Welcome to the end of your pregnancy! Hopefully by week 40 you are feeling calm, ready and prepared. Of course, you are likely to still have some concerns; does the nursery look ready and have everything you will need? Have you got enough food and meals prepared to last you through the first week or so? Have you got everything you will need for breastfeeding? Try not to get too overwhelmed by all of this, you will probably find everything slots perfectly into place once the baby is born and the worries you had before no longer seem very important. If you are fortunate enough to have a strong support system in place, now is the time to ask for help!
If by week 40 you’re finding yourself watching your body for every little sign of imminent labour, you’re not alone! Most women end their pregnancies nervously anticipating the start of labour.
One of the most common concerns for expectant mothers at this late stage in their pregnancies, is in relation to their waters breaking. Despite what television dramas and the movies would have you believe, not every labour begins with a dramatic gush of amniotic fluid (usually at a very inopportune moment!) In fact, less than 20% of labours begin with the classic “water breaking”; and even if your labour does start this way, you are far more likely to experience a trickle of fluid than a full gush! So, if you are worried about being embarrassed in public, try not to panic; it very rarely happens as depicted on screen.
In general, amniotic fluid should be clear. If you are leaking yellow liquid, it might be urine; it is entirely normal for your pelvic floor muscles to be struggling by this late stage in pregnancy. Alternatively, if the fluid is discoloured or has a greenish hue, it is probably meconium, and you should contact your healthcare provider immediately. It means that your baby will have already had their first bowel movement and, to avoid them ingesting too much of the waste product, steps will need to be implemented to ensure they are born as soon as possible. Discharge that is thicker, and even slightly bloody, might be your mucus plug coming loose; this is yet another sign that labour is imminent. If you are unsure about any discharge you are experiencing speak to your doctor or midwife.
One important thing to remember is that once your waters break, you can be confident that your baby will be born very soon. In most cases, labour will begin within 24 hours. If it doesn’t start on its own, your healthcare provider will probably induce labour, either by manually breaking the amniotic sac fully, or with drugs to stimulate labour. Doctors will usually recommend this within a few hours of your waters breaking to avoid the risk of infection. However, finding out the policy at your birthing centre or hospital might be a good question to ask at one of your prenatal visits.
Finally, don’t worry if your due date comes and goes with no sign of labour. Remember, your baby isn’t working to a calendar and not all babies are born during week 40. Maintain regular contact with your healthcare provider and take comfort in the knowledge that you will soon be holding your newborn baby in your arms.
This is it! Week 40 and your baby is now fully developed and ready to enter the world.
Until now, you will have been very focused on your labour and delivery. However, very soon your focus is going to shift to your new baby. What can you expect immediately after delivery?
In a typical vaginal delivery, the baby is delivered headfirst and face down, followed shortly after by delivery of the placenta. Once your baby is born, provided both of you are stable, your baby will be placed on your chest for immediate skin-to-skin contact. This skin-to-skin contact with your newborn has multiple benefits, encouraging early bonding and helping to initiate successful breastfeeding. Your baby has spent nine months listening to the sound of your heartbeat, so placing them on your chest also provides them with some much-needed familiarity, after the shock of being born.
The paediatric team will give your baby a quick check over to make sure everything is as it should be. They will monitor your baby’s breathing rate, their heart rate, how they move and their skin colour. Provided all is well (and usually it is), your baby’s first full examination by a paediatrician will usually happen later that day or the next, depending on the time of delivery.
How long you will stay in hospital (or at the birth centre) depends on many factors, including:
- Your method of delivery (vaginal or caesarean).
- Whether it is your first baby.
- Any medical issues that arose during the delivery.
- Where you gave birth.
Regardless of all of these factors, most newborns will be home within a day or two of their deliveries.
This can feel very overwhelming, particularly for first time parents, but try not to worry. You will still be able to contact your midwife and/or community health support team with any concerns you may have. Friends and family will no doubt be keen to meet the new arrival and they can be used as a source of support too. Click here for support during the first week at home with your newborn.
“Unless a medical complication arises, your baby should be kept in close contact with you for the first hour after birth.”
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