Late pregnancy is often one of the most enjoyable parts of pregnancy. During late pregnancy, women tend to become more comfortable in their changing bodies and you may find that you can take the time to enjoy your pregnancy more. Plus, you also have the added joy of being able to meet your new little baby very soon! However, there is still a range of pregnancy discomforts that you may have to face in those final five months and a number of different things that you will have to consider before baby is born! Here is an outline of some of the things that you can expect throughout late pregnancy.
Fetal Development in Late Pregnancy
During the latter half of the second trimester and throughout the third trimester your baby is growing rapidly. Not only is she putting on weight, but she is also laying down fat stores to help her survive after birth. She is growing dramatically in length: by five months baby is almost ten inches long, and by the beginning of the ninth month, baby is over 18 inches long!
You will also begin to notice that your baby becomes very active in the womb. He will begin to twist and turn, and will even kick you in the belly and in the ribs. Though these kicks can be painful sometimes, they are a sign that all is well with baby. During the latter stages of pregnancy, your baby’s eyes and ears will finish developing, and he will begin to recognize the sound of your voice and the light that is present outside your abdomen. When it is time for labour and delivery, your baby will be more than 20 inches long and over six pounds in weight!
Late Pregnancy Symptoms
Like early pregnancy, late pregnancy has a wide range of symptoms that go along with it. Often referred to as pregnancy discomforts, these symptoms can be quite trying at times, especially now that your belly is growing and you are awaiting the birth of your baby. Common pregnancy discomforts that occur after the 20th week of pregnancy include:
- Back Pain: Back pain is a common complaint during the latter half of the second trimester and into the third trimester. This is because your uterus and abdomen are expanding, causing your lower back to compensate for the extra weight. Additionally, abdominal muscles that were once able to help hold your spine in position have now become weakened and are unable to provide your back with proper support. To help keep back pain at bay, try to lie down on your side frequently or invest in an abdominal girdle.
- Hair Growth: Many pregnant women notice that their hair becomes increasingly thick during the latter half of the second trimester. You may begin to grow thicker, coarser hair on your arms, legs, and face as a result of your pregnancy hormones. This hair typically disappears within six months of delivery.
- Swelling: Swelling commonly occurs during the end of the third trimester, when baby is well on her way. Swelling, particularly in the ankles, happens as a result of your body’s retention of fluid. Try to stay off of your feet as much as possible, or elevate them frequently if you need to stand for long periods.
- Braxton Hicks Contractions: Braxton Hicks contractions, often known as "false labour," will begin to occur irregularly after the 20th week of pregnancy. These contractions generally last for about 30 seconds and help your body to practice and prepare for real labour. As you near the end of your pregnancy, you will notice that your Braxton Hicks contractions last longer and occur more regularly.
Throughout the later weeks of your pregnancy, you will receive a number of prenatal tests that will help to ensure the health of both you and your baby. Your health care provider will measure your blood pressure and baby’s heart rate at every visit. You will begin to visit your health care provider more and more throughout the third trimester, eventually attending prenatal appointments every week or so. You will also undergo a few ultrasounds during late pregnancy, to help ensure that baby’s growth and development are good, that your placenta is in the right position, and that baby has enough amniotic fluid. Additional pregnancy tests may include:
Signs of Labour
During the late second and early third trimesters of pregnancy, it is important to learn to recognize the symptoms of labour. You may give birth at any time during the third trimester, so it is necessary to be able to recognize these symptoms. Symptoms of labour include:
- Lightening: Lightening occurs when your baby’s head drops down into the pelvic region. You may find it easier to breathe or you may sense a heaviness in your lower abdomen.
- Intense Braxton Hicks Contractions: As you near labour and delivery, you may notice that your Braxton Hicks contractions become more intense and regular.
- Bloody Show: Women who are going to be giving birth soon, often pass the mucous plug that blocks off the cervix during pregnancy.
- Broken Waters: Some women experience the breaking of their amniotic sac just prior to labour and delivery. This can manifest as a slow trickle of fluid from the vagina or as a rush of water.
It can be difficult to recognize the difference between false labour and true labour. Keep in mind that real labor contractions won’t diminish in strength or frequency. They will continue to lengthen and will occur at regular intervals. If you are experiencing labour pains that don’t go away, it is probably a good idea to contact your health care provider.
The Labour and Delivery Process
Labour and delivery can be a very scary process for some women, especially for those who are experiencing their first pregnancies. But by knowing exactly what to expect, the labour and delivery process are likely to go much more smoothly, and you will experience less anxiety.
There are three stages involved in labour. During the first phase you will begin to experience contractions and your cervix will dilate in order to allow the baby to proceed down the birth canal. Contractions will be very light to start, and eventually progress to the point where they are intense and less than two minutes apart. This first stage can last a long time, however, the intense contractions generally only last an hour or two.
The second stage of labour is the pushing the stage. During this stage your cervix is fully dilated and your body will begin to push your baby out through the birth canal. Depending upon your position and whether or not you have been given labour medications, this stage can last up to three hours. But many women find that the pushing stage actually goes much more quickly. Your baby will arrive during this stage!
In the final stage of labour, you will pass your placenta. This is what has nourished your baby over the months of your pregnancy. After you have given birth, you will notice that your body will continue to experience contractions. These contractions help you to birth the placenta. You can ask your health care provider to show you the placenta if you wish.
After baby is born, she will be assessed by your health care provider to make sure that she is perfectly healthy. Your baby will be weighed and measured and then swaddled and brought to your bedside. You can begin breastfeeding your baby within an hour or two of birth.
Late Pregnancy Complications
Unfortunately, as with early pregnancy, there are a number of late pregnancy complications that can threaten the health of both you and your baby. By being aware of these complications, you can take steps to reduce your risk:
- Preterm Labour: Preterm labour occurs when the labour process begins before the 37th week of pregnancy. About 12% of all babies in the United Kingdom are born prematurely. The earlier the preterm birth, generally the more severe the health complications: preterm babies often have immature lungs and kidneys, and have difficulty developing properly.
- Preeclampsia: Preeclampsia is a serious health condition that occurs during pregnancy. It is most common in women who are experiencing their first pregnancies and usually develops after the 20th week of pregnancy. When severe, it can restrict blood flow to the placenta, resulting in stillbirth. Preeclampsia is characterized by maternal high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. Symptoms include dizziness, swelling of the hands and face, and abdominal pain.
- Placental Problems: Placental problems, including placental abruption and placenta previa are fairly common in late pregnancy. Placental abruption occurs when the placenta begins to prematurely separate from the uterine wall. It can be very serious, and may result in stillbirth should your baby be deprived of necessary oxygen and nutrients. Placenta previa occurs when the placenta is very low-lying and covers the cervix. This can make it difficult for baby to travel into the birth canal, complicating labor and delivery. Unexplained vaginal bleeding is a common sign of placental complications.