Fertilization occurs when the sperm successfully enters the ovum's membrane. The genetical material of the sperm and egg that combine to form a single cell, called a zygote, and the germinal stage of prenatal development commences. The germinal stage refers to the time from fertilization, through the development of the early embryo, up until implantation. The germinal stage is over at about 10 days of gestation.
The zygote contains a full complement of genetic material and develops into the embryo. Briefly, embryonic developments have four stages: the morula stage, the bastula stage, the gastrula stage, and the neurula stage. Prior to implantation, the embryo remains in a protein shell, the zona pellucida, and undergoes a series of cell divisions, called mitosis. A week after fertilization the embryo still has not grown in size, but hatches from the zona pellucida and adheres to the lining of the mother's uterus. This induces a decidual reaction, wherein the uterine cells proliferate and surround the embryo thus causing it to become embedded within the uterine tissue. The embryo, meanwhile, proliferates and develops both into embryonic and extra-embryonic tissue, the latter forming the fetal membranes and the placenta. In humans, the embryo is referred to as a fetus in the later stages of prenatal development. The transition from embryo to fetus is arbitrarily defined as occurring 8 weeks after fertilization. In comparison to the embryo, the fetus has more recognizable external features and a set of progressively developing internal organs. A nearly identical process occurs in other species.