At 39 weeks pregnant, you may encounter frequent cramping in your uterus. This can be a sign of labor or Braxton-Hicks contractions.
Well, here you are: You made it through almost all of your pregnancy and you’ve only got a tiny bit left to go! No problem, right?
We know how hard it is waiting around for baby to be born. You are so completely done with being pregnant, and the days are crawling by.
Will you survive however many days are remaining in this pregnancy? Yup. Will it be fun? Nope. Here’s what to expect — and how to cope — during the final countdown.
This is a weird, stressful, and uncomfortable time. No one likes playing the “did I just pee myself or did my water break” game multiple times a day. Plus, you may be simultaneously terrified of meeting your baby and practically imploding with excitement over the anticipation.
It might also be getting legit hard for you to move around, what with that big ol’ heavy beach ball hanging in front of you 24/7.
If you’re waddling from room to room, having trouble getting up from the couch, or sleeping semi-inclined in your bed at night, don’t feel bad. It will all be over soon!
It’s not a terrible time to adopt a “Little Engine That Could” kind of mindset (I think I can, I think I can) because, well… you can! But also? Get some sleep. You need it.
What “normal” (i.e., non-labor) symptoms can you expect at 39 weeks pregnant? Here are some of the most common:
- heartburn and nausea
- frequent Braxton-Hicks contractions
- pubic pain
- loss of appetite
At the same time, your baby will be born in the nearish future. So here are some pre-labor symptoms that could mean the Big Day is coming sooner rather than later:
As your body prepares itself for delivery, your cervix will start to ripen or soften. This is also called effacement. Your cervix may begin to dilate (i.e. open), too.
The pressure of your baby’s head on your cervix will help this process along. Your doctor may check for these signs at your weekly exams and let you know if you’re making any progress.
Your muscles will do a lot of stretching during birth, so your body starts sending out the signal now that it’s time to relax. These signals affect your digestive muscles, too, and all that relaxation might mean what you eat moves through your intestines much faster than normal, causing diarrhea.
Loss of mucus plug
To keep your uterus safe during pregnancy, your cervix creates this thing called a mucus plug that prevents germs and bacteria from getting in. As your body gets ready for labor, your cervix will naturally expel this plug along with some vaginal blood.
It may simply fall out into the toilet, or it may discharge into your underwear over the course of a few hours or days. You might not even notice, but if you do, you’ll see a clump of thick, bloody mucus (it’s also known as a “bloody show,” for what we hope are obvious reasons).
If you’re expecting to feel a huge gush of fluid when your water breaks — like your vagina just popped a water balloon — know this: It may feel exactly like that, or it could feel like a slow trickle (in other words, the total opposite sensation).
Confusing? Yes. But here’s what you need to know: If the fluid is clear, there’s a lot of it, it soaks through your underwear, or keeps on coming out even after you’ve lied down, it’s probably amniotic fluid, not urine or discharge. Call your doctor.
Your mental health as you anxiously anticipate labor and delivery is one thing, but dealing with the physical stress at 39 weeks is a whole other ballgame. You’re not eating, walking, sleeping, or even pooping well at this point… how can you cope?
Long stretches of uninterrupted sleep may not be possible at this point thanks to aches and pains, but if you can squeeze some short naps into your daytime hours, you can make up for some lost time.
Give yourself (pillow) props. FYI, every pillow in the house belongs to you for the foreseeable future, so grab what you need to feel comfortable. Keep your back, legs, and feet supported. Sleep at an incline if it makes breathing a little easier.
Eat small meals
Your digestive system is ultra-squished right now, which means you probably can’t stomach large meals. If you need to snack all day long instead of chowing down at meal times, that’s fine. Also? Pump the breaks on the spicy foods to avoid worsening third trimester heartburn and nausea.
Not drinking enough fluids can make you feel less energized, more light-headed, and can even mess with your bowel movements.
Change positions slowly
Yes, you will feel like a 90-year-old, but don’t make any sudden movements. Roll onto your side and then sit up before getting out of bed; stretch your legs out a little if you’ve been chilling on the couch for a while. There’s also no shame in asking your partner for a hand at this point if that’s an option… they owe you one, anyway.
Tap your favorite stress-relieving strategies
Aromatherapy, prenatal yoga, dark chocolate, Netflix. It doesn’t matter what your ultimate chill-out playlist involves, just do it. Now’s the time to rest up — you have our full permission.
We already told you four of the major signs that labor is coming:
- loss of mucus plug
- water breaking
- cervical effacement
Those are important symptoms, but with the exception of your water breaking, you could experience one or several and still not go into labor for days or even weeks.
So how do you know when it’s actually time? One word: contractions. Contractions are the number-one sign that your delivery day is almost here… but only if they’re the real deal, not those fake-out Braxton-Hicks contractions.
So what does a labor contraction feel like versus a Braxton-Hicks contraction? There are a few important things to pay attention to:
- Braxton-Hicks contractions are irregular; labor contractions aren’t. If you can count your contractions on a consistent interval (like they’re mostly all 7 minutes apart), they might be the real thing.
- Braxton-Hicks contractions stay the same; labor contractions intensify. A Braxton-Hicks contraction will make you uncomfortable, but it won’t knock your socks off — if you can’t talk, walk, or laugh during a contraction, it may not be fake. Same goes for if the time between contractions shortens, e.g., they were 7 minutes apart an hour ago but now they’re 5. That means it’s time to pay attention!
- Braxton-Hicks contractions subside with rest and hydration; labor contractions don’t. One of the best ways to tell if your contractions are real or not is to drink a glass of water and lie down. If your contractions slow or stop, they probably aren’t labor contractions.
If you know your contractions are regularly increasing in frequency, strength, and duration — and that lying down or changing your position doesn’t stop them — you should give your provider a call for next steps. This is not a drill anymore!
You probably don’t want to hear this, but unless you have a medical condition or are at risk for complications, your provider likely won’t stress about you going into your 40th or even 41st week of pregnancy without giving birth. (Usually by 42 weeks, though, they’ll want to get the ball rolling with some interventions.)
If you’re not seeing any signs of labor at 39 weeks, it may mean you have some time left in this pregnancy.
On the other hand, not all babies give you a nice, long warning that they’re getting ready to make their grand entrance. Sometimes, you wake up to zero labor signs in the morning and end up holding a baby that afternoon. Newborns are nothing if not unpredictable.
Your baby is full-term, so they look like a newborn! They have all their cute little fingers and toes, can see and hear things around them, may (or may not!) have a head of hair, and are working on building up body fat.
Technically, their lungs and brain are still developing, but that growth actually continues into the early newborn days. Those organs are functional enough to do what they need to when your baby is born.
Your baby should also be in prime birthing position at this point, with their head down and engaged in your pelvis. Most babies face toward the back, but some present “sunny side up,” or front-facing, at birth. This is OK for baby in terms of delivery safety, but unfortunately can make labor more painful for you. (If you’ve ever heard of “back labor,” this position is what it refers to.)
Newborns vary in weight and length. The average baby is about 7 to 8 pounds and 18 to 20 inches at birth. The longer baby stays in there, the more they’ll grow — but if your baby were born today, the odds are good that they would be totally healthy!
- Keep doing kick counts. Even though your baby’s movements have changed as they’ve grown bigger, they should still be very active. You may notice a small decrease in activity right before giving birth, but your baby should never stop moving. If you’re worried about your kick counts, give your doctor a call.
- Keep taking your prenatal vitamins. Most doctors recommend that you continue with prenatals while breastfeeding, so don’t stop just because you’ve reached the home stretch of your pregnancy.
- Sleep. ‘Nuff said.
- Move your body. You may not be able to do much physical activity right now, but you’ll feel better (less achy and more flexible) if you don’t spend all day parked on the couch. Go for a slow walk around your neighborhood, do some simple stretches on the living room rug, or put on a favorite playlist and bump it out while you cook dinner.
- Open the door for labor. Honestly, there’s not much evidence that the old wives’ tales about eating spicy food or having sex to speed up labor actually work; for the most part, your baby will come when they’re ready (or when they’re forced out via induction or cesarean). But a few tricks — like taking walks and doing fetal positioning exercises — can at least help to prep your body (especially your pelvic area) for the hard work of giving birth.
At 39 weeks, you kind of have to be prepared for anything. It could be 2 weeks or 2 hours until you go into labor, so make sure you’re mentally ready to a) ride out this pregnancy for a while longer and b) head to the hospital at a moment’s notice.
In the meantime, take care of yourself: Sleep as best you can, rest your body as much as possible, and think happy thoughts. You can do it, little engine!