Your baby is still packing on the pounds – at the rate of about an ounce a day. She now weighs almost 6 pounds (like a crenshaw melon) and is more than 18 1/2 inches long. She’s shedding most of the downy covering of hair that covered her body as well as the vernix caseosa, the waxy substance that covered and protected her skin during her nine-month amniotic bath. Your baby swallows both of these substances, along with other secretions, resulting in a blackish mixture, called meconium, will form the contents of her first bowel movement.
How your baby’s growing:
At the end of this week, your baby will be considered full-term. (Full-term is 37 to 42 weeks; babies born before 37 weeks are pre-term and those born after 42 are post-term.) Most likely she’s in a head-down position. But if she isn’t, your practitioner may suggest scheduling an “external cephalic version,” which is a fancy way of saying she’ll try to coax your baby into a head-down position by manipulating her from the outside of your belly.
How your life’s changing:
Now that your baby is taking up so much room, you may have trouble eating a normal-size meal. Smaller, more frequent meals are often easier to handle at this point. On the other hand, you may have less heartburn and have an easier time breathing when your baby starts to “drop” down into your pelvis. This process – called lightening – often happens a few weeks before labor if this is your first baby. (If you’ve given birth before, it probably won’t happen before labor starts.)
If your baby drops, you may also feel increased pressure in your lower abdomen, which may make walking increasingly uncomfortable, and you’ll probably find that you have to pee even more frequently. If your baby is very low, you may feel lots of vaginal pressure and discomfort as well. Some women say it feels as though they’re carrying a bowling ball between their legs!
You might also notice that your Braxton Hicks contractions are more frequent now. Be sure to review the signs of labor with your practitioner and find out when she wants to hear from you. As a general rule, if you’re full-term, your pregnancy is uncomplicated, and your water hasn’t broken, she’ll probably have you wait to come in until you’ve been having contractions that last for about a minute each, coming every five minutes for an hour. Of course, you’ll want to call right away if you notice a decrease in your baby’s activity or think you’re leaking amniotic fluid, or if you have any vaginal bleeding, fever, a severe or persistent headache, constant abdominal pain, or vision changes.
Even if you’re enjoying an uncomplicated pregnancy, it’s best to avoid flying (or any travel far from home) during your final month because you can go into labor at any time. In fact, some airlines won’t let women on board who are due to deliver within 30 days of the flight.
Surprising Facts: The stages of labor
For first-time moms, labor takes an average of 15 hours, though it’s not uncommon to last more than 20. (For women who’ve previously had a vaginal birth, it takes eight hours, on average.) The process of labor and birth is divided into three main stages. Here are the highlights on how childbirth progresses:
First stage The first stage begins when you start having contractions that progressively dilate and efface your cervix and it ends when your cervix is fully dilated. This stage is divided into two phases, early and active labor.
It can be tricky to determine exactly when early labor starts. That’s because early labor contractions are sometimes hard to distinguish from the inefficient Braxton Hicks contractions that you may have been feeling for some time.
Unless there are complications or your midwife or doctor has advised you otherwise, expect to sit out most of your early labor at home. (Be sure, though, to check in with your caregiver to make certain.)
Early labor ends when your cervix is about 4 centimeters dilated and your progress starts to speed up. At this point, you enter what’s known as the active phase of labor. Your contractions become more frequent, longer, and stronger.
The last part of the active phase – when your cervix dilates from 8 to 10 centimeters – is called the transition period because it marks the transition to the second stage of labor. This is the most intense part of the first stage, with contractions that are usually very strong, coming about every two and a half to three minutes and lasting a minute or more.
Second stage Once your cervix is fully dilated, the second stage of labor begins: the final descent and birth of your baby. This is the “pushing” stage of labor, and it can last anywhere from minutes to a few hours. (It’s likely to be quicker if you’ve previously given birth vaginally.)
Your baby’s head will continue to advance with each push until it “crowns” – the term used to describe the time when the widest part of your baby’s head is finally visible. After your baby’s head comes out, your midwife or doctor will suction his mouth and nose, and feel around his neck for the umbilical cord. His head then turns to the side as his shoulders rotate inside the pelvis to get into position for their exit. With the next contraction, you’ll be coached to push as his shoulders deliver, one at a time, followed by the rest of his body.
You may feel a wide range of emotions now: euphoria, awe, pride, disbelief, excitement (to name a few), and, of course, intense relief that it’s all over. Exhausted as you may be, you’ll also probably feel a burst of energy, and any thoughts of sleep will vanish for the time being.
Stage three The final stage of labor begins immediately after the birth of your baby and ends with the delivery of your placenta. The contractions in the third stage are relatively mild.
This Week’s Activity:
Create a grapevine. Make a list of all the people you want to hear about your baby’s birth – with their phone numbers or e-mail addresses – and pass this along to a friend who can spread the news. That way, when you’re ready for others to know, all you have to do is make one call. Include at least one person from work on the list, so they can spread the word there.