Congratulations; you have reached the final month of your pregnancy! After weeks of rapid weight gain, things should start to slow down from week 36 onwards. You and your baby will have, by now, gained the majority of the weight that you are both going to, so you can be fairly confident that you will not get very much bigger from now until the day you deliver.
Every woman and every pregnancy is different, but by week 36, the average woman will have gained around 12 KG. With all this extra weight, you will probably be relieved to hear that, from this point onwards, growth slows right down and you will probably gain less than 1 KG between now and delivery.
At this stage, everything is about getting ready for the big day. By now you will probably be on excellent terms with your own healthcare team; you may even have chosen and met the paediatrician that you will be entrusting with your newborn’s care. Your hospital bag will be packed and ready to go and your baby’s nursery will be set up and equipped with everything needed to welcome the new arrival.
You may find that your thoughts turn more frequently to the actual process of giving birth now that you are nearing the end of your pregnancy. It is completely normal to wonder whether every twinge or cramp is the first sign of labour. In fact, there are three stages to labour, and the first one begins with regular uterine contractions. This stage of labour can last for a surprisingly long time, so don’t panic. If you are unsure whether it really is the start of labour, try to relax and monitor any contractions that you are having. Provided they are still well spaced out and you are not in excessive discomfort, you should have time to assess whether or not this really is the start, or just a false alarm. True labour is more than just cramping in the abdominal region, it is regular uterine contractions that begin to cause changes in the cervix in preparation for delivery. This partly explains why Braxton Hicks contractions, which you may be experiencing with increasing regularity now, are not true labour.
Whilst we are on the topic, this is an ideal time to speak to your doctor or midwife about what process to follow when your labour begins for real and/or your waters break. Although your due date is still a month away, babies have been known to arrive early! This will include timing your contractions so you know when you should head to the hospital or birthing centre.
It is also a good idea to remember that any unexpected changes in your condition should still be checked out by a medical professional. Even at this late stage, it is better to err on the side of caution; so if you notice a lack of activity from the baby, any vaginal bleeding, or any other novel symptoms, call the hospital or your midwife for immediate advice.
At week 36, your baby’s foetal age is 34 weeks. He or she probably weighs between 2.5 and 2.7 KG and measures about 45cm from the top of the head to the tip of the toes. Overall, your baby is about the size of a romaine lettuce.
Just as your weight gain is slowing, your baby’s weight gain will also slow down as the pregnancy nears its end. At the same time, the amount of amniotic fluid surrounding your baby will continue to decrease, which is likely to change the way you feel movements. Less fluid means that the movements may feel sharper and more intense. However, as the baby is starting to drop into position (lightening), his or her wayward kicks and punches will be starting to target different organs. You will no doubt feel relieved to have fewer pokes to the lungs and upper abdomen. With less room to wiggle around, movements may feel smaller because your baby no longer has the space to perform advanced gymnastic manoeuvers.
At this point, your healthcare provider will be checking your baby to make sure he or she is in the right position for you to deliver vaginally. If your baby is still not presenting head down (known as breech presentation), there are steps that can be taken to help move him or her into a better position. One way to do this medically is via a procedure known as External Cephalic Version (ECV), in which your doctor will use gentle pressure to move your baby into a better position in the uterus. Non-medical interventions include the mother-to-be adopting different positions, or performing movements on a birthing ball, to encourage the baby to flip by themselves. Other women opt to use complementary medicine, such as acupuncture or chiropractic adjustments to encourage optimal positioning.
Although most development is complete by week 36, these last few weeks are crucial for lung development. The brain will continue to develop long after birth, so the lungs are the last major organ system to complete development in utero. This is why one of the biggest challenges faced by premature babies is under-developed lungs and respiratory distress. The goal in these last few weeks of pregnancy, is for your baby’s lungs to develop sufficient strength that he or she is able to breathe completely unaided immediately after birth. Foetal lungs can be tested to see how developed they are, which can prove useful for those at risk of premature labour; allowing the doctor to anticipate, ahead of time, how much additional assistance, if any, your baby will require.
“Have you thought about how to make life after delivery a little bit simpler? Prepping now can definitely make those sleep-deprived days run more smoothly.”
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