And then you hit about 36 or 37 weeks.
Just when you thought pregnancy couldn't get more uncomfortable; just when you thought you couldn't get more impatient for your baby to be born, you hit the home stretch.
I firmly believe that the last bit of pregnancy is so unpleasant so that you'll wish for labor just to get pregnancy over with. Otherwise, labor is pretty scary to contemplate, but if it means being done with this gigantic midsection, clothes that don't fit, sweating in weird places, aches and pains you couldn't imagine, heartburn and reflux and shortness of breath, loose tendons and nausea and insomnia and weird dreams, peeing constantly, hemorrhoids, constipation, and food cravings, well, maybe labor won't be so bad after all! At least it will end, and take with it a lot of these other discomforts and inconveniences.
So, what can you expect in those last few weeks?
Well, having just entered week 38, myself, let me tell you what's changed in the past week or so!
- Stronger and more frequent Braxton Hicks contractions. I've been having noticeable (but not painful) contractions for many weeks. These are totally normal and to be expected. You only have to worry if they become increasingly painful and more regular (more than 4 in one hour) and don't stop when you hydrate and rest. The contractions I've been having the last couple days are more powerful, occasionally borderline painful, more frequent, and certainly more noticeable!
- More pain in lower abdomen. The stretching of the ligaments that support the uterus (round ligaments) continues right up to the end. In the last few weeks, the baby is putting on half a pound to a full pound per week, which means you're still having to make room for him, and you're toting around all that extra weight. This stretching causes "round ligament pain," which you've likely been experiencing throughout the pregnancy. I'm finding it just continues to increase, and at times the pain is quite intense. It passes after just a few minutes, fortunately, but it's certainly unpleasant while it lasts. (If you have any reason to suspect that the pain you're feeling is not normal, or if any pain is accompanied by vaginal bleeding, contact your provider right away!)
- Increased pressure in the hips and pelvis. As the baby starts his downward journey to the eventual exit, his head will start putting pressure in new places. I feel like I constantly have to use the toilet, but most of the time I can't produce or don't actually have to go. (Too much information? Get used to it. Pregnancy robs you of all modesty. May as well be honest!)
- Reduced heartburn and shortness of breath. One perk of the baby "dropping" is less pressure on the stomach and diaphragm, which means I can breathe better and am having less acid reflux. So there's that!
- Increased low back and hip pain. I find it increasingly difficult to get comfortable in bed, and I wake up with achy hips and lower back which often persist at a mild level throughout the day.
- Harder to get off the floor, reach my feet. Putting on socks and shoes is a whole new adventure. And if I get down on the floor to play with the kids, sweep, or pick up toys, getting up involves a lot of grunting and groaning.
- Less stamina. I run out of steam in the afternoon and absolutely must lie down. I often fall asleep when I do. Any extra physical activity takes more out of me than it normally would, so even going food shopping or taking the kids to the park feels like a much bigger energy investment than it did a few weeks ago or will after I recover from the birth.
- Get that oxytocin flowing! Oxytocin is the hormone that promotes uterine contractions, and there are two ways outside of labor to get oxytocin going. One is orgasm. Another is nipple stimulation. As long as your provider has deemed it safe for you, and as long as your amniotic sac isn't broken, go ahead and have sex. As a bonus, semen has prostoglandins in it, which are hormones that help the cervix ripen (efface and dilate), so if you have intercourse, you might be helping yourself in two ways. Nipple stimulation can be done in a fun way (use your imagination) or by using a breast pump. If you've got a double electric breast pump, hook yourself up for 20 minutes or so. You might even mine some precious golden colostrum, which you can save in your freezer just in case your newborn needs a little extra or has any trouble breastfeeding at first.
- Walk! Walk up and down stairs, up and down hills. Alternatively, do some cleaning or gardening. Anything that gets your body moving in a way that will encourage your baby to move down, get his head bumping against the cervix, and open up your pelvis (squatting to clean the floor, for example) can help settle the baby into the most ideal position for giving birth. At the very least, this will help your labor be more efficient and the birth easier. At most, the physical activity might help labor get started.
- Look up some folk remedies. Some people swear by eating certain meals, drinking certain teas, or using certain herbs. I can't recommend anything specific, and I would definitely do some research before you ingest anything that you don't know is safe.
Check out my Ask-Me Monday video on this same topic, also published today!