40 Weeks Pregnant
Counting down the minutes
40 weeks pregnant:
placentaPlacentaAt this point, the placenta is mature enough to take over as the main support system and the site of your hormone production. It is responsible for bringing oxygen and nourishment to your baby, then taking away waste products.
bonesBonesYour baby's bones are retaining calcium -- a process known as ossifying -- which will help straighten out the body and lend strength to those kicks and rolls.
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.
What's happening with you:
This is the week you've been waiting for -- or is it? Only a fraction of women will actually deliver on their due date, and although more will deliver sometime during that week, most babies come in the two weeks before or the two weeks after that anticipated day. Chances are you're feeling the telling signs of prelabor, though -- more frequent Braxton Hicks contractions, leaking amniotic fluid, lower back pain and even diarrhea. Keep an eye on the clock as your contractions get stronger and closer together, but be sure to rest as much as possible to preserve your strength for the stretch of active labor ahead of you.
At this week's prenatal appointment, your doctor or midwife may check your cervix to see if it has begun to dilate or soften. You'll also need to pay attention to your baby's movements while you're at home (they may be harder to detect now, but you should still feel a bit of movement here and there) and keep an eye out for any sudden changes in contractions, pain or vaginal discharge. But even with all of the anticipation and careful monitoring, you may just find that you're a little sad about your pregnancy coming to an end. You've been busy helping your baby develop in your belly over the past nine months, and the intimate connection you've fostered will change soon. Luckily, the change is a good one -- soon you'll hold a new little person in your arms and connect in so many more ways than you've been able to until this point.
What's happening with your baby:
A full-term baby's weight can range depending on your body type and whether or not you've had any complications in the pregnancy, but the average weight of a baby at 40 weeks is between 7 and 8 pounds. Your baby's chest sticks out now, and he won't grow much more in length (partly because there's little space left in your uterus) so the pressure against your ribs and pelvic floor shouldn't increase much. However, his skull bones have not yet fused together, and this will make it easier for him to fit through the birth canal during delivery. Luckily that cone-head will return to normal proportions soon after birth, as his bones continue to harden.
Did you know that babies are born with more bones than you have? In fact, your newborn will have 300 bones at birth, while you only have 206. Of course, the extras don't simply drop out of your baby's body -- some will fuse together as your baby grows in infancy. He also has over 70 different reflexes, and you can bet he'll use them after you bring him into the world. Perhaps the most important reflex is the breathing reflex that follows the separation of the placenta: as your baby's body is born, the umbilical cord stops working and he takes his first breathe of air, triggering his heart to divert blood to his lungs.
Things to do this week:
You're probably getting cranky by now (all that discomfort and anxiety has something to do with it), and soon you'll be busy caring for a newborn. The first weeks can be trying times, but this is your chance to prepare for the realities of postpartum life. Having everything you need in arm's reach will make a world of difference, especially when your comfort is at stake.
After going through such a physically demanding experience, hemorrhoid relief should be on the top of your shopping list. Even if you managed to get through your whole pregnancy without them there's a good chance that the pressure of childbirth will result in hemorrhoids, and these can be particularly bothersome when your digestive tract is adjusting to postpartum life. Look for products that can also bring relief for vaginal swelling and perineum aching, and opt for sprays or bath products over cream, which tend to be easier to use and will likely cause less irritation.
If you carry past your due date or your doctor thinks your baby might be getting too big for your pelvis, you may need a little help getting labor started. Inducing labor can be quick and easy or drawn out and frustrating, but there are some favored medical procedures that should help your baby come safely into the world without causing you too much discomfort.
The first procedure is known as stripping the membranes: your doctor uses a finger or small instrument to manually separate the membrane that connects the amniotic sac to the wall of the uterus, which will release a hormone called prostaglandin that is thought to kick-start contractions. If this doesn't work, your care provider will break the amniotic sac to start labor, but may wind up giving you an IV of oxytocin to start productive contractions. Unfortunately, all of these methods tend to cause cramping -- sometimes quite painful cramping -- and there's a small chance that they will lead to complications. On the other hand, it can be riskier to let a baby stay too long in the womb, so trust your doctor's decision to induce in order to protect the health of your baby.
Tips for your partner:
Your bouncing baby will be the greatest gift in the world, but you may also want to give your partner a little token after she recovers from delivery to commemorate her first day of motherhood. This is a momentous occasion to say the least, and like other life-changing events, a thoughtful gift can preserve the memory for the rest of your lives. An engraved picture frame for the first photo of mom and baby, a ring with each of your birthstones or a charm with a special message will capture the sentiment beautifully.
While you're at it, be sure you've packed the clothes, food and drinks that will best comfort your partner. Having her favorite juice or snack waiting for her as soon as the doctor gives the OK will be more appealing than pure gold -- remember that her body will have gone through an agonizing, enlightening and altogether exhausting experience, often without food and water for the entire stretch of labor and delivery. This will be even more important if she needs to stay in the hospital for a few days, which can leave her uncomfortable and impatient to get to more familiar surroundings.
This week's FAQS:
- How can I tell if I'm having my bloody show or if it's something more serious?Bloody discharge at any stage of pregnancy can be alarming, but it can also be a little confusing in the final days. One common prelabor sign is the bloody show, and this can be different for different women. It typically looks like mucus with a pink or brown streak, and it's a sign that your cervix is softening and beginning to dilate. It's important to watch out for bright red blood, which may signal something more serious.Sudden, heavy bleeding could indicate that your placenta has separated from your uterus too soon or that you have a laceration in your cervix or vagina, which will need to be taken care of right away. Your doctor will probably use a fetal monitor and ultrasound to determine whether the baby is in trouble and if you're losing too much blood. If you're both doing alright, there's a good chance that you can have a healthy and safe vaginal delivery.
- Are there ways for me to induce my labor naturally?While there haven't been many conclusive studies on the subject, many women believe that there are ways to effectively induce labor at home. For some, sex with orgasm triggers uterine contractions; others have had success with herbs or exercise. One fairly well-known method is nipple stimulation, although this can lead to dangerously strong contractions if you're not careful. When it comes down to it, you'll probably want to leave this important event in the hands of knowledgeable professionals instead of experimenting on your own.Perhaps the best way to induce labor is by relaxing your whole body, allowing the natural processes to continue. Go for a walk around the block, and take another lap if you feel up to it. Although exercise has not been proven to speed up labor, at the very least a gentle walk will refresh your body and help to clear your mind. If labor doesn't come, relax and enjoy your last moments with your baby inside of you, knowing she won't be there for too much longer.
If you pass your due date without any indication that labor is on the way, you're in good company. Did you know that only 5% of babies arrive on their due date? And of the 95% that don't arrive right on time, 70% will arrive after their due date. Few moms-to-be will relish an extra week or two of pregnancy, and the incessant phone calls from anticipatory friends and family can be irritating, but rest assured that your baby will most likely be in your arms within 10 days of your due date. Look on the bright side: most overdue babies are born perfectly healthy with no need for the medical interventions that many preterm babies need.