The Third Trimester of Pregnancy: What to Expect
Hooray, you’ve made it to your third trimester! Twelve weeks of pregnancy remain, give or take, depending on when your little one is ready to make their appearance. As you enter the third trimester of pregnancy, a lot is racing through your mind in anticipation of your new baby’s arrival and your new role as a parent.
You may be feeling the pressure of your due date approaching and wondering how the time flew by so fast. Or maybe it feels like time has slowed to a snail’s pace. It’s likely you feel a mixture of both. Now is the time to hurry up and wait.
Here’s what can happen in the third trimester, week-by-week.
The Third Trimester: Weeks 27 + 28
Body and Mind
You are feeling more movements from your baby, many jabs, kicks, and punches. As they increasingly make their presence known, many expectant parents start to feel more connected to the baby.
Your pregnancy symptoms may be starting to shift again. Many pregnant individuals experience leg cramps, constipation, insomnia, mood swings, and food aversions during the third trimester. It starts to feel like the first trimester all over again. Doctor appointments will move from monthly visits to every two weeks.
How to cope—Prepare for baby
As you enter the final few months of pregnancy, you’re starting to think about what you will need for the baby. By now, you’ve likely learned just how overwhelming and saturated the baby product world is.
The best way to weed through the options is to ask other moms. By now, they know what items they used and which were not essential. They’ll have an understanding of what they wished they had and what they could have left behind. You’ll learn what is essential to one mom might not be crucial to another. Once you have their feedback, think about what’s most important for your needs. What are the benefits of the item? How much will it get used? What is practical for your lifestyle and living space? What can wait? Is there anything you can borrow instead of buying?
If you are the first to navigate the parenthood route amongst your community, Lucie’s List is a great resource to help you narrow down the essentials based on your budget.
The fetus is opening and closing its eyes. It has a regular sleep/active routine, which you may notice is the complete opposite to your personal schedule: calm during the day but active while you are trying to sleep at night. The hiccups you are feeling are a result of the lungs maturing. Fat storage under the skin continues to develop and fill out the body.
Weeks 29 + 30
Body and Mind
As the weeks creep by, you’re likely to feel more tired. The energy burst from the second trimester is fading. Pregnant individuals often report experiencing backaches and feeling more unsteady. The Relaxin hormone may be to blame for this. Relaxin softens your pelvic joints to allow them to stretch during labor and delivery. Softer joints and muscles paired with the pressure of your growing belly means your back is going to experience some strain. Your balance may be thrown off a bit more than usual because of your more flexible joints. If you are working out, it’s important to pay attention to your body and make sure you are not overextending yourself.
How to cope—Get intimate
Take your mind off your aches and pains and get intimate with your partner. Sex during pregnancy is not off limits and the third trimester is no exception. The increase in hormones, blood flow, and your changing body can increase your libido. For some women, the opposite is true, and that is normal as well. If you find yourself in the mood, navigating the belly bump can allow for some new exploration in positions and pleasure. Even if penetration is not enjoyable or preferred, oral sex and mutual masturbation are great ways to get sexy with your partner. The key is good communication and a willingness to try something new.
The fetus is measuring around 15.5 inches and weighs about 3 lbs. Its eyes are more developed, allowing the fetus to tell the difference between light and darkness.
Weeks 31 + 32
Body and mind
The top of your uterus can measure about five inches above your belly button, making you feel more short of breath and experience more heartburn. Your blood volume has increased by 40-50 percent not only to serve you and your baby but also to make up for the blood you’ll lose during delivery.
You may have noticed a mysterious wet spot on your shirt or have given your breast a little squeeze to see some yellow liquid oozing out. This liquid is colostrum, the substance you’ll feed your baby for the first few days post birth as your breast milk comes in. It’s a sign your body is preparing for lactation. If you don’t have this yet, that’s normal too. Some experience this during pregnancy, and some won’t see a trace of it until after the baby is born. It’ll come in low volume for the first 2–5 days as your breast milk comes in. Though low in volume, it has a lot of benefits for your baby, earning the nicknames “liquid gold” and “baby’s first superfood.”
How to cope—Take advice with a grain of salt
People—myself included—love to share their advice with pregnant women. However, that advice can feel more hurtful than helpful at times. Whether intentional or unintentional, it can make you feel like the choices you are making for yourself and your baby aren’t the right ones.
Remember that you are in charge. Pregnancy and parenthood are a completely foreign land until you are through it. When you are in the midst of it, the options for which path to choose are always changing and always contradicting. You’ve done your research, and you know what is best for you and your baby. Despite the occasional feelings of frustration, hearing about another’s experience lets you hear another story of what could happen or provides another option you may not have considered. More often than not, their advice is coming from a good place. In the end, it’s up to you if you want to press for more information or turn the conversation to another topic.
Your baby is measuring around 16 inches long and weighs about 4-4.5 lbs. They have toenails and fingernails, and the skeleton is fully formed, but still very soft.
Weeks 33 + 34
Body and mind
You may start feeling “practice contractions,” otherwise known as Braxton Hicks contractions. These are not real contractions, though they can be alarming the first time you experience them. During a Braxton Hicks contraction, your uterus will tighten for around 30-60 seconds. They tend to be more uncomfortable than painful, irregular in timing, and eventually taper off. Braxton Hicks contractions occur for a number of reasons, including dehydration, sex, a more active mom or baby, or a full bladder. Drink a glass of water and change your position to help alleviate them.
How to cope—Ease your aches and pains
If your aches and pains are getting the best of you, try something new for relief. Find a local chiropractor who specializes in prenatal care. A good chiropractor can help relieve some of the back or joint pain you are experiencing. If you are worried about a breech birth (baby in a bottom-down position), a chiropractor can help balance your pelvic area, which in turn optimizes room for the baby to make the turn.
Another excellent relief for your aches and pains is water. Whether it’s a warm bath at home, a flotation therapy session, or hopping into a swimming pool, immersing yourself in water takes the pressure off your belly and pelvic area.
Your fetus is measuring around 7.5 inches and weighs between 5 and 5.5lbs. Their fat storage continues to increase, and they are looking more like a newborn. The soft bones are starting to harden. The skull will remain soft for the birth canal.
Weeks 35 + 36
Body and mind
It’s the home stretch, and you are probably so over being pregnant. You may be feeling less like a glowing pregnant woman and more like an exhausted incubator.
As your body changes, it’s normal and OK to feel discouraged. It’s OK not to feel like a beautiful, glowing pregnant person. There’s nothing wrong with feeling a little less than pleased with the process. These feelings come and go.
You may also be questioning if you will be a good parent. Are you doing the right things to prepare? Will the baby be healthy? Contradictions abound in your research, but the secret is: no one knows what they are doing in the beginning. They find what works for them and you will find what works for you, too.
Your doctor appointments will increase to one per week, and you can expect to receive a Group B Streptococci test. If you test positive, you will have antibiotics administered during labor to help protect the baby from the bacteria.
How to cope—Deflect unwanted comments about your body
You are no stranger to the attention your changing body is getting from the well-intentioned stranger, acquaintance, or loved one. Often the comments are around your size. People love to tell pregnant women how big they look, and it doesn’t feel great. Remember that the person commenting on your size is the one who is making the social error—which gives you the right to be direct.
Be straightforward. When someone comments on your size, say you’d rather talk about how you are feeling rather than how you look. By doing so, you can call out the comment without confrontation while also shifting the conversation to something you are more interested in discussing.
The fetus has finished the majority of growth. It is measuring around 17.5-19 inches and weighs between 5.75 and 6.75 pounds. They should be head down but don’t panic if not. There is still time to shift them from a breached (or butt down) position. Now is a good time to find a pediatrician. As you are searching, you’ll want to make sure they are taking new patients. You will call them once the baby has been born to set up the first series of appointments in the week or two post-birth.
Weeks 37 + 38
Body and mind
Not much is changing at this time. Continue to rest when you can, make yourself comfortable, and delegate any remaining to-dos to your partner or a trusted loved one.
As your due date is approaching, you may start feeling signs of real labor. If you’re experiencing contractions that are regular but more than five minutes apart, you are likely experiencing early labor. Give your doctor a call. Based on your pregnancy history they’ll let you know if you need to go to the hospital right away or if you can stay home for a bit longer. Drink plenty of water and eat small snacks. You’ll be keeping track of the interval and intensity of your contractions based on your doctor’s recommendations. The more time you can spend laboring at home in early labor, the more comfortable you’ll be. Early labor is the longest stage of labor and can last for 8–12 hours or more.
How to cope—Pack for the hospital
Now is the time to pack your hospital bag. Or at the very least, create a list of all the items you want to bring. What exactly do you need to pack for the hospital? For labor and delivery, bring anything you want to help create a relaxing environment: essential oils, a good playlist, words of affirmation, etc. Opt for the hospital gown and linens provided for you. They aren’t glamorous, but neither is labor and delivery. Things escalate to a new level of messy bodily fluid, and it’s best to ruin their items, not yours.
I’d suggest focusing on post-partum comfort; a robe, nursing bras and tanks, slippers, and sweatpants or pajamas that you don’t mind getting postpartum fluids on. For better sleep, bring a comfortable pillow and a good sleep mask to block out annoying hospital lights. For bathing, bring your towel and toiletries. Having familiar items from home helps you feel more like yourself.
Your baby is full term now. Most organs are fully developed and functioning. The exception to this is the brain and lungs. These will continue to grow into early childhood. Don’t forget to pack some items for your little one in your hospital bag. The hospital provides diapers and wipes so keep your stash at home. They also provide blankets and onesies, but many people enjoy bringing a blanket of their own or a change of clothes for the trip home. Make sure your car seat is installed properly in the car.
Weeks 39 + 40
Body and mind
You’ll be meeting your baby any day now. If the due date passes, your doctor will talk to you about induction options and consider how long you want to wait it out and how long they are willing to let you go. If you have a scheduled C-section, your doctor will provide you with all the information you need on when to show up and how to prepare.
There are three stages of labor: early, active, and transitional. Once you’ve moved into the active phase of labor—intense contractions coming regularly every 3-5 minutes—your cervix will start to dilate between 4cm–7cm. If you haven’t already, now is the time to head to your hospital or birthing center.
Once your cervix is 7cm, you’ll move to the transitional phase of labor. The transitional period is the most intense part of labor with contractions coming on strong every 60-90 seconds with a 30 second-2 minute rest. Lean heavily on your support team at this time. You may start to hate them for their encouragement, and you may resent them for their constant reminders to rest between contractions, but luckily that means you’re almost there. When you feel the urge to push, tell your doctor.
Once you’ve delivered the baby, prepare for one or two final pushes to deliver the placenta.
How to cope—Start your pain management
The contractions are going to start getting more intense and frequent. Once you settle into your labor and delivery room, begin to practice your pain coping mechanisms, whether that’s getting an epidural or trying non-medication forms of relief. If you opt to delay or forego the epidural, change positions frequently to find what works for each contraction. Don’t be afraid to ask your nurse for mobile monitoring so you can get out of bed and move around. Squatting, bouncing on a workout ball, massage, and pressure from a shower are all excellent options. Find what works for you and what the baby tolerates.
Your baby’s head will push into the birth canal and cause your cervix to start dilating. They will wiggle and twist during labor to try to find the easiest way to squeeze through. Once their head is through, the rest of the delivery should quickly follow. If there is no cause for concern, request the baby to be put immediately to your skin for skin-to-skin contact and bonding. Hello, little one!
Featured image by Tinna Björk Ólafsdóttir
Author Bio Amanda Panneton has built a career around using her words as a freelance writer and marketing professional. She finds writing to be a powerful tool in creating connections within the never-ending journey of motherhood, womanhood, and relationships. You can find her musings on motherhood and more on Instagram at @amanda.panneton.