3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> The female body

The female body


If you think of everything that a woman has to do to bring a baby into the world, you realize what a feat of engineering the female body is. Your body has to produce an egg, ready to be fertilized by a sperm, and provide the right environment for that egg to grow and develop until it becomes a fully developed baby. Then you have to give birth, bringing that baby into the world, ready to lead an independent life.

Female internal anatomy

Before you get pregnant, the uterus is roughly the size and shape of a pear and weighs about 60 g. The ovaries lie between the fimbriae at the end of the Fallopian tubes, through which a fertilized egg will travel to the uterus.

The female reproductive system

Before you start trying to conceive, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the workings of your reproductive system. You will soon be coming across words such asbvulation'and'cervix'more often than you imagine, from the moment you attempt to get pregnant, throughout all your antenatal tests and check-ups, to the birth itself. The more you know about your reproductive body parts and what they do, the more in control and confident you are likely to feel when talking to your doctor or midwife. So the sooner you learn what all the different terms mean, the better!

All the eggs you will ever produce are stored in your ovaries before you are born. When you begin menstruating, your body is finally mature enough to reproduce and one egg is released approximately every 28 days until you reach the menopause. The release of the egg is called ovulation, and usually each of your two ovaries produces an egg on alternate months.The ovaries also produce oestrogen which thickens the lining of the womb ready to receive the fertilized egg.

Eggs

One egg is referred to as an ovum, while several eggs are ova. Each month, about 20 eggs begin to ripen inside the follicles in your ovaries. One egg will ripen before the others and be released from the follicle

Fallopian tubes

You have two Fallopian tubes (oviducts), one running from each ovary down to the uterus. When an egg is released from an ovary, it is drawn into the Fallopian tube. Slight contractions of the Fallopian tube help to move the egg towards the uterus. This takes a couple of days, during which time the egg may be fertilized by a sperm.

Uterus

The egg moves into the uterus (womb), which is like a bag with a thick muscular wall and, if it is fertilized, it implants in the endometrium.

Endometrium

This is the spongy lining of the uterus that has been prepared ready to receive the fertilized egg. If the egg is not fertilized, this lining is shed -this is your period. If a fertilized egg implants in the lining, it starts to develop, and a placenta will begin to form.

Cervix

This is the neck of the uterus, through which the baby passes at birth. It is normally closed, with a tiny opening through which blood seeps during a period. In the early stage of labour, it dilates (opens) gradually - you are said to be in established labour when it is 2-3 cm dilated.