24 Weeks Pregnant

Preterm possibilities

24 weeks pregnant:

What's happening with you:

The top of your uterus has reached to about 2 inches above your bellybutton by now, and you may notice that your weight is increasing steadily. Depending on your height and your pre-pregnancy weight, you have likely put on between 10 and 15 pounds, but a big portion of that pregnancy weight gain is in the form of extra blood and fluids to support your hard-working body. More amniotic fluid and a growing baby mean that you'll probably notice a good deal of growth in your abdomen, too.

As your belly continues to expand, you may be feeling the effects of carrying the extra weight. Pregnancy back pain, swelling (also known as edema) and joint pain might greet you as soon as you wake up in the morning, or they might only creep up on particularly active days. Two things that will help to relieve pain and pressure are exercise and hydration, so keep up those brisk walks or prenatal yoga classes and boost your water intake to combat swelling.

What's happening with your baby:

Although his thin body is still covered in lanugo and his eyelids are fused closed, your baby is fully formed and even has a chance of surviving outside of your womb this week. At around 8 ½ inches from crown to rump and 1 ¼ pounds, Baby is about as big as a bunch of asparagus, and his little limbs are strong enough to feel against your abdomen or ribs. Since the space in your uterus is getting a little smaller now, you may notice more deliberate and rhythmic movements from here on in.

All the organs are continuing to develop, but your baby's lungs are maturing at an impressive pace. Last week marked the earliest possible point that a premature baby could survive in a neo-natal care unit, but his chances of survival outside the womb would increase considerably if he held on until the end of this week. Some very important structures have begun to form in the lungs of a 24 week fetus, such as the tubes in the airway passages that will allow baby to breathe in and out, the blood vessels and air sacs that will help his lungs use the air and a substance in the lungs called surfactant, which keeps the air sacs from sticking together. On top of these important developments, his body is beginning to produce white blood cells to fight off infection.


Things to do this week:

Since your body has progressed beyond the "general padding" phase and into the "bulging belly and backside" stage, look to supportive and comfortable maternity underwear in order to avoid any unnecessary discomfort. One thing you should know before you enter the maternity store is that maternity underwear is really not designed to be sexy. This is when you'll need to decide if it's worth sacrificing style for comfort, and even if style wins out now, you'll probably change your tune as you inch towards the end of your pregnancy.

You can divide maternity underwear into a few groups: bras, panties and pantyhose or tights. However, the three categories do not deserve equal treatment or equal budget, for each piece of underwear will serve a slightly different purpose these days. Do not skimp on a maternity bra, since that is the only accessory that can cradle your sensitive breasts and help preserve their elasticity. Get fitted for a couple of bras now, but expect to invest in a couple more when your breasts get bigger in the third trimester.

You might want to replace your sheer, control-top pantyhose with compression tights or maternity leggings, which will ease the swelling in your legs without restricting your abdomen. As for maternity underwear, opt for a style that fits you well (the top will typically reach to your ribs or sit under your belly) but a brand that doesn't break the bank. Since you're probably already experiencing an increase in vaginal discharge by now, and you'll discharge lochia (a mixture of leftover blood and mucus from your uterus) for a little while after the birth, you probably want to avoid staining your good underwear. Stick to the cheap cotton maternity panties for comfort and affordability.


Medical musts:

People tend to agree that pregnancy is a happy and exciting time for everyone involved, but what if you're not feeling too thrilled these days? Every woman can expect to experience some stress and discomfort at points throughout her pregnancy, but when your mood takes a turn for the worse and stays that way, you may be struggling with depression.

Depression during pregnancy is not incredibly common, but it is something to be concerned about. While postpartum depression is a more widespread condition, up to 25% of expectant mothers will suffer from serious depression during their nine months. Fatigue, sadness, loss of appetite and lack of concentration could be attributed to naturally fluctuating hormone levels, but when these get very intense, last for weeks on end or lead to thoughts of hurting yourself, they could signal a dangerous imbalance.

If you think you may be suffering from depression, there are a couple of reasons to tell your practitioner and start treatment right away. First, your mood and perspective play a big role in your quality of life, and when you can't see the bright side of things, you'll undoubtedly have a poor pregnancy experience. But if your own emotional well-being is not reason enough to get treatment, do it for the health of your baby: studies have shown that women who suffer from depression during pregnancy may have almost twice the risk of delivering prematurely, which can lead to a whole new set of complications. Instead of trying to change things on your own or struggle through the sadness, talk with your doctor or midwife about treatment options at your next prenatal appointment.

Tips for your partner:

Many parents-to-be begin to sign up for childbirth courses around now, and if you plan on taking a class or two, it's time to decide just how involved you plan to be in the labor and delivery. You might be facing some pretty monumental fears right now, fears that can make it difficult to collaborate on a birth plan with your partner. However, a few deep breaths and some helpful information can reduce your overwhelming fears to more tolerable hurdles.

Are you worried that you'll forget the way to the hospital when your partner goes into labor? Does the thought of seeing the delivery (and its messy by-products) bring on a panic attack? Are you concerned about having to watch your partner suffer without being able to help? Well, you're in good company. All of these fears are quite natural, especially if you're not all that familiar or fond of hospitals. A childbirth preparation class will walk you through many of these worries and let you build your confidence with helpful advice.

When you know what you're getting into, you'll have a better chance of keeping it together through labor and delivery. If you're simply uncomfortable with hospitals and medical procedures, consider visiting the facility where the magic happens. Ask if you would be able to take a tour of the maternity floor or at least come back to see the postpartum rooms and nursery during visiting hours. Of course, a childbirth class may lead you to revisit the possibility of home birth, as some couples decide that delivering in familiar surroundings makes all the difference. In any case, it's important to voice your opinions and concerns because you're a part of this all-important final step, too.

This week's FAQs:

  • I'm starting to meet other women with the same due date, and their bellies are much bigger than mine! Is there something wrong with my baby or my body?

    Every woman has a unique body, and that goes for her pregnancy as well as her pre-pregnancy figure. The way another mom-to-be carries her baby and her weight might be very different than how you're carrying, even if your babies measure and weigh the same. While many women will be sporting an unmistakable baby bump by now, you may have to wait a few more weeks before you really look pregnant, and that's typically nothing to be concerned about.

    Your pregnancy shape has a lot to do with your pre-pregnancy shape, and the way your uterus is sitting in your abdomen can either hide or broadcast your baby bump. If your baby is sitting more towards your back than your belly, higher in your ribs than lower in your abdomen, your tummy may not stick out much at all. Also, if you were a little plump before you got pregnant or you have a particularly tall frame, you may not show until your third trimester. If this is your first pregnancy, those strong abdominal muscles could be keeping your belly small, too.

    As long as your doctor tells you that everything is fine, you can rest assured that both your baby and your body are doing well. It's fairly common for your belly to sprout suddenly in the upcoming weeks, but do watch out for a sudden swelling in the extremities or face that accompanies any abdominal swelling, which could signal a serious pregnancy disorder called preeclampsia.

  • I've been feeling some irregular contractions lately. Could I be going into preterm labor?

    Around this point in pregnancy, you start to notice a wider variety of aches and pains in your abdomen. There's round ligament pain that makes the sides of your abdomen ache, indigestion as your uterus compresses your stomach and sharp pains in your ribs that you can blame on tiny feet and fists. But while these symptoms are irritating, uterine contractions are generally more worrying at this point in pregnancy.

    Luckily, the contractions that many women experience periodically during the second trimester are quite harmless; unless you are diagnosed with a condition such as incompetent cervix or placenta previa, irregular and mild contractions probably won't signal premature labor. You may feel slight contractions after a brisk walk or other exercise, and experiencing orgasm will cause your uterus to contract as well. Braxton Hicks contractions are too small to notice in early pregnancy, but you may begin to feel them toward the end of your second trimester. They are not necessarily painful, but the pressure can be alarming: the sensation is often described as abdominal squeezing that lasts for 30 to 45 seconds. These are also nothing to worry about -- your body is simply training for the demands of labor, and your flurry of hormones will keep your baby right where he is until delivery day rolls around.

    On the other hand, if your contractions bring blood or discharge, painful pressure in your pelvis, continuous cramping in your lower abdomen or more than four contractions in one hour, you could be going into preterm labor. It can be tough to distinguish labor pain from other pain, especially if this is your first pregnancy, so it's better to be safe than sorry. Call or visit your doctor right away if you notice any severe pain or unusual discharge.

Helpful hint:

Have you decided on a name yet? It may seem like one of the easier tasks in pregnancy, but agreeing on a name for your baby can be more difficult than you had imagined. There's also the chance that you'll change your mind as the pregnancy progresses, or you may decide on an entirely different moniker once you see your baby's face for the first time. It's a good idea to consult baby name books well before your due date arrives so you and your partner can draft a list of baby names together, and try not to get carried away with odd spellings or unique sounds just for the heck of it. Remember that a name is a very personal title that can play a role in shaping a personality or a relationship, so put careful thought into this choice.

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