31 Weeks Pregnant

The uterus prepares for labor

31 weeks pregnant:

What's happening with you:

Aches and pains are the name of the game, and you may be feeling more tired than usual as you carry around your extra weight. Loose ligaments around your joints and throbbing feet are just two of the symptoms that can persuade you to linger longer in bed or in a chair, but staying active now will help you prepare for your upcoming labor. Strong muscles will boost your endurance and your regular Kegel exercises will help you stay in control during labor and recover more quickly after delivery.

Your uterus is pushing your diaphragm up, your ribs out and your lungs together, and there's no doubt you're feeling the effect on your breathing by now. If you find yourself getting breathless here and there, try to relax and take some deep and slow breaths until the episode passes. If your baby's position in your uterus is responsible for your sharp pains or dull aches, try shifting you body or prodding your belly to urge your baby to move. If you notice painless or slightly painful squeezing sensations, it's probably not your baby, but rather your uterus that's testing the boundaries of your body. Braxton Hicks contractions are very common at 31 weeks, and although they can be startling, they don't necessarily mean that labor is right around the corner.

What's happening with your baby:

Your baby weighs about 3 ½ pounds and measures just over 11 inches (28 cm) from her crown to her rump. Although she's all curled up in her amniotic home, an ultrasound technician can often tell just how long your 31 week fetus measures from head to heel (she's probably hovering around 16 inches by now). You can expect her body and limbs to keep lengthening as you move through your final trimester, but most of her energy is now devoted to fat accumulation. At this point, baby's lungs may be mature enough to let her breathe on her own outside the womb, but it will do her a world of good to sit tight for a few more weeks.

The eyes can see, blink and move now, but baby's true eye color won't show up for several months because she needs natural light to complete the development process. However, the light that does filter through the walls of your uterus will cause baby's pupils to dilate now, and she's beginning to close her eyes for sleep and keep them open during her waking hours. In fact, your baby's sleep patterns are becoming more regular, and if her active time happens to be your bedtime, she may be contributing to your insomnia.


Things to do this week:

Are you surprised at how big your breasts have become? Well, prepare yourself for another growth spurt. By now, your breasts have developed the tissue and the reservoirs that they'll need to produce milk and deliver it to your baby. You probably gained a cup size in the first trimester and maybe another in your second, but now you may be concerned about more than the size of your bust.

Some women will notice a few drops of clear or yellowish liquid coming from their nipples these days, which is the super-nutritious colostrum that will be your baby's first meal in the outside world. Since your growing breasts will probably force you to purchase a new bra or two in your third trimester, you might as well invest in a few nursing bras instead of the less specialized maternity bras for the final stages of pregnancy and beyond. A good nursing bra will have all the features of a good maternity bra with a little more versatility in the cups: the fabric will unsnap, unhook, unzip or unfasten to reveal your breast when you're ready to nurse. The best styles will be easy to maneuver with one hand and should offer enough support to keep your breasts comfortable and pain-free. Look for wide straps (this is not the time for sexy, flimsy lingerie) and a padded band to avoid too much pressure over your shoulders and around your rib cage.


Medical musts:

This is the time to think about how you would like your labor to proceed -- and what can make it a more tolerable experience. Although there's a variety of ways to counter the pain and stress of labor, there are also risks that come with drugs for pain relief. Hypnobirthing is one of the more holistic and natural options for labor pain relief, aiming to erase pain through the power of mind over body. However, just like more general hypnosis techniques, not every woman will be susceptible to the trance that will distract the mind from physical discomfort. It's best to find out just how well this technique will work for you before the big day arrives.

While hypnosis for labor pain can seem like a big gamble, its growing popularity shouldn't surprise you too much. Like deep meditation, hypnosis can bring your physical body into a profound state of relaxation and direct your focus to the mechanics of the delivery. A common myth is that hypnosis puts you into a deep sleep, but what it accomplishes is quite the opposite. You are actually very awake and in total control of your mind and body when hypnotized -- you're just using your mind a little differently. If this sounds like a good fit with your plans and principles, be sure to find a medical professional who is trained in the subject of hypnosis to help you learn how to use the technique.

Tips for your partner:

You're preparing yourself for the new baby, but have you prepared your house? Before you get lost in the anticipation and excitement of labor, take a close look at each room of your home to make sure it's free of hazards. Though your little one won't be crawling right away, you should clear the room of obstacles and precariously positioned objects so that your baby is never in danger of injury.

If you're beginning to put the nursery together, protect baby and mom-to-be by painting the walls yourself. Paint fumes can be irritating or dangerous for both of them, so it's best to paint while they're away from the space. While you're at it, be sure to hang any picture frames securely, install a dimmer switch for the light and ensure that all electrical devices in the room are in good condition and away from fabric or other objects. If you take care of all this now, you'll have one less thing to worry about during those first sleepless and busy days following the birth.

This week's FAQS:

  • How can I tell the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and labor contractions?

    One of the simplest ways to differentiate between the types of contractions you experience is to monitor their frequency: Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular muscle movements, while contractions that kick off labor are regular enough to judge just how far into your labor you are. Braxton Hicks contractions are not precursors to "real" contractions, either; they can occur well before your due date. If they disappear when you get up and walk around or relax with deep breathing, they're merely practice contractions that are preparing your body for labor and delivery.

    Another telltale sign of Braxton Hicks contractions is the way they affect your abdomen. They're generally not nearly as painful or uncomfortable as labor contractions. Instead, it may feel like your belly is being hugged tightly by the muscles around it. However, if your contractions begin to get stronger, longer and more frequent, there is a chance that they are in fact signaling the beginning of your labor, so you should contact your doctor right away.

  • Is it normal to feel a sharp pain in the center of my abdomen, just below the breastbone?

    Your uterus will begin to push around your organs as it grows, leaving you with a few sore and tender places around your torso. Any intense pain in one very specific area may raise some red flags, but if you feel a pain where the top of your uterus would be (it's under your bottom ribs by now), the problem could simply be a torn or separated abdominal muscle.

    The technical term for the condition is diastasis recti, and it refers to the separation of the right and left abdominal muscles. Up to 30% of pregnant women will experience this condition in their second trimester, third trimester or after their delivery. In a healthy abdomen, you would be able to feel a little dip between the right and left half of your main abdominal muscle when you flex it, but if this gap is greater than two fingers' width or it has been replaced with a ridge that runs vertically down your belly, your muscle has separated and you'll need to take some steps to help it heal.

  • The tingling in my extremities has turned into shooting pain and sometimes numbness in the lower half of my body. Is there a problem with my circulation?

    Although you may identify tingling and numbness with poor circulation, in pregnancy it's more often due to pressure on your sciatic nerve. Sciatica is the name given to this painful and uncomfortable sensation, and it may come on stronger as your growing baby, heavy uterus and nimble joints press harder on the nerves in your back during your third trimester.

    While sciatica won't harm you or your baby, it certainly can interfere with your daily routine. Some women find that the pain becomes too severe to walk even a short distance without suffering. If you're one of those women, consider visiting a chiropractor to have them treat your spine and relieve the nerve pressure. There are also things you can do on your own to treat the pain, like alternating your positions more frequently and spending some time in a swimming pool to alleviate the weight of your uterus on your organs and nerves.

Helpful hint:

Are you worried about your increasing clumsiness and how it will affect your baby? If you've fallen down or bumped into anything lately, rest assured that your baby hardly noticed. By now, there's nearly a quart of amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus and protecting her from sudden jerks or bumps, and that amount will continue to increase until week 34 or so before it begins to decrease. Of course, you should also protect yourself -- stick to very low heels with good traction and make a point to do some prenatal yoga to get used to your changing center of gravity.

Pregnancy Timeline

Third trimester fitness and yoga videos - Childbirth Preparation

Third trimester cooking and nutrition videos - Pregnancy Cravings

Third trimester lifestyle videos - Prenatal Massage

Preparing for labor and birth videos - Delivering Baby