37 Weeks Pregnant
37 weeks pregnant:
umbilical cordUmbilical CordThe digestive tract is beginning to form, including the bulge of intestine that will grow into the umbilical cord to connect your baby to the placenta.
lungsLungsTiny air sacs called alveoli are forming to prepare for breathing air.
faceFaceA layer of fat is forming to help fill out your baby's features, although the skin is still quite thin and wrinkled.
What's happening with you:
You may notice that your belly isn't getting any bigger, and although your mind may jump to problems with your baby's growth, rest assured that this plateau won't affect his wellbeing at all. Your body isn't accumulating amniotic fluid anymore and you've put on enough weight to complete your baby's development and support his own weight gain. In fact, some women will lose a few pounds between now and their delivery, although it's unlikely to leave them feeling much lighter. The pressure of the uterus on the rib cage, the abdominal wall and the sciatic nerve can cause considerable discomfort, and you're probably getting tired of bumping into walls and knocking things over with your unbalanced belly!
If you feel your muscles hug your uterus more often now, it means your Braxton Hicks contractions have gained strength. Labor might be a few days away, or it could be a few weeks -- previous pregnancies, doctor's estimates and your mother's labor experience have little influence on when and how you'll experience your labor and delivery. Comfort is important in these last weeks, so stick to light, breathable clothing, a supportive bra and your favorite chair (whenever you can!)
What's happening with your baby:
Although you're probably jumping for joy now that you're full-term, your baby is quietly continuing his routine of wiggles and weight gain. His organ systems are all fully developed, and everything is working hard to prepare him for the world. In fact, he's breathing and swallowing quite a bit now, and the level of amniotic fluid in your uterus is decreasing. Your baby is around 6 ½ pounds and a 37 week ultrasound would show that he's just shy of 20 inches from head to heel, which may be as long as he's going to get before birth.
Your baby spends much of his time asleep, but he has ironed out a pattern of rest and activity by week 37. He will move into different phases of sleep through the day: he's in "quiet sleep" for about 40% of the time, "active sleep" (where he makes some random movements) for about 42% of the time and is active for the rest of the time (unfortunately, this stage may kick in when you're trying to fall asleep). Your baby will also experience REM sleep now, which is when dreaming takes place.
Things to do this week:
If you've put off buying baby gear because you simply can't afford the expense, you'll be happy to know that it's possible to get all the gear that will make your life easier without spending a small fortune. Convertible baby gear saves money and space, and if you choose wisely, it could grow with your baby through infancy and into her toddler years.
Strollers come in all shapes and sizes, but a travel system that can accommodate an infant car seat (and a larger one for later on) will bring the biggest bang for your buck. As for that larger car seat, find one that can be rear facing and forward facing, with straps that let you adjust everything from the front. Some models will even convert to a booster seat down the road. Finally, investing in a crib that stretches into a bed for a growing toddler is a fantastic way to stretch your investment over the next few years.
Learn how to tell different types of contractions apart now so you know when (and why) you should call your doctor or midwife. Braxton Hicks contractions probably began a while ago, and they'll continue until your labor begins. The main difference between these "practice" contractions and true labor contractions is their frequency and escalation. You might notice the contractions are coming more frequently, but if they come at irregular intervals, labor has probably not yet begun. If you begin to have stronger contractions that can be relieved with a change in position or light activity, you may be showing signs of false labor. However, if the severity and frequency of your contractions increase, you could be starting true labor, which could also bring a change in vaginal discharge along with lower back pain that radiates to the abdomen and down the legs.
Of course, different women will experience contractions differently, and you may find that yours don't fit neatly into any of the above descriptions. Frequency is a little subjective when it comes to labor: although you were told to leave for the hospital or call your doctor when your contractions are evenly spaced, similar in duration and less than five minutes apart, that's an ideal scenario. If you find that your pain is coming on stronger and the contractions are generally lasting longer, "frequency" may not be as important as you thought. It's better to be safe than sorry where the birth of your baby is concerned, so contact your caregiver if you suspect your change in contractions is significant (and don't feel guilty if it turns out you're not in labor yet!)
Tips for your partner:
This may come naturally to you, but it should be said anyways: be her protector. From physical interception to representing her preferences and best interests, you may have a more active role to play in the labor than you think. Go through your birth plan together carefully, so you know exactly what your partner wants, and be prepared to advocate on her behalf if the doctor or nurses have different suggestions. You may also have voices coming from outside the delivery room to deal with, so take any calls from impatient friends and family calmly, and only allow people in the room if your partner has expressly allowed it.
If your partner is using a doula for labor and delivery, don't take it as a personal affront or an excuse to sit on the sidelines. Doulas are often meant to supplement your coaching and emotional support, and having twice the support is rarely a bad thing for a woman in labor. But a doula can also offer you some support: if you need to step out for a bathroom break or feel helpless at any point, she'll cover for you. Instead of trying to be an all-knowing superhero, take note of your strengths and weaknesses now so you'll be able to offer your partner your best help and support without getting anxious or discouraged.
This week's FAQS:
What happens if my baby is too big to be delivered?
If your latest ultrasound revealed some surprisingly large baby measurements, it's no doubt that your anxiety level has gone through the roof. A small full-term baby is hard enough to handle, but an 8 pound baby at 37 weeks? Add another three weeks of growth, and that's enough to make any woman faint.
In this instance, it's lucky that ultrasounds aren't always accurate. In some cases, the predication is off by a couple of pounds and inches, so take any estimate with a grain of salt. And from here on in, your baby's weight gain slows down to around a quarter of a pound per week, so chances are he won't go from "deliverable" to "undeliverable" in two or three more weeks. However, your doctor or midwife will decide to induce labor if they think your baby will be too big for your pelvis, although a c section is sometimes prescribed instead.
Will I go into labor right after my water breaks? Should I head right to the hospital?
Although the water typically breaks after labor begins (well after, in some cases), you won't necessarily have to rush to the hospital if you experience a trickle or gush of fluid before you notice any labor pain. If you are one of the 10% who will actually experience PROM (premature rupture of membranes), there's a 90% chance that you will begin labor within 48 hours, but membrane rupture is not an emergency. There's even some reason to delay your trip to the hospital for a little while.
If your water breaks, it means your cervix must have dilated at least enough to let the fluid through, which means you may be more vulnerable to infection. Since a vaginal exam will probably be first on the list when you arrive, there is a chance that bacteria could get pushed behind the cervix and into the uterus. Another problem with arriving at the hospital early is the time constraints: many institutions will give every woman a limited amount of time to start labor naturally before inducing her. However, there are circumstances where you should contact your doctor or midwife right away, like in the instance that the fluid is yellowish, green or brown in color. In this case, your baby has probably released meconium into the amniotic sac and there's a chance that this could lead to meconium aspiration syndrome, or MAS.
If you have decided to breastfeed, take a course beforehand if you can. While it's a perfectly natural (and incredibly healthy) experience, new moms and new babies don't necessarily take to nursing right away. It can be incredibly frustrating and disappointing to struggle with feeding once the baby is born, so learn tips and techniques from experts in order to get off to the best start possible.
Of course, there are many cases where, despite your best efforts, breastfeeding is very difficult. One great way to get through this rough time is with your doula's help; if you haven't hired a doula, contact a lactation consultant. Most importantly, don't blame yourself for any hardship associated with nursing. Perseverance pays off, and your efforts will undoubtedly help you bond with your child, no matter how long it takes for you to nurse easily.