Congratulations! You’re in the final month of your pregnancy! After weeks of rapid weight gain, you can expect things to slow down a little bit from here on out. Both you and baby have gained the majority of the weight you’re going to gain, so you can take some comfort knowing that, at least as far as weight is concerned, the hard part is over.
Every woman and every pregnancy is different, but after 36 weeks of pregnancy, the average woman will have gained somewhere around 27 pounds, give or take a few. Much to your relief, this will slow down now and you might not gain much more than a few pounds between now and delivery.
At this point, everything is about getting ready for the big day. You will hopefully have met with prospective pediatricians, your labor and delivery bag is packed and ready to go, and the nursery is ready to welcome the new arrival.
You might find your thoughts turning to labor more frequently now, as you wonder if every twinge or cramp is a sign of impending labor. In fact, there are three stages to labor, and the first one begins with regular uterine contractions. This stage of labor can last for a surprisingly long time, so even if you are worried that you’re going into labor, there will likely be time to assess if it’s true labor or not. True labor isn’t just cramping—it is regular uterine contractions that begin to cause changes in the cervix in preparation for delivery. By this rule, Braxton Hicks contractions—which you’re probably experiencing more regularly—are not true labor.
While you’re thinking about it, this is a great time to double check with your provider about what you should do when labor begins or when your bag of water breaks. Although your due date is still a month away, babies have been known to arrive early! This will include timing out your contractions so you know when you should head for the hospital or birthing center.
It’s also a good idea to check with your healthcare provider about signs and changes in your condition that should trigger an automatic call or even heading to the hospital. These might include a lack of activity from the baby, bleeding, or other symptoms.
At Week 36, your baby’s fetal age is 34 weeks. He or she probably weighs about 5.5 to 6 lbs. and measures about 18 inches from the top of the head to the tip of the toes. Overall, your baby is about the size of a smallish butternut squash.
Just as your weight gain is slowing, your baby’s weight gain will slow down a little bit as the pregnancy nears the end. At the same time, the amount of amniotic fluid in your uterus will continue to decrease, which will likely change the way you feel movements. On the one hand, they may feel sharper. On the other hand, because your baby is likely dropping down into position (i.e., lightening), you might get fewer pokes in the lungs. With less room to wiggle around in there, movements may feel smaller only because your baby doesn’t have as much space to do cartwheels as they did before.
At this point, your healthcare provider will be assessing your baby to make sure his or her position is optimal for a vaginal delivery. If your baby is not presenting head down, a number of steps might be taken to help move the baby into a better position. The main way to do this is via a procedure known as external cephalic version (ECV), in which your provider will use pressure and manipulation to move your baby in the uterus into a better position. Other techniques include certain maternal positions that help to encourage your baby to flip, or using complementary medicine like acupuncture or chiropractic adjustments to possibly help.
Although most development has stopped, these last few weeks are crucial for lung development. Even though the brain will continue to develop long after birth, the lungs are the last major organ system that is on a time clock to finish development before delivery day. (Consequently, one of the challenges premature babies face is under-developed lungs and respiratory distress.) The idea in these last weeks of pregnancy is to allow your baby’s lungs to develop sufficient strength that he or she will be able to breathe on their own immediately after birth. Fortunately, we have the ability to test fetal lungs now to see how developed they are. However, even if this test comes back showing your that your baby’s lungs are mature, without any other reason to encourage an early delivery (like a serious medical condition in mom), it should be avoided.