because the balance-controlling inner ear has developed, your baby can finally tell if they're upside down or right side up, so moving around takes on new meaning.

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Week 25

Pregnancy week 25
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Your baby's first bowel movement has been forming in the large intestine. The thick, dark poop is called meconium, and it's typically excreted shortly after birth. Occasionally babies pass this stool before they're born, which means it must be suctioned after birth to clear it from the lungs.

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Week 26

Pregnancy week 26
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Your baby has settled into a distinct sleep-wake pattern. You may notice that sometimes they're very active and kicking or punching, and other times they sleep. If you're lucky, these patterns will mimic yours.

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Week 27

Pregnancy week 27
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Your baby has been hiccuping every once in a while for several weeks, and now you might actually feel these baby hiccups, which are triggered by the involuntary movements of their diaphragm. (In adults, this is followed by the quick closure of our vocal cords, which is what makes that familiar "hic" sound.) But because your baby's trachea is filled with fluid instead of air, fetal hiccups don't make a sound. They will make your belly jump though, which is fun to see and feel!

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Week 28

Pregnancy week 28
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Until now, your baby's eyelids have been fused shut, but this week, they'll begin to open and close their eyes. What's more, their irises are now filled with pigment. Even if you could peek at the color of their peepers now, though, they might not stay that color, as a baby's eyes can change up until they're 6 months to 1 year old (especially if your little one is born with baby blues).

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Week 29

Pregnancy week 29
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Your baby is getting stronger by the minute. This week, their pushes, kicks, and rolls will likely occur more frequently and forcefully. So don't be surprised if you feel an extra-strong karate chop or two! Around this time, the part of your baby's brain associated with intelligence and personality becomes far more complex. You can get to know your baby by paying attention to how they react to different foods, sounds, and lights.

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Week 30

Pregnancy week 30
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From this point on, your baby will gain about a half pound each week. All that baby weight is for more than filling out their chubby cheeks. Now that all of their major body systems are in place and functioning, they need padding to protect and insulate their organs. Their built-up fat tissue will also help them regulate body temperature after birth and provide the energy they need. Because your baby is adding fat and growing bigger, you might find their movements become less frequent—it's getting harder for them to maneuver. But if you're not feeling any jabs or the occasional kick, tell your health care provider.

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Week 31

Fetal Development Pregnancy Week 31
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Your baby is gaining more weight than height at this point. Because they're too big to stretch out, they're now forced into the fetal position, which they'll stay in until birth. This week also boasts some exciting reproductive developments. Having a boy? The testicles are moving through the groin on their way into the scrotum. And if you've got a girl in there, the clitoris is already relatively formed.

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Week 32

Pregnancy week 32
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While a teeny part of you might be thinking "Get this kid outta here ASAP!" we bet the rest is sincerely hoping they'll stay in there a while longer. That said, you can breathe a sigh of relief for this week's important milestone. Almost all babies born at this stage or later survive and go on to have very healthy, normal lives. By this time all of their major organs are fully functioning except the lungs, which need just a bit more time to mature completely.

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Week 33

Pregnancy week 33
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Your baby doesn't have much elbow room these days—and, happily, that's probably going to mean fewer elbow jabs to the ribs for you. Because space in your uterus is running out, your baby becomes less active at this point in the pregnancy. You may also notice that their movements are affected by your daily routine—how much and when you eat, what position you're in, and sounds from the world outside can all affect your baby's activity level.

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Week 34

Pregnancy week 34
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Your baby's preparing for their arrival in just a few short weeks! This week, the protective vernix caseosa (that cheese-like, white, waxy coating that's keeping their skin safe) begins to thicken, ensuring that their birthday suit stays smooth and well-moisturized during delivery day. Your baby will likely arrive covered in the stuff, especially in the folds under their arms, behind their ears, and in the groin area. But it'll all be washed off very shortly after birth, during their first-ever bath.

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Week 35

Fetal Development Pregnancy Week 35
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At this point, your unborn baby should be positioned with their head facing down toward the cervix and vagina. About 97% of babies have adopted this position by this point; the rest remain in what's known as breech position—when the butt or feet are in place to come out first. If your baby's among this minority, it does increase your odds of needing a C-section, but there's a good chance your health care provider can correct the problem by turning them around manually with pressure applied on your belly. Called an external version, this process has about a 65% success rate.

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Week 36

Pregnancy week 36
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Your baby is working hard to accumulate all the fat they can at this point, and that layer of fat has now rounded out their face. This build-up of fat (about 15% of their total weight) will help them maintain body temperature and give them a store of energy. Their sucking muscles, which are quite powerful, have also finished developing now, and they're ready for their first real feeding. Your baby's going to be hungry soon after arrival!

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Week 37

Pregnancy week 37
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The umbilical cord begins passing antibodies to your baby in preparation for delivery. By stockpiling antibodies, your baby will be better prepared for the diseases and germs they'll encounter outside the womb.

Your baby's senses are also getting more time to hone their burgeoning skills. They can hear and recognize your voice. Once they're born, they'll turn their head in your direction when hearing you speak. Along with hearing, their eyesight is improving each day. Their fingers are also becoming more coordinated. They can grasp their face or toes. And after birth, they'll be able to grab onto your finger.

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Week 38

Pregnancy week 38
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Your baby's hanging out, enjoying their last few weeks of snuggly comfort in your womb. However, if they were born today, they would almost be considered a full-term infant. Their brain—in charge of complicated jobs like regulating breathing, digestion, and circulation—is functioning better every day.

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Week 39

Pregnancy week 39
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By now, your baby has likely reached their birth weight (typically between 6 and 9 pounds) and length (18 to 22 inches from head to toe). They've accumulated enough body fat to stay cozy after birth, and your placenta continues to supply them with nutrients and antibodies that will help fend off illnesses.

If you could sneak a peek at your baby's final moments before birth, you'd see that their head is down toward your pelvis (if they're not in the bottom-down or breech presentation, in which case your health care provider might suggest a C-section). Your baby's body will either be straight up and down, called longitudinal, or positioned at an angle, called oblique.

Along with spying your baby's body position, if you could see their head, you'd notice that they're head-down and facing your spine, which is the most common position (called anterior presentation). But sometimes, babies present head-down but facing toward your abdomen. This is called occiput or cephalic posterior. Your baby might lean slightly to one side or the other, meaning that they're either "right" or "left" anterior, or "right" or "left" posterior.

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Week 40

Pregnancy week 40
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When your baby arrives, they will be evaluated and graded (zero to two points each) on the following factors: activity and muscle tone, pulse (heart rate), grimace response (medically known as "reflex irritability"), appearance (skin coloration), and respiration (breathing rate and effort). This sum will determine the baby's Apgar score—an initial measure of their health. Most healthy babies have an Apgar between seven and nine (few babies get a 10).

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Week 41

woman in labor in hospital
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As amazing as it is to meet your baby for the first time, don't be alarmed if they're not exactly, um, as good-looking as you imagined. Those delivered vaginally tend to have temporarily misshapen heads and puffy eyes. And your baby will probably be coated with vernix caseosa, but most of it will be washed off during the first bath. It takes most newborns a few weeks to get that adorable, chubby-cheeked baby look down pat.

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Week 42

mother holding newborn baby
JOSE LUIS PELAEZ INC/GETTY IMAGES

You're probably wondering what that stubborn little bugger could still possibly be doing in your womb! Most likely they're still happily moving about in your belly, and you should keep counting fetal kicks to be sure. They're also likely gaining weight, which means you may be giving birth to a bigger baby.

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