At week 24 of pregnancy, the fetus measures approximately 35cm from crown to heel and weighs roughly 570g. 24 weeks marks the point at which it is possible for a baby to survive outside of the uterus, although a baby born at 24 weeks will require intensive care for many weeks and there are numerous medical complications involved. The fetus is now large enough that movement within the uterus is not as free as in earlier weeks. There is still only a small amount of body fat present and the skin is still very thin and fragile.
The fetus will continue to gain weight steadily over the coming weeks, as more body fat is deposited and major organs, bones and muscles grow and become more dense. This week also marks a surge in brain growth, with nerve connections forming rapidly and becoming increasingly complex.
The lungs are also continuing to develop and now have bronchioles. Cells within the lungs are also now producing surfactant – a substance that will aid breathing after birth.
Both footprints and fingerprints are almost fully developed at this stage. Facial features are also fully formed now and hair continues to grow on the eyelashes, eyebrows and on the head. Any hair that is present will be white, as there is no pigmentation at this point.
You will probably have an antenatal appointment around this time. During this appointment, your midwife will check the fetal heartbeat and will also check for signs of pre-eclampsia – characterised by high blood pressure, swelling, and protein in urine. Your midwife will explain these risk factors to you and you should seek medical advice if you have any concerns about pre-eclampsia.
Most women will have at least some stretch marks by this point in the pregnancy, either on the belly, hips or breasts. Although there is no cream that has been proven to diminish stretch marks, keeping the skin moisturised and supple is certainly not harmful. Stretch marks will change after the birth and will fade, often becoming very pale in colour. Some women report feeling a pain in their side, similar to a stitch, from this point in pregnancy. This is caused by the muscles and ligaments being stretched by the swelling of your uterus. Some women worry that these pains are contractions and, although it is unlikely to be, you should check with your midwife if you are concerned.
Many woman notice changes in their skin and/or hair during pregnancy. One change that is reported by some women is red, itchy palms of the hands and/or soles of the feet. This is likely to be a consequence of increased levels of the hormone progesterone and nothing to be concerned about. Although there is no cure for it, you may find it helpful to avoid becoming too hot and avoid taking very hot baths, both of which can aggravate the redness.
Symptoms to watch out for
The baby should be moving quite actively at this stage. You may be having painless contractions or tightenings. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions. There should be no change in vaginal discharge at this stage. You should not be feeling undue pressure on your pelvis. If you are experiencing any of this you should consult your midwife or doctor.
What is routinely offered on NHS
You should be seeing your midwife or GP. Routinely they will test your urine, take your blood pressure and review your scan results. The anomaly scan should have been done. If the anomaly scan has shown anything of significance you will be referred to a consultant.
What other care is available
If you want additional advice you can refer yourself to a private clinic. There you can have an appointment with a midwife, specialist and you can have a high quality ultrasound scan. If you do not have confidence in the NHS scan for whatever reason it can be repeated. In a private clinic there should be more time, often better equipment and access to highly skilled expertise. If you have had a previous late miscarriage or carry twins then a cervical scan is readily available. You can have a detailed discussion with a specialist about any concerns you may have.