Ah, pregnancy! The miracle of life! For those of us fortunate enough to experience it, we know it to be one of the most magical, difficult, surreal and challenging passages of life. Just as no two women are identical, no two pregnancies are the same: some women breeze through pregnancy, whereas others spend their 40 weeks trying to muster the strength to get out of bed every day.
By the time you’ve reached the 28 week mark, you and your baby have officially made it through two thirds of your pregnancy. Congratulations! But although the finish line may be in sight, your body and your baby’s body still have plenty of work to do preparing the both of you for what lies ahead: labor, delivery, and the rest of your lives together!
My pregnancy was a text-book study of (almost) everything that could possibly happen in those blessed 40 weeks. Seriously. Short of gestational diabetes and mood swings, I experienced every pregnancy symptom I (and my doctors) had ever heard of. Whilst most women usually experience a handful of these symptoms to varying degrees, for some women (like me) they can be more severe. Whereas, for others, they may be non-existent!
If at any time during your pregnancy you are concerned by what you are experiencing in your body, be sure to check with your health practitioner as soon as you can. Here are some of the things that can happen during the third trimester…
Imagine carrying around a 4-5kg sack of potatoes for a day… no wait a minute- you don’t have to! That’s technically what you’re doing already, except it’s a sack of amniotic fluid with a baby inside. Although our bodies are designed not to calculate the extra weight of the rising bun in our oven, we are still under the strain of carting it about. Add to that the many changes and transformations still going on inside of you, the pressures of living your day to day life, and the fact that you might be having trouble sleeping (from the awkwardness of your bump or the need to use the bathroom every 45 minutes)- and you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for sleepiness! This is one symptom that will carry on, perhaps for a long while even after the birth, when you have a newborn to take care of, so it’s probably best to try sleep as much as you can, or at least put your feet up and relax at every opportunity.
It’s undeniable. People who previously hesitated before congratulating you now do so without restraint as your bump is more and more prominent by the day. In the last trimester, most of baby’s internal organs and systems are formed, so now your little one is mostly concentrating on growing. Stretch marks, basically stripes across parts of your body that have been stretched over a short period of time, affect roughly 80% of pregnant women, and can break out across your belly, thighs, arms, breasts and bottom. They can also appear overnight. I had a single little stretch mark under my massive belly, which I found quite cute. I woke up one morning and to my horror discovered seventeen more of them streaking their way across my bump. They aren’t painful, but can get a little itchy if your skin gets too dry.
Unfortunately, skin elasticity is mostly genetic, so there’s not much that can be done to truly avoid getting them. The good news is that they do fade with time and become barely noticeable after a year or so. Word to the wise- spending time in the sun can dry out your skin, increasing your risk of getting stretch marks and causing any marks you already have to darken and become more prominent. For this reason, it’s best to avoid tanning your belly, chest and thighs whilst pregnant. Read more about stretch marks here.
As your baby grows, their weight will put pressure on some of the major veins that carry blood between your legs and your heart. This can result in blood pooling, usually in your extremities, which can cause dark, spider-like veins, called varicose veins, to appear sprawling around your ankles, knees and thighs. Compression tights and stockings can help improve circulation. Otherwise, these veins usually disappear within a few months of giving birth. Should some linger, there are surgeries that can be done to get rid of them. Read more about varicose veins here.
Hemorrhoids are actually a form of varicose vein that crop up in and on the outside of your rectum due to poor circulation. They can be very painful, and cause bleeding when you go to the toilet, but they too usually disappear within a few months of giving birth (although the pushing in delivery can make them worse). There are treatments that can help ease the discomfort they cause, as can special cushions. Read more about hemorrhoids here.
Heartburn, Re-flux and a Decrease in Appetite
Remember the days when you couldn’t keep anything down? And remember the days following that when there was no fridge big enough to hold all the food you were craving? Well, surprisingly, you might find yourself having come full circle in the third trimester. As baby grows and takes up more room in your belly, your expanding uterus will put pressure on most of your internal organs, especially your stomach and intestines. This may shrink the amount of food you feel like eating; you may even lose a few pounds in the last two months. This increased pressure is also partly responsible for other digestive troubles, such as heartburn, acid re-flux, and even bouts of vomiting. Read more here.
In these last few months, you may find yourself packing on the pounds, even though you might be not be increasing your food intake. It’s probably due to your body retaining more water and, once again, poor circulation is to blame. Oedema, the official term for swelling, usually occurs in the feet, ankles and legs, but can happen all over your body, especially in hot weather. Compression tights, sitting or lying down with your legs raised above your heart, and massaging your feet in icy cold water can all provide relief. Reminding yourself that it doesn’t last forever, and that you’ll deflate within a few days of giving birth can also help.
However, should find yourself swelling up suddenly and drastically within a matter of days, contact your medical practitioner so that they can keep an eye on you, as severe oedema is also an early symptom of pre-eclampsia. Otherwise, be sure to drink plenty of water and moisturize your skin regularly to avoid the appearance of stretch marks. Read more about oedema here.
It’s not just your digestive system that’s under pressure from baby, your bladder is too! As gravity does its thing the entire amniotic sac/baby combo weighs down heavily on your pelvic organs, causing you to rush (or waddle at high speed) to the nearest bathroom at every opportunity. You might also find yourself having a few little ‘accidents’ when you cough, sneeze or laugh. This is due to the stretching and subsequent weakening of your perineal muscles- the hammock like muscular system between your legs that holds up your internal organs. Kegels exercises can help strengthen this area, and are crucial for getting your entire body back into shape postpartum. Read more about kegels here.
Aches and Pains
That growing baby can also take its toll on your back, hips and other joints. The sheer weight of carrying an extra 4-5kgs can lead to some seriously uncomfortable muscular tugs and pulls, usually between the small of your back down to the bottom of your spine. Pains in and around the bottom of your bulging belly are also caused by ligaments being stretched to accommodate your growing bump, and are officially (and appropriately) called Round Ligament Pain. Luckily, your body is secreting the hormone relaxin, to relax tension in your joints and make it easier to carry such a heavy burden. Alternatively, you can relieve some of your aches and pains by soaking in a warm, but not too hot, bath, having a massage from a certified, prenatal masseuse, or wrapping your belly to take the pressure off your back. This YouTube tutorial shows how.
Weirdly, amidst the sleep deprivation, heartburn and back pain, you may find yourself buzzing with energy- sometimes at the weirdest times. The nesting instinct is basically just that- an irresistible urge to ‘nest, or make your environment (and yourself) ready to receive baby. Some women wake up in the middle of the night to get through piles of ironing, others rearrange their homes every week for two months. Repainting, reupholstering, cleaning, sorting, scrubbing… I personally disinfected every kitchen cupboard and appliance with a fine toothbrush, and scrubbed my sinks and bathtub within an inch of their lives! This instinct, while surreal to you and anyone living with you, is perfectly natural and a good sign that all is in order with your hormones as baby is on its way.
Your tummy isn’t the only thing expanding in preparation for baby’s arrival into this world- your baby’s first (and favorite) food source is also getting into gear. Your breasts may have deflated somewhat in the second trimester, but they will most likely be back at their biggest and bulkiest in these last few months. You might even find them squirting or leaking a little milk when stimulated or squashed. If your breast don’t leak before the birth, there’s nothing to worry about, as most women’s milk only comes in after the baby has been born. Read more about changes in your breasts here.
Impatience and frustration
I have yet to meet anybody who loved every minute of being pregnant. All of the women I talk to admit to it being a long, loooooong process. Especially towards the end, when the thrill and novelty of the experience has worn off, and you find yourself too heavy to move around, too uncomfortable to sleep, and too nauseous to eat. Just remember: this too shall pass, and within a matter of weeks!
An interesting pregnancy phenomenon: when a women is with child, her body seems to become public property- to be discussed, scrutinized and even touched, sometimes by complete strangers! I cannot count how many passersby stroked or patted my belly, each with a piece of advice or prediction about my baby’s gender. Many people also seem to lose all sensitivity, so be prepared to field comments on your weight gain: “You look like you’ve swallowed a beach ball!”, or inability to birth the baby soon enough, “You’re still here? What are you waiting for??” Cultivate a standard ‘smile and nod’ reaction, or feel free to tell people when they’re bothering you. You’ll find that most people won’t take offence. You’re pregnant, you can get away with quite a bit!
As your due date approaches, you might feel and notice your bump hanging lower than usual. This is, very simply, because that’s exactly what it’s doing. In anything from a few weeks to a few days before labor, baby will realize that it’s time to make its grand debut, and will engage its little head in preparation for birth.
A Few Trips to the Hospital or Birthing Center
If this is your first baby, chances are you’ll make a few wrong calls about when it’s on its way. Outside of emergency symptoms (such as your water breaking or bleeding), first time mothers can spend many hours, even days in labor. Labor pains are easily confused, especially if you don’t know what they feel like! Gas, indigestion, an upset tummy or even just a vigorous kick from your little munchkin can all be mistaken for contractions. Hospitals advise that parents only come in when the contractions are regular and at a certain interval, usually 4-5 minutes apart. As soon as contractions start, it’s best to call your doctor to see what they advise, otherwise you risk making the journey just to be sent back home which, even in the stages of early labor, is very frustrating and disheartening. Read more here.
Best of all, at the end of this long journey, when your body has worked hard crafting a living being inside of you, the greatest thing you can expect is the moment that makes it all worthwhile: when you hold your beautiful, squidgy little baby in your arms for the first time!
Featured photo credit: Juanedc via flickr.com