39 Weeks Pregnant

Recognizing labor

39 weeks pregnant:

What's happening with you:

Emotionally, you're beat. Physically, you're exhausted. The weight of pregnancy is impossible to ignore now, and you've gone through most of the symptoms you could possibly experience. Between pressure on your perineum, breathlessness and fatigue, it's not unusual to feel irritated, even a little glum in these last weeks as you wait for your baby to make her appearance, but do try to stay calm, relaxed and focused on the finish line. Let your loved ones help you out in these last days of pregnancy while your mind and body are devoted to labor and delivery.

At 39 weeks, your body is no longer growing along with your baby. Amniotic fluid levels are falling, the placenta is withering, and the circumference of your belly is as big as it will get. There's a good chance that your cervix will start to dilate this week (perhaps it already has softened and effaced), and an internal exam could reveal that labor might be right around the corner. On the other hand, labor is one of the most unpredictable experiences in life, so don't hold your breath. You may have to wait another week or two, even if you lose your mucus plug or your water breaks this week.

What's happening with your baby:

Your baby hasn't grown much in length since last week (he's still around 20 or 21 inches from head to toe) but his weight may be creeping up to 7 ½ pounds. Of course, it's nearly impossible to determine the exact weight of your baby while he's still in the womb, so you'll likely have to wait until delivery to see just how big he'll be. Whatever his exact length, his umbilical cord will be about as long as his body, and it's still as strong as ever.

Growth slows down a bit as your baby gets ready for delivery. She'll still gain more fat each day that she's in your body, but everything is fully developed, the coating of vernix is beginning to dissipate and her tissues are swelling with hormones from your body. In fact, it's not unusual for a baby boy's scrotum or a baby girl's labia to appear quite swollen when they're born, and either gender may produce a few drops of milk from their enlarged breasts. You can blame your hormones for these events, so you can expect any exaggerated features to shrink shortly after delivery.


Things to do this week:

You're probably quite familiar with the benefits of a pregnancy pillow, but you'll be downright impressed with the versatility of a nursing pillow. Depending on the design, this little wonder can support your baby while you nurse, support your back or neck while you rest and even become a baby toy as your little one grows up. On the other hand, some nursing pillows are made with a very specific function in mind (a larger, more defined style to nurse twins, for example) and might come with helpful accessories or compartments.

The thing about nursing pillows is one size does not necessarily fit all. Different designs may work better for different bodies, so if you don't have a particularly long torso or a relatively small waist, you may need to try another one. Luckily, there are plenty of affordable pillows to choose from, and if you find that one doesn't work all that well for you and your baby, you may be able to relegate it to a supplementary couch cushion!


Medical musts:

With Braxton Hicks contractions coming on more frequently, it can be difficult to know when labor is beginning. Moreover, labor pain can present in different areas, so it's good to know about the three phases of labor and how to tell if what you're experiencing is the normal progression or something to be concerned about.

Early or latent labor (also known as false labor or prelabor) typically brings backache, menstrual-like cramps, diarrhea and a bloody show. This phase can last a while, and your doctor will probably want you to stay put until you begin to feel longer, bigger and more painful contractions. If early labor comes on in the middle of the night, try to relax and get as much sleep as you can -- you'll need all your energy for the next phase, known as active labor, which is generally shorter than the first phase but will be more uncomfortable. The third phase is transitional labor, and although the pain and anticipation will intensify, you're not quite ready to start pushing.

Not all signs of labor in pregnancy are good signs. If your early labor contractions bring bright red blood, a fever or speed up and intensify very quickly, you should call your doctor right away. Sometimes labor complications cannot be predicted, and since your baby is still depending on your body for oxygen, signs of distress should never be taken lightly. In some cases, a very short labor can lead to problems for you and your baby and your doctor and midwife may need to take measures to slow down your progression.

Tips for your partner:

Some partners will become so emotionally involved in the pregnancy that they begin to experience similar symptoms, from morning sickness to weight gain. This phenomenon is known as couvade syndrome, and while it's touching to identify so closely with your partner, it can also be troublesome to go through these unexpected symptoms. If you experienced any sympathy pains in the earlier stages of pregnancy, there's a chance that you could also experience some disconcerting pain and anxiety during delivery.

Although it's unlikely that these pains will do you any real harm, they might be connected to your fears and anxieties about the future. Experts agree that the best way to overcome your discomfort is to talk with your partner about your worries and take time to prepare for parenthood. If voicing your concern doesn't take care of your "labor pains", don't fret -- they'll vanish once the ordeal is over and you see your baby for the first time.

This week's FAQS:

  • How will I ever lose this extra weight after I give birth?

    Not surprisingly, you'll lose a considerable amount of weight when you deliver your child: his body weight, the volume of amniotic fluid, the placenta and other fluids will probably account for between 10 and 12 pounds. After you have brought your baby home, you'll lose some more weight in the form of lochia, which is the tissue that lines your uterus, and even more as you begin to breastfeed. However, all this rapid weight loss can leave you feeling flabby and upset about the extra pounds around your back, abdomen and hips.

    But all is not lost. With regular exercise and a good diet, you can begin to lose weight shortly after the birth, and it doesn't have to be torture. There are postpartum exercise classes that are built around working out with your baby, and simply getting out for regular walks with your baby in a stroller will boost your mood and start to make a difference in your body sooner than you imagine. However, it's important to be realistic in your weight loss goals if you want to make good progress and feel good about yourself. In fact, studies have shown that you are twice as likely to succeed at losing weight if you accept and appreciate your body beforehand. And remember that too much exercise too soon can lead to injury and will halt your recovery.

  • Will it be possible to give birth vaginally even though I had a cesarean section in my previous pregnancy?

    Until recently, the answer would have been no, but now you have an excellent chance of delivering vaginally after having a c section. In fact, over 80% of women will be able to have a vaginal birth after cesarean, or VBAC, and many health experts believe that a VBAC is even safer than repeat cesarean. The drastic increase in support for VBAC is at least partly due to the fact that cesarean incisions are made differently nowadays: you were probably given a low transverse incision instead of a vertical incision, and that means that there is far less chance of your uterus rupturing during labor and delivery.

    Most of the problems that surround VBAC are not physical, but psychological and tied to convention. You may be apprehensive about opening the previous scar or going through a long and painful labor only to find out that you need another cesarean. If you plan on VBAC, you should prepare your mind and body through exercise, education and self-confidence. If your doctor is the one who is concerned, talk to him about everything you've read and ask him to openly and carefully weigh the risks and benefits. Be sure to ask about his take on fetal monitoring for VBAC patients and what kind of pain relief would be available to you should you need it, and don't be afraid to press for more information.

Helpful hint:

Part of a good labor experience is being a good patient. Ask your doctor lots of questions, but honor his advice, as well: this is not the time to make enemies, and this is one antagonistic relationship that you want to avoid! Even if you and your doctor don't see eye to eye on a couple of issues, it's worth trying to work through them with a smile on your face and respect for your care provider. After all, you'll be working in tandem to deliver a healthy baby, and you'll need to channel all of your physical and emotional energy into that very important task. Moreover, keeping an optimistic perspective is your best bet for a rewarding childbirth experience that you can remember fondly.

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