However you’re feeling at 38 weeks pregnant (exhausted, excited, terrified… did we mention exhausted?), there’s probably one big question on your mind whenever you feel even the slightest twinge in your back or belly: Am I going into labor?
Unlike most other weeks of pregnancy, though, you’re close enough to the big day now — your baby is technically full term at this point! — that the answer could actually be yes.
Diarrhea? It could be a sign of labor! Weird discharge? It could be a sign of labor! Sudden panic that you’re not ready to become a parent after all? It could be a sign of labor!
OK, that last one… not so much. But how you’re feeling at 38 weeks could give you some clues about what to expect for the rest of your pregnancy — like when it’s going to be over and you’ll get to hold that sweet baby in your arms.
Here’s everything you need to know about this oh-so-close-to-the-end week of pregnancy.
We’re going to get to the good stuff in a minute (like whether those twinges are contractions or just indigestion), but first we have to remind you that you could still be pretty far away from giving birth at this point.
Your due date, technically, isn’t for another 2 weeks, and some people don’t even give birth until closer to 42 weeks. Sorry… don’t hate us!
However close (or not) you are to going into labor, there will still be some symptoms you’re dealing with at 38 weeks pregnant, like:
- heartburn, nausea, and indigestion
- mood swings
- leaky breasts
- pelvic pressure
- mild backache
- frequent urination
- Braxton-Hicks contractions
- edema (swelling), especially in feet and ankles
- increase in vaginal discharge
Around 38 weeks pregnant, you may lose your mucus plug — the glob of mucus (there’s really no better way to describe it, honestly) that protects your cervix from infection.
People usually think this means you’re about to go into labor any day now, but the truth is that your mucus plug can fall out several weeks before labor begins.
In other words, going to the bathroom to pee and finding gelatinous goo in your undies is just another “day in the life” of pregnancy.
As much as late pregnancy symptoms can run the gamut from annoying to uncomfortable to downright strange, there are some things that are outside the bounds of “normal” and should prompt you to call your doctor ASAP.
These symptoms include:
- rupture of the amniotic sac (i.e., your water breaks)
- dizziness, severe headache, or blurred vision
- significant vaginal bleeding
- trouble urinating or painful urination
- vomiting or severe stomach cramps
- sudden swelling in your extremities or face
- a marked decrease in or absence of fetal movement
With the exception of your water breaking, these symptoms aren’t usually signs of impending labor, so you should contact your doctor if they happen to you.
Ah, the moment you’ve been waiting for: how to know if you’re going into labor!
To be honest, it can be kind of confusing. You’ve been having noticeable Braxton-Hicks contractions for a few weeks now, which are basically just practice for the real thing — and it’s hard to tell them apart!
But when labor is coming for real, you might notice:
- regular, measurable contractions that don’t go away when you lie down
- contractions that become more intense — and closer to one another — over time
- rupture of the amniotic sac
- loss of the mucus plug (again, this can happen weeks away from labor, but if it happens alongside some of these other signs, it’s worth noting)
- engagement of the baby’s head into your pelvis, sometimes called lightening or “dropping”
Still not sure if you’re actually going into labor? Call your doctor anyway!
Most pregnant people — especially first-timers — will have at least one false alarm, so don’t be embarrassed if you show up at the hospital convinced you’re in labor, and they send you home with a big ol’ “nope.” It will put your mind at ease to get checked.
Like we said before, your baby is technically full term, but that doesn’t mean they’re 100 percent done cooking in there yet.
While your baby’s critical organs (think heart, lungs, and brain) are fully developed, they are still growing — so as long as there aren’t complications, it’s best to let your baby stay in there until they’re totally ready to come out.
Meanwhile, your baby is starting to say goodbye to their lanugo, getting their first bowel movement prepped, and continuing to pack on body fat. They’re probably about 6 or 7 pounds and 18 to 20 inches, but at this point in your pregnancy, there can be a lot of variation in baby’s height and weight (just like there is at birth!).
Ideally, your baby has already moved into a birth-ready position, e.g., one facing your back with their head down and engaged in your pelvis.
While most babies do this by 36 weeks, some babies take their time… but you don’t want to miss that window, so talk to your doctor about encouraging baby to “assume the position” with pregnancy-safe strategies for turning babies in the womb.
Babies move up until birth (and, let’s face it, they keep on squirming around quite a bit after birth, too) but fetal movement definitely changes in the third trimester as your baby starts running out of room to bounce around.
A lot of the movement you feel at this stage is your baby stretching and wiggling in the confines of your uterus. These movements could be more subtle than you’re used to, so you may have to pay more attention during kick count sessions.
Sometimes a baby’s movement decreases slightly right before labor; no one knows why for sure. However, you shouldn’t ignore a complete absence of movement — you should still be able to feel baby move a few times an hour, at least. They just may be more subdued in the day or two before labor begins.
We know, we know: You’ve already done all the things and now you’re just sitting around, impatiently waiting for baby to arrive. Well, guess what? There are still a few things you could do, if you have the energy and motivation to tackle them.
- Prep some meals. You can never have too many crock pot dinners, comforting soups, and craving-satisfying pizzas stocked in your freezer during the newborn phase, especially when you’re too tired to even think about cooking. Whip up some freezer-friendly meals now and thank yourself later.
- Review your birth plan and anything you learned in a breastfeeding or Lamaze class. It won’t hurt to give yourself a mini-refresher about how you intend to birth and feed your baby.
- Catch up with friends. It might be awhile before you feel physically or mentally ready for a chat over coffee with your BFF, so squeeze them in now. (It’s often as good as scheduling an appointment with your therapist… but also, if you have a therapist, maybe do that, too?)
- Pamper yourself. Like pretty much every other thing you love in your pre-baby life, self-care will take a backseat after you give birth. Go ahead and check off all those beauty boxes, like getting a haircut, brow wax, and foot massage.
- Finalize anything that has to be done. Think packing your hospital bag, installing the baby’s car seat, and deciding who will be with you in the delivery room.
The last few weeks of pregnancy are a total waiting game, and it’s one you might not want to play (I mean, can’t you just meet this kid already?!). But your life is about to change Forever — yes, that’s Forever with a capital F — so this is a good opportunity to prioritize yourself.
If you’re feeling super anxious, talk to your doctor. They may be able to reassure you about specific things stressing you out. If that doesn’t work, find a seasoned parent, in person or in an online parenting group, who can speak from experience and soothe some of your nerves.
If you’re feeling physically uncomfortable, go back to basics: Sleep as much as you can; go for walks or do prenatal yoga; eat small, frequent meals; and put your feet up at night while you binge Netflix.
There will be plenty of time later for staying up half the night googling “what to do if my baby has a fever,” so don’t spend time doing that now. Instead, search “how to relax before baby comes” and then go find some serious chill.
You’re so close! The finish line is literally in sight, but there’s no way to tell just how quickly you’ll get there. It could be tomorrow… or it could be 3 weeks from now.
Stay calm, get as much rest as you can, and try to be patient. Most importantly, pay attention to what your body is doing — it will give you clues when it’s priming itself for labor. And, as always, don’t ignore warning signs; always call your doctor if you’re concerned about anything.