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Your baby's fingers and toes begin to form this week, although they are still webbed. Your baby's tiny arms and legs are growing longer and more defined. Paddle-shaped foot and hand areas are evident. Wrists, elbows and ankles are clearly visible. Your baby may even be able to flex at the elbows and wrists.

Your baby's eyelids also are beginning to form. Until the eyelids are done growing, your baby's eyes will appear open. In addition, this week your baby's ears, upper lip and tip of the nose begin taking on recognizable form.

Your baby's digestive tract is continuing to grow, especially the intestines. Heart function and circulation are now more fully developed. Your baby's heart is pumping at about 150 beats a minute, about twice the adult rate.

At the eighth week of your pregnancy, your baby is just over 1/2 of an inch long.

Early hazards to your baby's health

Your developing baby is most vulnerable during the period from three to eight weeks after conception. That is weeks five through 10 of your pregnancy. All major organs are forming during this time, and injury to the embryo can result in a major birth defect, such as spina bifida.

Things that can cause damage to your baby include:

• Teratogens. These are substances that cause physical defects in your developing baby. Examples include alcohol, certain medications and recreational drugs. Avoid them.

• Infections. Viruses and bacteria can potentially harm your baby in early pregnancy. A baby can only acquire one of these infections through the mother, but you may not even feel very ill with some of the conditions that can cause serious defects. Fortunately, you will have been immunized against many of these infections. You may have a natural immunity against others. Still, it makes sense to take appropriate precautions to avoid exposure to illnesses such as chickenpox, measles, mumps, German measles (rubella) or cytomegalovirus (CMV).

• Radiation. High doses of ionizing radiation, such as radiation therapy for cancer, can harm your baby. But the low doses in a diagnostic X-ray pose no significant increase in the risk of birth defects. However, when you're pregnant it's best not to have an X-ray unless it's necessary, just as you wouldn't undergo any medical procedure or take medications unless it's necessary at any other time. If you may have a serious health problem where an X-ray can provide important information, it's probably best to do it. Unless it's very extensive, diagnostic X-rays may be more helpful than harmful, even in early pregnancy. If you had an X-ray before you knew you were pregnant, don't be alarmed. Talk with your health care provider.

• Poor nutrition. Extremely poor eating habits during pregnancy can harm your baby. Eating too little of a specific nutrient can cause cell development to be less than ideal. However, the early embryo isn't likely to be harmed by a lack of calories, even if nausea and vomiting limit the calories you can take in.

Be sure to take a daily vitamin supplement containing at least 400

micrograms of folic acid. This will reduce your baby's risk of developing spina bifida or other neural tube defects.

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