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40 Weeks Pregnant: Your Baby’s Development

At 40 weeks pregnant your little one really could arrive any day now; but then again, he or she might want to spend just a bit more time inside your cosy belly.

He or she is now curled up tightly, and will usually be in a downward-facing position by this stage.

Not all foetuses get into the head-down position in time for labour, though. If your foetus is still in the ‘breech’ position, with the bottom or feet facing downwards, for example, your midwife or doctor may offer to turn him or her by applying gentle pressure to your abdomen.

This procedure, known as External Cephalic Version (ECV), works about 50 percent of the time, and is generally considered a safe technique. Your midwife or doctor can tell you more about the risks and benefits.

If this doesn’t work, you may be offered a caesarean section. Keep in mind that not all ‘breech’ babies are born by caesarean section. In some cases, a vaginal birth may be the safest option.

The type of birth that’s best in your situation depends on a variety of factors specific to your pregnancy, including the position of your little one’s feet and how the placenta is positioned inside your uterus.

If the need arises, your doctor or midwife will discuss the available options with you, based on an assessment of your situation.

How Big Is Your Baby at 40 Weeks?

Now that you’re 40 weeks pregnant, your foetus is about the size of a pumpkin, measuring close to 51.2 centimetres from head to heel, and weighing in at around 3.5 kilograms / 7.7 lbs.

These are just average figures though. It’s not long now until you discover the actual weight and length of your newborn baby!

40 weeks pregnant

Mum’s Body at 40 Weeks Pregnant

At the end of 40 weeks you’ve now officially reached your due date, although this is rarely the actual date on which you’ll give birth. For most mums-to-be, labour starts sometime between 38 weeks and 42 weeks of pregnancy.

Your body has done a fantastic job of protecting and nourishing your little one throughout your pregnancy, and by now you’re probably eager to start caring for your newborn baby in a different way.

As the birth of your baby nears, there’s still time for you, and your birth partner (if you’ll have one), to read up on all the aspects of labour and childbirth, and put any questions you have to your doctor and midwife.

This is a great way of preparing for every eventuality. If there’s a change of plan during your labour, you might not have as much time to absorb new information and ask questions, and you may also be tired and less clear-headed.

So, for example, even if you aren’t planning to have a caesarean section, it’s still worth getting clued up now about what will happen if it does become necessary.

The first stage of labour

Whether it’s now, at 40 weeks pregnant, or a little later, once you start to feel the early signs of labour it probably won’t be long before the first stage begins.

These early signs could include period-like pains, cramping, an unusual backache or even just feeling a little sick.

More obvious signs might be your waters breaking, or a pink or blood-streaked discharge as your mucus plug is released.

Sooner or later though, you’ll start to feel regular contractions, which will get stronger and more frequent as your labour progresses.

Contractions help slowly open up (dilate) your cervix in the first stage of labour. This is usually the longest part of labour. Your midwife or doctor may advise you to spend the early part of labour in the comfortable, familiar surroundings of your own home, rather than heading for the hospital as soon as you start experiencing contractions.

Try to make this time as relaxing as possible. You might like to try some of the relaxation techniques you may have learnt at maternity classes.

Your midwife may have told you when to call her and when to head for the hospital or birthing centre. Most experts recommend calling your doctor or midwife once you start having at least 3 contractions every 10 minutes, if you haven’t already. Experts also recommend letting your midwife or doctor know if your waters break, if the contractions are so strong that you might need pain relief, or if there’s anything you’re worried or unsure about.

The second stage of labour

Once your cervix is fully dilated (your midwife or doctor will be able to tell you when this has happened), the second stage of labour begins.

You’ll be asked to push during contractions if you feel that urge.

When your baby’s head is nearly out, you may be asked to stop pushing and take shorter breaths, to let the head come out slowly. This allows the skin and muscles in your perineum (the area between your anus and vagina) to stretch gradually, reducing the risk of tearing.

Sometimes you may be offered an episiotomy – where a small cut is made in the perineum – to reduce the risk even more.

Once the head is born, the rest of your baby usually comes out fairly quickly and easily.

The third stage of labour

The third stage of labour takes place after your baby is born. This is when your uterus contracts, and the placenta is delivered.

Sometimes treatment may be available to speed up this process, but your midwife will discuss the risks and benefits of this with you.

If you have a caesarean section…

Not all mums-to-be have a vaginal birth. You may have opted for an elective caesarean section, or perhaps factors arise during your pregnancy or labour that make it necessary to have one.

If you have a caesarean section, the doctor will deliver your baby through an incision made in your tummy and uterus. This is usually done under a spinal or epidural anaesthetic, so you won’t feel any pain.

After the operation, you’ll be given an injection of oxytocin, the hormone that would be naturally released during a vaginal birth. This helps your uterus to contract and regain its original shape.

Just like after a vaginal birth, you’ll experience a discharge made up of blood, mucus and tissue (known as lochia) for several weeks after your baby is born.

The operation itself commonly takes around 40 to 50 minutes. If you were wondering whether having a caesarean section means you miss out on skin-to-skin contact when you’re little one is born, don’t worry: In most cases, you and your birth partner will be able to hold your baby immediately after delivery.

You may worry that having your first baby by caesarean section means any other babies will also have to be born this way, but this isn’t necessarily so. A little extra monitoring might be needed, but usually it’s safe to have a vaginal birth after a caesarean if that’s your choice.

Whatever kind of birth you have (even if not everything goes quite as expected), your doctor and midwife are there to help you make the best choices for you and your little one.

It won’t be long now before you’re holding your newborn baby in your arms!

40 Weeks Pregnant: Your Symptoms

  • Cramps or period pain. If you feel period-like pains or cramping at any time around 40 weeks pregnant, this could be a sign that your labour is about to start. Let your midwife or doctor know if you notice this, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms such as an unusual backache, feeling sick or regular contractions.
  • Losing the mucus plug. For most of your pregnancy, the opening to the uterus – known as the cervix – has been sealed with a plug of mucus. Just before labour starts, or sometimes in the early stages of labour itself, this plug becomes detached and comes out of your vagina. This is called a ‘show’, and it indicates that your cervix is starting to open. You may not notice the mucus plug, but if you do, you might see a sticky, jelly-like blob of clear, pink or blood-streaked mucus on your underwear or on the toilet paper after you wipe. The pink colour happens if the mucous is tinged with small traces of blood. This is normal, but if there’s a lot of blood, call your midwife or doctor immediately.
  • Contractions. You may have already experienced Braxton Hicks contractions from time to time, and perhaps you’re wondering if you’ll be able to tell when the real ones hit. Once true labour contractions start, you’ll probably notice that they’re coming at regular intervals and becoming progressively stronger, longer-lasting and closer together as time passes. If you think your contractions may have started, or you’re unsure whether it’s Braxton Hicks or true labour contractions, call your midwife or doctor.
  • Waters breaking. Your little one is surrounded by a bag of fluid called the amniotic sac, which has protected him or her since the very beginning of your pregnancy. At some point, the membranes holding this fluid in will break or rupture, letting the fluid out. This is what’s referred to as your waters breaking. For most mums-to-be this happens during labour, but it can also happen earlier. It might be a gush, or just a trickle of clear, pale straw-coloured liquid. You may have trouble telling it apart from urine, and it could be a little bloodstained. Call your midwife if your waters break before labour starts, and always tell your doctor or midwife immediately if the fluid is smelly or coloured, or if you’re bleeding from the vagina. These could indicate a problem that needs urgent treatment.

40 Weeks Pregnant: Things to Consider

  • At 40 weeks pregnant it’s a good idea to review your pain relief options for labour if you’re planning to give birth vaginally. Medical options range from ‘Entonox’, a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide gas, through to pain-relieving injections of pethidine into the thigh or buttocks, and epidural anaesthetics which are administered into your back. All these methods have benefits and risks, so talk to your midwife or doctor about which might work best for you. There are also many natural comfort measures and relaxation techniques that can help you through labour, such as the use of a birth pool, or hypnobirthing. Speak to your midwife or doctor about what comfort measures are available to you at the hospital or birthing centre. Whatever you decide, you can always change your mind during labour, so the most important thing now is to know what your options are.
  • Now might be a good time to chat with your birth partner or doula about your preferences for labour and childbirth, so that he or she can give you the support you need. This is also an opportunity to discuss any concerns or questions your birth partner might have.
  • Although by now you can probably hardly wait to greet your baby, try thinking of these final days as an opportunity for a little self-indulgence. If you’re 40 weeks pregnant and see no signs of labour, why not treat yourself to a pedicure, go out for a meal or film, or just catch up on some reading? Once your baby is born, you'll be on call 24 hours a day, and it'll be a while before you can squeeze in a little ‘me time’.

40 Weeks Pregnant: Ask Your Doctor

  • At this stage, does your doctor recommend waiting a little longer or inducing labour?
  • If you’re expecting to give birth vaginally, what are the benefits and risks of having an episiotomy?
  • Will your partner be able to cut the umbilical cord after your baby is born?
  • Is it safe to have sex so close to your due date?

40 Weeks Pregnant: Your Checklist

Check with your hospital or birthing centre to see if their facilities include bathtubs or showers that you can use during labour. Being in water can relax you and make it easier to manage pain in all the stages of labour. By counteracting gravity, the water makes it easier to move and change position, while the calming sensation can relax you by lowering your adrenaline levels and stimulating natural hormones that help you cope with labour pains.

If you haven’t got your hospital bag packed and ready to go at 40 weeks pregnant, now would be a really good time to start getting together the essential items you’ll be needing at the hospital or birthing centre. Use our handy hospital bag checklist to make sure there’s nothing you’ve missed.

If possible, organise some help around the house for the first few days and weeks after your baby is born. Friends, neighbours, or nearby family members may be happy to lend a hand by preparing meals, shopping for essentials or simply looking after your older children and pets if you have them.

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40 Weeks Pregnant: Your Checklist

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Check with your hospital or birthing centre to see if their facilities include bathtubs or showers that you can use during labour. Being in water can relax you and make it easier to manage pain in all the stages of labour. By counteracting gravity, the water makes it easier to move and change position, while the calming sensation can relax you by lowering your adrenaline levels and stimulating natural hormones that help you cope with labour pains.

If you haven’t got your hospital bag packed and ready to go at 40 weeks pregnant, now would be a really good time to start getting together the essential items you’ll be needing at the hospital or birthing centre. Use our handy hospital bag checklist to make sure there’s nothing you’ve missed.

If possible, organise some help around the house for the first few days and weeks after your baby is born. Friends, neighbours, or nearby family members may be happy to lend a hand by preparing meals, shopping for essentials or simply looking after your older children and pets if you have them.

Sign up for weekly pregnancy tips:

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