If it felt like this day would never come, take a moment to pat yourself on the back — and the belly. You are officially in the 40th week of pregnancy.
Congratulations, the finish line is within reach — well, sort of. Your womb has made a mighty cozy home for baby these last nine months, and that little snuggle bug might not be too eager to make their big debut just yet.
It’s a waiting game. It might be tomorrow; it could be another week. So what should you expect in these last few days, hours, and seconds of pregnancy (not that you’re counting)?
Here’s everything you need to know — including how not to go crazy while impatiently waiting for labor to start.
At 40 weeks of gestation, your baby is about the size of a melon, measures at approximately 19 to 22 inches long, and likely weighs between 7 and 9 pounds. Of course, all babies are different, and your wee one may be born slightly bigger or smaller.
Meanwhile, baby’s movements may have slowed down a bit at this point as things are quite cramped in that uterus of yours.
If you are feeling nervous about your usually wiggly little one’s lack of punches and kicks, take some deep breaths, have a sip of juice, and lay down. Try to count how often you feel that tell-tale jab.
You want to be able to identify 10 movements in one hour. If you can’t, call your doctor — they may want to check in on you and your babe.
Ideally (and hopefully), your baby is already in birth position with their head pointing downwards. If your doctor tells you that your stubborn nugget is breech, it means that those cute little toesies are actually reaching towards the birth canal, instead of their noggin.
Your doctor may put pressure on your abdomen to try and force the baby to rotate. If this maneuver fails to succeed, don’t be dismayed — there’s still time for them to make the turn on their own terms. Be aware, though, that your OB may start a conversation about the possible need for a C-section.
It may feel like this was somehow simultaneously the longest and quickest 40 weeks of your life. The three trimesters of pregnancy can fly by or drag on. By this point, you’ve likely put on between 25 and 35 pounds, and the whole “stick a fork in me, I’m done” sentiment might ring all too true.
You could be eager to get this show on the road, or you may be hoping for more time. The confounding part of this conundrum: it’s not up to you — unless, of course, you are going in for a planned induction or scheduled C-section.
This home stretch may feel especially uncomfortable, but rest assured that this won’t last forever. Out of
Your due date has come and gone
If you have no complications and are in the midst of a healthy pregnancy, your doctor will likely let you ride things out for an extra week or so beyond your due date.
Due dates are educated estimates, so your projected timeline can vary. Regardless, your doc will keep a watchful eye on you and your baby to make sure that you are both staying healthy and strong.
Typically, doctors won’t let you go more than a week or so past your due date. If baby is digging their heels in and refusing to budge, it may be time to talk about an induction. A
In the meantime, hold tight. Try to be patient and use this bonus time to get some rest (if you can find a comfortable position) or to prepare for your pending arrival.
This last week can feel anticlimactic. Baby doesn’t have a calendar in utero, and, in addition to being at the end of your pregnancy, you may be at the end of your wits.
Since you will most likely have an appointment with your midwife or OB right before, on, or after your due date, use this opportunity to ask lots of last-second questions and hash out any concerns.
Here are some questions and discussion points to bring up with your midwife or doctor:
How long past my due date will you let me go?
Whether you are desperate to be done with pregnancy or hoping for a few extra days to finish some last-minute nursery projects, ask your doctor how long past your due date they’ll let you go before discussing induction options.
What can we do to speed things up?
If you’ve hit the 40-week mark and you’re feeling a little desperate, you can ask your doctor about having your membranes stripped. During this procedure, a doctor swipes a gloved finger between the membranes of the amniotic sac. This quick — albeit slightly uncomfortable — procedure can often get things moving along.
When will induction become an option?
Your doctor’s priority is your health and safety. If they think you and your baby are doing well, they’ll likely encourage you to wait for spontaneous labor. However, at some point, induction may become necessary. Ask your doctor what their usual threshold is so you can best prepare for this hypothetical.
What is the process for an induction?
If it looks like an induction may be in your near future, ask your doctor about the basic protocol.
Your OB may use one or two drugs to kick-start labor. Prostaglandins can be taken orally or inserted like a tampon to slowly ripen your cervix and prepare it for labor. Pitocin, on the other hand, is administered via an IV drip once your cervix is primed and ready.
Is it safe to have sex?
Want to get busy before you get even busier? Ask your doctor if it’s still safe for you and your partner to have sex. They’ll most likely give you the green light and even encourage the activity; it could help kick start labor.
The end of pregnancy can mess with your mind. In addition to experiencing discomfort, aches, pains, and anxiety, you are likely questioning very single twinge you feel — is that gas or is it labor?
Indeed, at this point in the waiting game, you are probably feeling all the physical symptoms, and it can be overwhelming, overbearing, and overly confusing.
You’ve probably been experiencing Braxton-Hicks or practice contractions for a few weeks — if not months — now. This repetitive tightening of the abdomen can be uncomfortable or even mildly painful, and it can be hard to distinguish this symptom from the real-deal early contractions.
One thing to remember: If your contractions are erratic or irregular, and not increasing in both intensity and frequency, they’re probably the prelude to the main production.
Loss of mucus plug
The mucus plug acts as a protective barrier that prevents infection-causing bacteria to travel beyond the birth canal. As the cervix widens near the end of pregnancy, you may lose this plug in pieces or in one big glob.
While many women report this happening days or hours before labor kicks into gear, others experience this weeks earlier. If it’s tinged with red, you have also discovered your bloody show. It all sounds very alarming, but don’t alert the in-laws just yet — you may still have a ways to go.
Have you recently heard the words, “your baby looks low?” If you and your loved ones have noticed that your belly has dropped, it’s because your baby’s head has is now up close and personal with your pubic bones, preparing for their final descent and arrival. Again, this can happen days before labor or a few hours in advance.
The body knows what it’s doing. Diarrhea is a common signal that labor is approaching, as your bowels will often clear themselves to help your uterus contract more readily and efficiently.
If you have the sudden and urgent need to decorate your baby’s nursery, put together furniture, clean the medicine cabinets, bake a casserole, and iron your underwear, it could be your nesting instinct at work.
While many pregnant women feel this desire to prep and primp throughout the third trimester, others are hit by a surprising spurt right before labor approaches.
Exhaustion and insomnia
Of course, if you’re not feeling up to all the domestic to-do’s, that’s perfectly normal, too. You may be too tired to even think about getting off the couch, let alone scrubbing the toilet. The end of pregnancy is wearing on the mind and body.
Furthermore, a huge belly, Braxton-Hicks, cramping, and anxiety may keep you awake tossing and turning all night.
You may experience some real contractions in the 40th week of pregnancy, as your cervix thins (effaces) and widens (dilates) in prep for the big finale. No need to rush to the hospital at the first twinge; labor is probably not imminent. If they become more pronounced at regular, frequent intervals, though, you will want to check in with your doctor.
For more pregnancy guidance and weekly tips tailored to your due date, it’s not too late to sign up for our I’m Expecting newsletter.
Yes, the end of pregnancy is a guessing game, full of false alarms and self-doubt. There are a few tell-tale ways to recognize real labor, though.
If your water breaks spontaneously before or after contractions begin, you can feel confident that your baby’s arrival is imminent. The rupturing of your membranes may be dramatic (like the movies tell us it is). More likely, though, it will occur as a subtle, but perpetual drip.
If you are unsure whether you’re leaking amniotic fluid or urine (yes, that can happen too!), there are a few ways to check, including trying to stop the stream with a Kegel squeeze. It’s also worth noting that, unlike urine, amniotic fluid is colorless and odorless.
Call your doctor or head to the hospital if your water has broken on its own; you’re going to meet your baby within the next 24 hours or so.
Again, it can be hard to distinguish those early contractions from Braxton-Hicks and cramps. But if they’re building in intensity and happening at more frequent intervals, it is time to alert your OB.
It may feel like you are at your baby’s mercy (or your OB’s), but you can use this time to your benefit — whether that means washing onesies or trying to naturally induce labor.
Here are some suggestions to bide the time and maybe even get things going.
- Go for a walk. Want to move things along? Take matters into your own hands — or feet, rather. A little stroll might just be the catalyst your body and baby need to start the process. Movement can drop baby lower causing further dilation and effacement.
- Have sex. If your doctor gives you the go ahead — and you can muster up the motivation — try to enjoy a little intimate time with your partner. While there is no definitive proof that sex can speed things up, it won’t hurt to try.
- Proceed with caution. Many moms may swear by teas, supplements and even castor oil to induce labor. You might be wanting and willing to try anything and everything at this point but be sure to check with your doctor before turning to any alternative methods. And if you’re going to test out any other old-wives’ tales and theories? Start by indulging in your favorite spicy-food dish.
- Try to relax. It’s understandable that you are in a rush to get this party started, but it is more important that you and your baby stay healthy and safe. So, take a break from the DIY induction methods, and get some rest.
It sounds clichéd, but things are about to get real crazy at home, so enjoy this fleeting down time while it lasts — or use this final opportunity to do some last-minute preparations.
You made it, mama — 40 long, exhausting, exhilarating, and totally mind-blowing weeks. The journey may not be over just yet, but the grand finale is coming very soon. Take it all in and keep your eye on the prize — you’ll be holding your baby in no time. You’ve got this.