34 Weeks Pregnant
Your body is at its peak
34 weeks pregnant:
fingernailsFingernailsThe fingernails begin to appear as the pads of the fingertips become more pronounced.
brainBrainNerve centers are becoming distinct, marking the start of an important state of mental development.
skinSkinThe thin skin will still show bones, organs and blood vessels fairly clearly. It's still covered in lanugo and a thick, white vernix coating.
What's happening with you:
Is swelling interfering with your day? Fluid retention is a part of life in the third trimester, so prepare to switch to wider shoes and be sure to kick your feet up when you can. Ease the pressure by leaving your rings in your jewelry box and abandoning tight elastic waistbands and thick layers. However, if your bra is hurting you, you should buy a new bra instead of simply going without support. Your breasts are getting quite heavy and increasingly sensitive as your labor approaches, and many women find that they leak colostrum during the later weeks of pregnancy. A good nursing bra will cradle your sensitive breasts, prevent excessive stretch marks and accommodate nursing pads, which will absorb any leaks.
If you're lucky, week 34 will bring a welcome break. You have 50% more blood than you did at the start of your pregnancy, but your blood stores are no longer increasing and your placenta is beginning to age. If your baby drops down into your pelvis this week (an event known as lightening), the pressure on your diaphragm and ribs will diminish, allowing you to take a nice, deep breath for the first time in weeks. Use that newfound breath to relax! The eighth month is not an easy time for most women, and each minute you can commit to relaxation exercises will help you stay calm and content now, but also prepare you for your upcoming labor.
What's happening with your baby:
You're approaching the last weeks of pregnancy, and your baby's size is a good indicator that the end is in sight. At around 17 inches long and 5 pounds, he has almost reached his birth weight and size, though his organs and features are still maturing. His immune system is ramping up to fight mild infection, his fingernails reach the tips of his fingers (though they're softer than your own nails) and the external genitalia are more defined. A layer of fat is beginning to round out your baby's face and limbs, and he's losing the lanugo that has covered his body since the second trimester.
While they're still officially premature, babies born at 34 weeks have a fantastic rate of survival. Now considered a late-preterm birth, your baby would have a 99% chance of surviving, and an excellent chance of developing just as well as a full-term baby. However, your baby's brain is still undergoing extraordinary growth, and it weighs only about 65% of what it should weigh at the 40 week mark. Most babies will not develop any serious learning or cognitive disabilities if born this early, but there is a chance that they'll be more prone to behavior or learning problems in childhood. For these reasons, if you do suspect you're experiencing the symptoms of preterm labor, call your doctor or midwife right away to see if there's anything you can do to halt the progression.
Things to do this week:
Since the first week after delivery will be filled with zombie-like feedings, frequent diaper changes and all your regular household duties, stock up on all of the little things you will need for the first few weeks of baby's life. Have bottles and inserts, diapers, extra receiving blankets, even a new laundry basket waiting for you when you return from the hospital (or emerge from your home birth room). If you can take some time to clear a designated space for each of these necessary items, there's a better chance that you'll put them back there or realize when it's time to restock.
It pays to know a little bit about the subtle differences in certain baby products when you hit the store, and this definitely applies to baby bottles. Sure, most of them sport a similar design, complete with a brown or clear rubber nipple, but all bottles are not created equal. Consider this: the way you get the milk to your baby has a huge impact on how she will digest it, so you'll want to choose a bottle that will most closely duplicate your breast. Flow, inserts, material and nipple design all come in to play when shopping for bottles; take the advice of other mothers who have found the right bottle through trial and error, but don't be surprised if it takes a few tries to find the style that your baby prefers.
It's fairly common for blood pressure to rise slightly in the last weeks of pregnancy, as your circulatory system needs to work a bit harder to support your bouncing baby. However, noticeably high blood pressure in late pregnancy combined with protein in your urine may signal preeclampsia, a condition that can only be treated by delivering your baby. The good news is that your baby could be delivered now without much risk to either of you. Babies born at 34 weeks are just a little shy of full-term and the vast majority will only need a little extra time and attention before they can go home with you.
However, high blood pressure may also lead your doctor to order a nonstress test in the last weeks of your pregnancy to get a good look at how well your baby is doing in the womb. Your baby's heartbeat will be monitored for 20 to 60 minutes in order to catch him when he's at rest and when he's active: if his heart rate picks up during his active spurts and falls when he drifts off to sleep, he has returned a "responsive" result and is likely doing just fine. The test is not painful or intrusive, and depending on the initial result, your caregiver may want you to come in every week to retake it.
Tips for your partner:
Since the birth is right around the corner, you should start to think about how much time you're going to take off and when you should take it. Parental leave is not a given, and a busy work schedule doesn't necessarily stop when your baby arrives, but you should try your best to get a few days off before your partner's due date. This is a good week to tell your boss that the baby is coming, so he won't be surprised if you need to take off early if the big day arrives sooner than you expect. Also, it's easier to negotiate time off when you show respect by keeping your work in the know.
If you do go away on business or work late in these last weeks of the pregnancy, be sure to stay in close contact. Give your partner a call each day and alert friends and family to your schedule so they can check in or help out if needed. A strong support network can help a lot now and after your newborn joins the family, so be sure to show your friends and family appreciation for all their help.
This week's FAQS:
Will I need to be attached to a fetal monitor during labor?
Depending on the hospital, fetal monitors could be used routinely or only for high risk labors and deliveries. The purpose of fetal monitoring is to make sure your baby is still doing well, getting all of the oxygen she needs and progressing through labor as expected. After electrodes are placed on your belly and hooked up to the monitor, the machine will show your baby's heartbeat and your contractions so your caregiver can decide if everything's all right or if there's cause for concern.
While most will agree that fetal monitors are great tools for high risk pregnancies and deliveries, some fear that their routine use is actually detrimental. Studies have shown that monitors may lead to more c sections than necessary, since they can be misinterpreted or could indicate a problem when there isn't one. This is something you should discuss with your doctor, and if you are opposed to using a fetal monitor, there may be another, less intrusive way to make sure your baby is doing well.
I'm very worried about my pelvis during labor. What if the baby can't fit?
If you have a small frame or simply can't wrap your head around how a baby will make it through the birth canal, you're not alone. Childbirth can be a scary prospect, especially if you haven't gone through it before, but remember that your body is designed for this. In some cases, the doctor may use an ultrasound to determine the size of your baby's head in relation to the size of your pelvis to ensure it will fit through.
While bones don't expand, your joints are loosening to make for an easier, less constricted delivery. A hormone known as relaxin is responsible for your joint pain, as it relaxes the ligaments and muscles, leading to soreness and pressure (which may also contribute to your back pain). If you're worried that your body won't be flexible enough to handle the birth, incorporate some pelvic exercises into your prenatal exercise routine to increase flexibility. Sitting with your back straight and the soles of your feet together, hold your ankles and gently push your thighs down with your elbows. Do this a few times, holding the stretch for 10 or 12 seconds, and repeat every day.
Have you been keeping up with your kegels? A strong pelvic floor will help make labor quicker and more bearable, and these specific exercises are by far the best way to build up the strength and control you will need. However, you can take this to the next level as you approach your due date with "power kegels", which help you develop even greater control. The idea is to learn how to flex each part of the pelvic area: the lower part of the birth canal, the middle part and the area around your cervix. Strong squeezing and careful releasing should help you gain muscle memory, making it easier to push when you need to.