The 3 Stages of Pregnancy

Third Trimester: Weeks 28 through 40

You're in the home stretch now! The skin on your bulging belly is beginning to feel tight and itchy, and you may notice a linea nigra—a dark line that runs from your pubic bone up to your navel—starting to appear. Don't be surprised if overeager friends or even strangers clamor to touch your belly. You may also be shocked when you jump on a scale: A woman of healthy weight gains about 30 pounds during her pregnancy. Even more amazing, your uterus will expand to 1,000 times its original volume. Finally, you can feel Braxton Hicks contractions at any time during the third trimester. Unlike real contractions, these irregular, mild tightenings of the uterus may go away if you simply walk around. Still, if you aren't sure what you're experiencing, call your doctor.

Third-Trimester Checklist

  • Take a prenatal class. Ease your delivery-day fears by learning about relaxation techniques for labor. While you're at it, sign up for an infant CPR class.
  • Find a pediatrician. Check with your insurance company, get advice from friends, or ask your hospital for a referral.
  • Get a group B strep culture. While this bacterium is normally harmless, it may cause infection in a newborn. Your doctor will give you this test at around 36 weeks to see whether you're one of the approximately 10 to 30 percent of women who carry strep B. If you test positive, you'll be given antibiotics during labor.
  • Buy -- and install -- a car seat. The hospital won't let you go home without one. Can't completely finish your nursery? Just make sure the crib or bassinet is assembled.
  • Prepare to breastfeed. If you plan to nurse, buy a breast pump and make sure you know how to use it.
  • Pack your bag. You could go into labor anytime after the 36-week mark, so gather anything you'll want in the hospital.

Your Focus This Trimester: Staying Comfortable

Your rapidly expanding middle may leave you with aches and pains. Here are some common complaints.

  • Hemorrhoids. Soaking in a warm bath or sitting on an ice pack can soothe these swollen veins around the rectum. Or ask your doctor about over-the-counter creams to ease the burning and itching.
  • Fat feet. Fluid shifts from blood vessels into the tissues in your hands and feet, causing them to swell. Try to elevate your legs as often as possible.
  • Heartburn. Eating small meals, and not lying down for 30 minutes after you eat can help. Your doctor may also recommend an over-the-counter antacid.
  • Shortness of breath. As your due date nears, your baby nestles right under your rib cage. Luckily, this gets much better after your baby drops, at around 36 weeks.

The Inside Story

Your baby is getting ready for life outside the uterus: Her organs are formed, her central nervous system's working, and her brain continues to grow. During this final trimester she'll continue to get bigger, putting on at least four pounds and growing six more inches.

Sources: Nancy Jasper, M.D., assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center; Bruce Flamm, M.D., Parents adviser and clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California in Irvine; Joanne Stone, M.D., coauthor of Pregnancy for Dummies.

Copyright © 2005. Reprinted with permission from the September 2005 issue of Parents magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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