18 Weeks

Head to rump, your baby is about 5 1/2 inches long (about the length of a bell pepper) and he weighs almost 7 ounces. He’s busy flexing his arms and legs – movements that you’ll start noticing more and more in the weeks ahead.

How your baby’s growing:

His blood vessels are visible through his thin skin, and his ears are now in their final position, although they’re still standing out from his head a bit.

A protective covering of myelin is beginning to form around his nerves, a process that will continue for a year after he’s born. If you’re having a girl, her uterus and fallopian tubes are formed and in place. If you’re having a boy, his genitals are noticeable now, but he may hide them from you during an ultrasound.

How your life’s changing:

Hungry? An increase in appetite is pretty common about now. Make it count by choosing meals and snacks that are rich in nutrients instead of empty calories (chips, French fries, candy, and other sweets). Bigger, more comfortable clothes are a must now as your appetite and waistline grow.

Your cardiovascular system is undergoing dramatic changes, and during this trimester your blood pressure will probably be lower than usual. Don’t spring up too fast from a lying or sitting position or you might feel a little dizzy.

From now on, when you do lie down, it’s best to lie on your side – or at least partly tilted to one side. (When you lie flat on your back, your uterus can compress a major vein, leading to decreased blood return to your heart.) Try placing a pillow behind you or under your hip or upper leg for comfort.

If you haven’t already had a second-trimester ultrasound, you’ll probably have one soon. This painless procedure helps your practitioner check how your baby’s growing, screen for certain birth defects, check the placenta and umbilical cord, determine whether the due date you’re working with is accurate, and see how many babies you’re carrying. During the exam, you might see your baby moving around or sucking his thumb. Bring your partner along, and be sure to ask for a printout for your baby’s first photo album!

3 Questions About…How to exercise now

Q1. Should I change my fitness routine?

In most cases, if you’re healthy and your pregnancy is proceeding normally, you can continue working out as you did in your first trimester – with some sensible modifications to accommodate your growing belly. What to do: Stick to a moderate level of exercise and avoid bouncing and jarring motions, sudden changes of position, and lying on your back.

Q2. I’ve been pretty sedentary, but I’d like to start getting some exercise. Where should I start?

First, check in with your caregiver about your plans. Then, you’ll need to start with gentle exercise for short periods of time (about 15 minutes a few times per week) and gradually work up to a longer and more intense daily routine (about half an hour a day). What to do: Walking is the easiest way to get started on a regular fitness program, and it doesn’t require any special equipment other than a good pair of walking shoes! Many women enjoy swimming during pregnancy because the water helps hold up their extra weight. Others swear by prenatal yoga to stretch and strengthen their body as well as relieve aches and pains.

Q3. What are Kegels?

Kegels are exercises that strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor – the ones that support your urethra, bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum. Kegels help prevent urine leaks during and after pregnancy and may even help you in the second stage of labor. What’s more, Kegels increase circulation to your rectal and vaginal area, so they may help keep hemorrhoids at bay and speed healing after childbirth if you receive stitches.

Here’s how to do them:

  • Tighten the muscles around your vagina as if trying to interrupt the flow of urine when going to the bathroom. Use a “squeeze and lift” technique, working only your pelvic floor muscles while keeping your abdominal and leg muscles relaxed. And be sure not to hold your breath.
  • Hold for about eight to ten seconds, then release. Do them in sets of ten, and try to work up to three or four sets a day.
This Week’s Activity:

Look into childbirth classes. The best and most popular ones fill up fast so start your search now. Classes vary quite a bit in their approach. Some are spread out over several weeks, while others are as short as a day. Your hospital probably offers classes, but you may want to take a specialized class elsewhere. To find a class, get recommendations from your healthcare provider and your friends, or call the International Childbirth Education Association at (952) 854-8660 for information about childbirth educators in your area.

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