Each day the little person inside of you is looking more like -- well, a little person. The fine, downy hair that covers the entire body -- known as lanugo -- will also appear around this time. Lanugo provides a protective covering for the baby's sensitive skin.
If you could see your child's hands, you would be astonished by how perfect they look compared to just a few weeks ago. At eight weeks, the beginnings of the fingers were barely discernable bumps on the spatula-shaped hand; at nine weeks, the fingers had emerged but were joined by webbing. Now, at 15 weeks, her hand looks like yours, but her whole hand is about the size of the tip of your pinky. Despite all these developmental milestones, your baby herself is still only about four inches long and weighs only 1 and three-quarters ounces.
A baby's feet develop later than her hands. No one knows why development occurs exactly the way it does, but some experts speculate that it's based on what the baby will need first. For instance, after birth a baby will use her hands for grasping and holding long before she will use her feet for walking.
Your baby's movements are increasingly graceful and coordinated. Her warm amniotic bath is the perfect setting for baby stretches and leaps, lunges and grabs, for it provides a safe and cushioned place for her to practice stretching her developing limbs and muscles. There are no obstacles or gravity: She is weightless so she can move with ease. It is unlikely that you feel any of this activity: The baby is still too small for her movements to register.
This is a time when your doctor may order a series of tests for you, including screening to check for Down syndrome and other genetic defects. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that non-invasive tests involving a blood draw from you and ultrasound to check for these chromosomal abnormalities be offered to all women regardless of age, and that depending on the results, diagnostic testing should be made available as well. Talk to your doctor about whether you should get these tests and when you should schedule them.
As your baby grows and becomes more active, you are probably finding that for you, the reverse is true. That is, as you grow, you may find that you feel like moving less. You've left behind the crushing fatigue of early pregnancy, but as you grow bigger and heavier you are likely to feel a bit bloated and unwieldy. As your baby leaps about inside you, you'll relish the chance to sit down, and your bed will probably look delicious by the end of the day.
At the same time, you may find that you have trouble sleeping soundly as your pregnancy progresses. You may be uncomfortable with your swelling body and find it hard to maintain a comfortable sleeping position.
If you are in the habit of sleeping on your stomach or your back, you may have trouble adjusting to a different position. But as your pregnancy progresses, you should develop the habit of sleeping on your side every night. Sleeping on your stomach (which is probably no longer very comfortable anyway) puts pressure on your uterus. Sleeping on your back isn't good, either, as it can restrict the blood flow to your fetus and to the rest of your body.
If sleep is a problem, consider buying a pregnancy pillow. These pillows, which are long and tubular, provide support for your growing belly and aching limbs. If you curl around the pillow on your side, and prop other pillows behind your back, you should be able to find a position that feels comfortable. Even without a pregnancy pillow, you can use extra pillows and bolsters to provide welcome support. Many women find that a hot water bottle at night also helps ease pregnancy aches and pains.
But even after you find a comfortable sleeping position, you may find that sleep eludes you. The culprits can include hormones, heartburn, indigestion, waking up to go to the bathroom -- or simply excitement and apprehension about giving birth and becoming a parent.
To improve the quality and quantity of your sleep, make sure you limit your caffeine intake (which you should be doing anyway), sleep with your head raised to ease heartburn, and don't drink liquids after dinner so you can reduce the number of bathroom visits during the night.
Regular exercise will also improve your ability to fall asleep and sleep through the night. You shouldn't overdo it, of course: Your doctor has probably advised you to follow a regime of regular, moderate exercise. Just make sure not to do it too close to bedtime; otherwise you may feel too energized to sleep. Walking and swimming are wonderful forms of exercise during pregnancy, for they are both stimulating and gentle.
Prenatal yoga is also a fabulous way to stay limber and comfortable during pregnancy. Instructors who teach prenatal yoga are trained to help women move and stretch in ways that are safe and comfortable. Prenatal yoga has the added benefit of allowing you to relax, which should also help you get a good night's rest.
During your pregnancy you'll likely be advised by well-meaning friends to sleep now -- before the baby comes and the luxury of uninterrupted sleep becomes a dim memory. But don't fret if you aren't getting enough sleep. This is a common pregnancy complaint. Some have even speculated that this restlessness helps prepare a woman for motherhood. The theory is that a pregnant woman is being honed for the tasks of motherhood, the vigilance and nurturing, that allows even the newest mother to anticipate her child's cries and provide comfort.
So try to relax and get sleep when you can: Take naps if your routine allows it, or sleep in on the weekends. If you find yourself awake at 2 a.m., try fixing yourself a warm glass of milk and a light snack, if you are hungry. Read a magazine article or book -- but make sure it isn't something too stimulating or disturbing. Resist the urge to switch on the TV or launch a new project. Instead, keep the lights low, curl up and try to relax. Sleep will eventually return -- at least for a blessed hour or two.
Campbell, Stuart M.D. Watch Me Grow!St. Martin's Press.
Curtis, Glade OB/GYN and Schuler, Judith M.S. Your Pregnancy Week by Week. De Capo Press.
Pregnancy Calendar Week 15. Nemours Foundation. http://kidshealth.org/
Sears, William, Sears, Martha, The Pregnancy Book, Little Brown and Company.
Shanahan, M. Kelly, Your Over 35-Week, by Week Pregnancy Guide, Prima Publishing.