A guide to the last month
By Janice Pearson
Finally! You're in the home stretch. Only a
month to go and your baby will be in your arms. You already know that when
that happens, things are going to change. In fact, things are already
changing. This phase of your pregnancy feels different.
What's going on in your body?
Your baby is well developed, but gains weight
rapidly during this last month. The extra weight of the baby in front
might cause your back to ache and you may notice that you get tired more
easily. Some gentle exercise like walking or swimming, or some easy
stretches can relieve tired muscles. Some women, on the other hand,
experience aching in the pelvic joints when ligaments loosen in
preparation for labour, and may find even walking uncomfortable. Do what
you can. In warmer months, your feet may swell. Wear comfortable shoes to
give your feet plenty of room.
Your baby will be born soon, so you need to
take every opportunity to rest in preparation for the work of labour.
Sleeping may be more difficult these days, but see if you can build in
some daytime naps, or at least some time to relax and put your feet up.
Julie O'Brien lives in Cornwall, Ontario. She
says she has more indigestion and heartburn now, at 38 weeks, and her feet
are swelling. As for sleeping, she has found her own solution. She sleeps
with eight pillows!
Arrin Alford lives in Selby, Ontario and is
having her baby in three weeks. "This is our first child," she says, "and
Dave and I are both very excited but nervous about what to expect." Her
pregnancy has been uneventful, and even this far along, she reports that
she has lots of energy. "Dave can attest to this," she explains, "since
he's witnessed me cleaning at 10:30 in the evening. I'm sure this can be
blamed on 'nesting.'"
Your baby "drops"
Up until now your baby's head has been higher
than the brim of your pelvis. In the last weeks, your baby will "drop"
down into your pelvis, usually head down. Once your baby has dropped,
there's less pressure upwards. That means less heartburn and
breathlessness. At the same time, the increased pressure downwards might
mean aching in the thighs, even more bathroom trips and sometimes vaginal
discharge, hemorrhoids and varicose veins. Take it easy. Enjoy warm baths
Since the baby has less room in the uterus and
is in a more fixed position, you may notice less fetal movement. A
dramatic change, however, should be reported to your doctor.
What about work?
When do you want to stop work? At one time,
women didn't work at all during pregnancy. Your mother might have taken a
month to six weeks off work before you were born. These days, women often
work up until "the last minute," or quit when they've arranged for a break
in their schedule. Do be flexible. Make sure you're not overdoing it and
have a contingency plan in place. This will help you to relax a little
should you have your baby earlier than planned or just not feel able to
keep working as you approach your due date.
Looking forward to labour
Now's the time to pack your bags for the
hospital. Find out what's appropriate to bring in by speaking with your
prenatal teacher or asking your caregiver. You may also want to prepare a
separate "labour kit," with supplies to help you through labour - anything
from music to lip balm. Finally, get your phone book organized. There'll
be lots of people to call with your exciting news!
As the big day approaches, you may be
wondering what to expect. How will labour start and how will you deal with
Even before you are in active labour, your
body is preparing. Your cervix, for example, has become soft and will get
shorter and start to open just a bit. This activity might cause the plug
of mucous to come away from your cervix, sometimes with a little bit of
blood. Those stronger Braxton Hicks contractions you're experiencing also
mean that things are starting to heat up!
Everyone is worried that they might show up at
the hospital and be sent home again in "false labour." Don't worry! The
staff is quite used to it. They realize that with a first baby, you really
don't know what to expect and, with a subsequent baby, your body can have
a few false starts. Once your labour is established:
- contractions will get stronger and longer,
and usually have a regular pattern
- contractions don't go away when you walk
around or change position
- you may lose your mucous plug (have a
Your bag of waters may break at any time
during labour. TV comedies are fond of scenes where the water breaks out
of the blue - the woman's first clue that she is in labour. In fact, only
20 percent of the time does this happen before labour is really underway.
Most caregivers will want to know about it if it does.
Most women are excited and nervous all at the
same time when they consider labour. Will it hurt? Will the baby be okay?
Will I get enough support? Alford is hoping for a natural birth at a
birthing centre, with midwives. She's learning about massage, showers and
baths during labour, acupressure and breathing techniques while she waits
for her baby to arrive. On the other hand, she knows she would put these
dreams aside if her baby needed extra help.
Overdue: the LONGEST month
Most women think of their due date as
something magical. We are used to living in a world where our appointment
books dictate our lives, after all. If your due date comes and goes, it
can be puzzling. What's going on in there? Remember that the date you've
circled on the calendar is simply an estimate: 40 weeks from the first day
of your last period. There's plenty of individual variation - but you
certainly won't be pregnant forever!
Most babies are born in the week before or
after their due date, so that gives you a 50 percent chance of being
overdue. After 41 weeks, many caregivers will suggest inducing labour. If
you are overdue and your caregiver advises induction of labour, discuss
the risks and benefits and make sure you understand your options.
Alford doesn't know how she will feel if her
baby is late. "I would feel some disappointment," she admits. "If I had my
way, the baby would be here tomorrow!"
O'Brien's baby has stayed in the breech (feet
or bottom down, head up) position and she and her doctor have decided on a
Caesarean delivery. She is booked in at 39 weeks, so she knows she won't
be overdue. She's feeling fine about her planned Caesarean, but is nervous
about taking care of her baby and recovering from her surgery at the same
How are you feeling?
For many women, the last weeks of pregnancy
are when "reality hits." It's taken this long, says Alford, for it to
really sink in that she's actually having a baby.
As you make the journey from pregnancy into
motherhood, you're bound to have some mixed feelings. Like O'Brien and
Alford, your focus shifts now to the birth and beyond. Excitement? Yes -
at the prospect of finally seeing your baby, but perhaps some apprehension
too, about how your labour will progress, and how you'll manage all those
At the same time, it can start to feel like
your pregnancy will go on forever, and you may begin to think that perhaps
this baby won't really be born at all. Perhaps it's just an enormous joke.
Of course, your baby will be born when things are ready, and it is going
to happen soon.
Meanwhile, you may be feeling irritable or
moody this month. Not only is your body becoming cumbersome, but you've
got a lot on your mind. You may feel overwhelmed by how much there is to
do and think about. These feelings are completely normal.
If it helps, make a list of the worries you
have. Sometimes just seeing them written down brings them down to size and
makes them more manageable. It may also suggest some problem-solving steps
you can take: Do you have concerns about labour? If so, discuss them with
your caregiver, and write a birth plan if you haven't already done so. Are
you worried about your recovery? Make sure you have some postpartum
support lined up.
Talking to your partner or friends who've been
there can also be reassuring.
Building a community
One of the best uses for your time in the
final month is to put together a list of people and services that will be
useful to you when you get home with your new baby. If you are going to
prenatal classes, ask your teacher what's around. You'll be surprised at
how much there is, if you just look for it.
Prenatal classes are a great place to network
with other parents and take advantage of your instructor's knowledge of
community resources. If you haven't been able to fit in a prenatal class
yet, you can still contact a childbirth education centre in your last
month and ask for some private instruction. If all else fails, at least
make sure you have a book or two about labour, baby care and
Include on your resource list:
- breastfeeding support: La Leche League, a
lactation consultant and/or breastfeeding clinic
- drop-in centres for new parents
- the number for your Public Health Unit or a
home nursing service
- the names and numbers of friends or
relatives who have had a baby recently
- favourite places for take-out or delivery
of food, and/or a grocery store that delivers
- your closest 24-hour drug store
- the number for the doctor who'll take care
of your baby
There are many other ideas. Think about your
specific situation and make sure that your list includes the resources
that will help things go more smoothly. If there's only one item on your
list, make it the names of those who can support you when you get home.
For O'Brien, this will mainly be her husband. He's taking time off to take
care of the house and help Julie with the new baby.
A month isn't very long, but there is usually
enough time to prepare. Just take it a day at a time, work through your
list of things to do and before you know it, your new baby will have
arrived. Being prepared will make these last days of pregnancy much more
relaxing. "Everything is in place," says O'Brien. "All we need now is a
Preparing the Nest
What do you still need to do to get your home
ready for a baby? Don't worry too much if everything isn't perfect. Your
baby won't notice. But do have the essentials on hand: somewhere for baby
to sleep, diapers ordered or bought, and your list of resources and
Decorating the nursery is great if it will
give you pleasure, but getting organized to save yourself work and
shopping trips in the postpartum weeks is definitely more useful. Some
- Tie up loose ends at work.
- Buy baby clothes and diapering supplies (or
arrange a diaper service).
- Get any personal care items you may want on
hand for you and your baby: sanitary pads, diaper and bath supplies,
baby nail clippers or scissors, etc. Your caregiver may have specific
- Organize a convenient change area, with
everything you'll need close at hand.
- Put a few casseroles in the freezer and
some easy meal ingredients in the pantry to use after the baby is born.
- Prepare your resources list.
- Learn about breastfeeding, especially if
you don't know many breastfeeding mothers. Studies show that prenatal
instruction in breastfeeding can help get you off to a good start, so if
you're worried, see a lactation counsellor now.
- Install a CSA-approved infant car seat
according to the manufacturer's instructions. (Hospitals require that
you have an infant restraint when you and the baby are discharged.)
- Pack your hospital bag (check with your
hospital to find out what they supply) or lay in supplies that you'll
need if you're having a home birth.
- Plan your route to the hospital, and if
your partner or labour support people aren't easily accessible on the
job, arrange for a pager.
- Review what you learned in your childbirth
preparation classes, and think about what you'll need to help you cope
- Update your phone book, and include a list
of people you would like to call with the news of your baby's birth.
Finally, resist that "nesting instinct" that
keeps you up cleaning until midnight. Do a little each day, and remember
that your baby won't notice. Try to go into labour well-rested.
in Great Expectations,
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