You are well into your third trimester and are probably starting to think about what life will be like with your new baby. At this stage, your body may be feeling the effects of being pregnant for more than seven months. You may notice many changes that have occurred. You may also be dealing with uncomfortable aches, pains, and swollen body parts. With just a handful of weeks to go in your pregnancy, you should know about signs of early labor and when to call your doctor.
By now you’re aware that many parts of your body change during pregnancy. While some are obvious, such as your growing mid-section and breasts, many more parts of your body have adapted to your pregnancy as well. The good news is that most of these changes should revert to normal after pregnancy.
During pregnancy, your body produces more blood than normal. Blood volume increases by more than 40 percent and your heart has to pump faster to accommodate this change. Sometimes, this can result in your heart skipping beats. If you notice it happening more frequently than every so often, call your doctor.
With just seven weeks to go in an average 40-week pregnancy, your baby is getting ready to enter the world. At week 33, your baby should be about 15 to 17 inches in length and 4 to 4.5 pounds. Your baby will continue to pack on the pounds as your due date approaches.
During those final weeks in the womb, you baby will be kicking forcefully, using senses to observe the environment, and sleeping. Babies at this stage can even experience deep REM sleep. Additionally, your baby can see, with eyes that constrict, dilate, and detect light.
You probably have noticed that your babies sleep a lot between all the kicks and rolls. They even show brain patterns of dreaming! This week, their lungs have almost fully matured so they’ll be ready to take their first breaths on delivery day.
As mentioned above, you may be noticing some changes to your heart. Some other symptoms you may experience during week 33 and in your final stage of pregnancy include:
- back pain
- swelling of the ankles and feet
- difficulty sleeping
- shortness of breath
- Braxton-Hicks contractions
As your baby grows, pressure builds on your sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in your body. This can cause back pain called sciatica. To relieve back pain, you may try:
- taking warm baths
- using a heating pad
- switching the side you sleep on to alleviate sciatic pain
A study in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy indicates that physical therapy, such as education and exercise therapy, can reduce back and pelvic pain before and after pregnancy.
If you are in severe pain, call your doctor.
Swelling of the ankles and feet
You may notice that your ankles and feet are swelling more than they did in previous months. That’s because your growing uterus puts pressure on veins running to your legs and feet. If you’re experiencing swelling of the ankles and feet, prop them up above heart level for 15 to 20 minutes, at least two to three times daily. If you’re experiencing extreme swelling, this could be a sign of preeclampsia, and you need to contact your doctor immediately.
Now that you are firmly in the final trimester of pregnancy, you need to know signs of early labor. Though your baby is not considered full term for several more weeks, early labor is possible. Signs of early labor include:
- contractions at regular intervals that are getting closer together
- lower back and leg cramping that does not go away
- your water breaking (it can be a large or small amount)
- bloody or brownish vaginal discharge (known as “bloody show”)
Even though you may think you are in labor, it could just be Braxton-Hicks contractions. These are infrequent contractions that do not get closer together and more intense. They should go away after a period of time and should not be as strong as the contractions will be when you finally go into labor.
If your contractions are getting longer, stronger, or closer together, get to the delivery hospital. It is still too early for a baby to be born and they will likely try to stop the labor. Early labor can be triggered with dehydration. Often an IV bag of fluid is enough to stop labor.
With the increased pressure on your body, it might be time to hit the pool. Walking or swimming in a pool may help swelling, as it compresses tissues in the legs and might provide temporary relief. It will also give you the feeling of weightlessness. Make sure to not overdo it when engaging in moderate exercise and remember to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
At this stage of pregnancy, you’re seeing your doctor more frequently than before. Make sure to ask questions as you have them to ease your mind. If the questions are urgent, write them down as they pop up so that you don’t forget to ask them at your next appointment.
Call your doctor if you detect signs of early labor, experience unusual shortness of breath, or notice decreased fetal movement (if you don’t count 6 to 10 movements in an hour).