Gestation is the carrying of an embryo or fetus inside female viviparous animals, including mammals, as well as some non-mammalian species. Mammals during pregnancy can have one or more gestations at the same time (multiple gestations).
The time interval of a gestation is called the gestation period. In human obstetrics, gestational age refers to the embryonic or fetal age plus two weeks. This is approximately the duration since the woman's last menstrual period (LMP) began.
Below are average and approximate values ordered by gestation period (note for humans gestational age is counted from the LMP, for other animals the counting method varies, so these figures could be 14 days off):
|Animal||Average gestation period (days)|
|American opossum||12 - 13|
|Golden hamster||15 - 17|
|House mice||18 - 20|
|Foxes||51 - 63|
Human pregnancy can be divided roughly into three trimesters, each approximately three months long. The first trimester is from the last period to the 13th week, the second trimester is from the 14th to 27th week, and the third trimester is from the 28th week to 42 weeks.
In humans, birth normally occurs at a gestational age of about 40 weeks, though a normal range is from 38 to 42 weeks.
A viviparous animal is an animal employing vivipary: the embryo develops inside the body of the mother, as opposed to outside in an egg (ovipary). The mother then gives live birth. The less developed form of vivipary is called ovoviviparity, which, for instance, occurs in most vipers. The more developed form of vivipary is called placental viviparity; mammals are the best example, but it has also evolved independently in other animals, such as in scorpions, some sharks, and in velvet worms. Viviparous offspring live independently and require an external food supply from birth. Certain lizards also employ this method such as the genera Tiliqua and Corucia. The placenta is attached directly to the mother in these lizards which is called viviparous matrotrophy.
Ovoviviparous animals develop within eggs that remain within the mother's body up until they hatch or are about to hatch. This strategy of birth is known as ovoviviparity. It is similar to vivipary in that the embryo develops within the mother's body. Unlike the embryos of viviparous species, ovoviviparous embryos are nourished by the egg yolk rather than by the mother's body. However, the mother's body does provide gas exchange. by many aquatic life forms such as fish and some sharks, reptiles, and invertebrates. The young of ovoviviparous amphibians are sometimes born as larvae, and undergo metamorphosis outside the body of the mother.
The Syngnathidae family of fish has the unique characteristic whereby females lay their eggs in a brood pouch on the male's chest, and the male incubates the eggs. Fertilization may take place in the pouch or before implantation in the water. Included in Syngnathidae are seahorses, the pipefish, and the weedy and leafy sea dragons. Syngnathidae is the only family in the animal kingdom to which the term "male pregnancy" has been applied.
See also 
- Evolution of mammals (for the evolution of gestation-related features in humans and other mammals)
- Male pregnancy
- Nesting instinct
- Prenatal development
- Prenatal nutrition and birth weight