You're so close you can taste it. Or maybe that's just stomach acid, since your indigestion has probably reached new heights. Still, you've got two short, waddling weeks left, give or take, before your baby greets the world, and the excitement (and anxiety) might be keeping you up at night.
Or maybe that's the leg cramps. Still, you've probably got some time on your hands to contemplate the state you're in this week. Here, what you might be experiencing in week 38, including symptoms, baby's development, your partner's role and what you should (and shouldn't) be spending your precious mental energy on.
First, at this point in your pregnancy, the discomfort is potentially epic …
What You Might Be Feeling
These final, "short" weeks can feel anything but. With all that extra weight you're carrying around and the heartburn, swelling and back pain that can make it hard to stand for more than a few minutes, you may be counting the hours until you feel that first contraction.
Of course, there's no way to know (unless you're being induced), and that first contraction may turn out to be "false labor," or a Braxton-Hicks contraction. And in addition to that painless, short-lived tightening of your uterus, you may also be experiencing:
- Anxiety and/or excitement -- Your emotions may be all over the place now, and you're probably in full-on, get-everything-done "nesting" mode with motherhood so near.
- Difficulty sleeping -- If it's not excitement and nervousness keeping you up, it's hip pain, heartburn and the need to pee six times a night.
- Back and joint pain -- Loosened joints and a heavy load in front can make discomfort a whole-body experience.
- Heartburn -- It might be worse than ever in these final weeks, so keep some antacid nearby at all times.
- Swollen feet and/or ankles -- Keep your feet elevated as much as possible throughout the day to minimize fluid buildup.
- Larger, possibly leaky breasts -- Your boobs might still be growing, and they might now be leaking colostrum, which, if you breastfeed, will nourish your baby for a few days before your milk comes in.
- Real signs of labor -- It could happen any minute now, so be on the lookout for symptoms like diarrhea, crampiness, rhythmic and uncomfortable contractions, and bloody vaginal discharge. (Contrary to Hollywood portrayal, your water will probably break after labor begins, not before.)
Just because you have some signs of labor doesn't mean it's time to push. It just means it'll be soon -- perhaps hours, perhaps days. And if you do start feeling contractions, don't worry that you still have two weeks till your due date: Your baby is ready to go …
What's Going on in Your Body
Length: About 19.5 inches. Weight: Almost 7 pounds. Fat: Still packing on.
At 38 weeks, your baby is most likely at the length he or she will be when you give birth. But while length probably won't change much from here on out, weight will: It's in these last weeks that baby really bulks up, putting on up to an ounce a day. That fat is going to keep that body warm once the environment drops below your body temperature.
What else is happening at 38 weeks? Mostly finishing touches, including:
- Continued brain, nervous-system and organ development
- Lung development, especially further growth of surfactant, which will keep the lungs from sticking together when your baby exhales
- Final stages of shedding vernix (creamy protective coating on the skin) and lanugo (fetal body hair)
Also this week, if you could reach into your uterus, your baby would probably grab right on to your finger, because the grasp reflex is fully functioning now. You may get to witness this feat immediately after birth, if you press a finger to your newborn's palm.
While these final touches are unfolding in your womb, your partner can help with some finishing touches outside it …
What Your Partner Should Know
As you near the big day (hey, it could be today), one of the most important things for a partner to be aware of is this: Birth can be a very intense experience, and attending a class may not fully prepare you for the challenges of labor.
Hopefully, you have indeed taken a birthing class, and you know what both of you can expect during labor. Partners, keep in mind that your job is a real one. You're not a bystander; you're a crucial part of the process. So, if you're the birthing coach, you'll need to act like it -- and train for it.
Make room in your day to practice. Maybe schedule some time with the pregnant lady to go over the breathing, focusing and other pain-management techniques you've learned, because the hope is that once things get painful, they'll feel like second nature.
And now, some other things to keep in mind in week 38 …
Some Things to Consider
Your due date is just two weeks off, and you might be completely prepared. The nursery's done, the bag is packed, the car seat is installed and inspected. Your helper, if you've planned for one, is prepared to clear her schedule for a week after you give birth.
With the big stuff (hopefully) complete, there may be a few smaller but still very important things you can now take some time to consider, including:
- Cord blood -- Will you bank it? Donate it? You need to decide beforehand if you want to do either of these things.
- Meals -- It's a good idea to have a couple of weeks' worth of dinners pre-prepared, because you probably won't have the time or energy to cook. A nice stack of take-out menus works just fine, too.
- Pumping -- If you're breastfeeding, do you plan to pump so your partner can help with feedings? If so, you'll need a breast pump -- you can buy one or rent one, and they're often available at birthing centers and hospitals as well as at stores.
And finally, don't sweat the (relatively) small stuff …
Don't Worry If…
Not leaking colostrum? Don't worry, your breasts are still producing it. Not feeling "practice contractions"? It doesn't mean you're not close to giving birth. Everyone experiences pregnancy and labor differently, and this should be your mantra right now: There's no single right way, and you can decide as you go.
If there are decisions you haven't made yet, don't agonize. Any of the following (and more) can be determined when you get to that bridge:
- Pain relief -- You can go into labor uncertain of whether you'll go natural or take medication. This is not something that's set in stone the second your contractions start.
- Breast or bottle -- If you're just not sure what you want to do long-term, you can try breastfeeding in the hospital and make up your mind after you know what the process is. Since you'll have labor nurses and nursing experts to help you there, it's an ideal place to make up your mind either way.
- Crib or co-sleeping -- If you've already decided whether your newborn will sleep with you or without you, don't feel like you can't change your mind. You might feel differently once you bring your baby home.
So many things will simply fall into place once you meet your little person. Your No. 1 job right now is to rest up -- and practice your breathing. It's really important to know what you're doing before the craziness starts.
For more information on pregnancy, parenting and related topics, look over the links on the next page.
More Great Links
- 38th Week of Pregnancy. Similac. (June 16, 2011) http://similac.com/pregnancy/38-weeks-pregnant-baby-growth-development
- Week 38 of Pregnancy. What To Expect. (June 16, 2011) http://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/week-by-week/week-38.aspx
- Your Pregnancy: 38 Weeks. Baby Center. (June 16, 2011) http://www.babycenter.com/6_your-pregnancy-38-weeks_1127.bc