Third Trimester of Pregnancy: 28-40 Weeks
You’ve reached the final stretch – literally! The third trimester can be the most exciting and suspenseful weeks and months of your pregnancy. This stage also comes with plenty of challenges too, as your bump grows ever larger and you may experience some brand new pregnancy symptoms. Keep your eyes on the prize: It’s not long now before you’ll get to take your little one home and be off on a whole new adventure. Until then, read on to learn what might be in store for your during the last few months, weeks and days leading up to the birth of your baby, how to make the most of this time and what symptoms not to ignore during the third trimester.
How Many Weeks Is the Third Trimester?
The third trimester runs from 28 to 40 weeks of pregnancy, or whenever you give birth. Keep in mind, only around 5 percent of mums-to-be actually go into labour on their due date. Some mums-to-be go into labour earlier and others give birth as late as 42 weeks, so the exact length of this trimester for you will depend on when your baby is born.
Your Baby’s Development in the Third Trimester
In the third trimester of pregnancy, your foetus continues to grow, and your midwife or doctor will be monitoring that growth at your antenatal appointments by measuring your bump to estimate the size of your uterus. Your antenatal appointments will likely get more frequent in the third trimester, with one usually scheduled at 28, 31 and 34 weeks. Then from 36 weeks, you’ll probably be offered at least one appointment every 2 weeks, and if you don’t give birth by 40 weeks, you’ll likely have at least one appointment a week thereafter. As your foetus grows a layer of insulating and protecting fat under the skin, he or she is starting to look more and more like the baby you expect to see at birth. By around 36 weeks your little one will have done such a good job of growing that space will be at a premium inside your bump for these last few weeks of your pregnancy. This doesn’t mean your foetus will get any less active in the remaining weeks of the third trimester though so let your doctor or midwife know if you notice any overall reduction in your little one’s movements. Here are a few more development milestones that happen during the third trimester:
26 Weeks: Eyes Wide Open
When you are 26 weeks pregnant your little one could be starting to open and close his or her eyes, and will soon learn to blink. You won’t know your baby’s final eye colour until many weeks or months after your baby’s birth, but they’re sure to set your heart racing no matter what colour they are.
28 Weeks: Heart to Heart
Speaking of hearts racing, at 28 weeks your foetus’s heartbeat will have slowed to around 110 beats per minute, from a peak of about 170 beats per minute at 9 to 10 weeks of your pregnancy. This is still much faster than your own heart rate though and happens because your foetus’s tiny heart can’t pump as much blood in each heartbeat, so it just works a little faster instead. By 28 weeks the foetal heartbeat may be loud enough to be heard with just a doctor’s stethoscope, and your partner may even be able to hear it by placing an ear against your belly. Keep in mind, this takes a bit of luck though, as it’s difficult even for professionals to find the right spot.
30 Weeks: Shedding Hairs
During the second trimester your baby grew a coat of fine hair, called lanugo, all over his or her body. This may start to wear off at around 30 weeks pregnant. Still, don’t be surprised if you notice a little leftover lanugo when your baby is born. Some babies are born with a few patches left on here and there.
34 Weeks: Turning Head Down
Around the time you’re 34 weeks pregnant, or soon after, your foetus will most likely turn head down in preparation for birth. This is your little one getting ready for the big journey out into the world! It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re about to go into labour, though – your foetus still has plenty of growing and developing to do, and the best place for that is usually in the warmth and safety of your growing bump. Keep in in mind, though, that some foetuses don’t turn head-down until just before birth, and rarely it doesn’t happen at all. In this case, it may be possible to turn your little one manually. Your midwife or doctor can talk you through the options available to you if your foetus is still in ‘breech’ (in a feet or bottom-first position) when labour starts.
37 Weeks: Full-Term Baby
When you reach the end of 37 weeks pregnant, your pregnancy is considered full term. This means that your little one would no longer be considered premature if you give birth at any time from now on. Of course he or she may still spend a little more time growing and developing inside your bump so you may still have several weeks to go yet until you go into labour.
What's Going On in the Third Trimester
Keep in mind that you could go into labour anytime, but it’s most likely to happen between 39 and 41 weeks (unless you’re pregnant with twins, as multiples are often born a little earlier). This is why it’s a great idea to read up on, and look out for any signs of labour now that you’re in the third trimester. Besides contractions that get progressively stronger and closer together, other early labour symptoms not to ignore in the third trimester include your waters breaking or a ‘show’ – when the mucus plug sealing the entrance to your uterus – is ejected as a bloody or pink jelly-like discharge. In the third trimester, it’s a good idea to have your hospital bag packed and ready to go, just in case your little one makes an unexpected early appearance. During the third trimester, it’s wise to slow down and rest more often. If weather permits, take a leisurely walk outdoors a few times a week. The fresh air could perk you up and help reduce some of the stress and aches you may be feeling. Ask your partner, friends or family members to help you with any last-minute errands and treat yourself to a little me-time – you deserve it!
Third Trimester Symptoms
You might experience a variety of pregnancy symptoms in the third trimester, including leg cramps, occasional dizziness, heartburn, varicose veins, backache, fatigue, haemorrhoids, numbness in the legs and feet and itchy skin. These could start appearing now, or you may have already noticed them in earlier stages of your pregnancy. Some of the symptoms that are especially common in the third trimester can include:
Shortness of breath. As your uterus gets larger in your abdomen and presses upwards on your diaphragm, breathing can be difficult. You might find that you can't make it up a flight of stairs without getting winded. The best thing to do is just to take it easy, move more slowly and stand up or sit up straight so your lungs have more room to expand. If your breathing changes dramatically, or if you have a cough or chest pain, contact your doctor or midwife right away. The good news? Once your baby ‘drops’ down into your pelvis in preparation for being born, breathing will become a little easier as the pressure is taken off your lungs.
Frequent urination. As you enter the final weeks of your pregnancy, you may find yourself needing to pee more often. This is due to your little one shifting downwards and putting extra pressure on your bladder too. You may also find that you leak a little, especially when you laugh, sneeze, bend or lift. Wearing an absorbent sanitary pad can help soak up any of these little leaks. However, if you feel a gush or trickle of watery fluid it might be your waters breaking, so call your midwife as this is an early sign of labour. If you have a burning sensation when peeing or notice blood in your urine, see your doctor as you may have a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Swollen feet and ankles. Many mums-to-be notice a type of swelling, called oedema, in their ankles and feet because of extra fluid retention, hormonal changes and weight gain. It can help to wear comfortable shoes, put your feet up whenever you can and drink plenty of fluid – it may not seem logical, but drinking enough water helps flush the excess fluid out of your system. Some gradual swelling is normal during pregnancy, but a sudden swelling in the face, hands or feet could be a symptom of preeclampsia, a rare but potentially dangerous blood pressure condition that is not to be ignored. If you experience this kind of sudden swelling, especially if you also have a bad headache, problems with your vision and/or vomiting, seek urgent medical attention.
Braxton Hicks contractions. In the third trimester, and sometimes even earlier, you may experience Braxton Hicks or ‘false’ contractions. These ‘practice contractions’ may be uncomfortable but are usually painless. They help your muscles prepare for labour. You can usually tell Braxton Hicks contractions apart from true labour contractions by keeping in mind that Braxton Hicks come at irregular intervals and often go away if you move or change positions. True labour contractions come at regular intervals and get stronger and closer together over time.
Third Trimester To-Do's
Use the third trimester to do anything that still needs to be done before your baby’s arrival. Keep in mind that you may have less energy in the last few weeks, so don’t leave too much until the last minute and don’t overdo it! Top of your list should be to rest often.
12 Weeks to Go (until your due date)
Take a birthing class, and take your partner along too. You’ll be able to learn about things like comfort measures during labour, giving birth and childcare. Your midwife may be able to recommend a good class near you. Book early to be sure of getting a place.
Purchase and install your baby car seat, so it’s ready for the drive home from the hospital and beyond.
If you’re having a baby shower, make sure your baby shower registry is ready and the organiser of your shower has the details.
If you’d like to have a birth plan, discuss your options and preferences for labour and delivery with your midwife and birth partner.
If you’re thinking about engaging a doula to give you emotional support and assistance during your labour, start asking around for recommendations. Your midwife, birthing centre or hospital may be able to point you in the right direction.
Gather some options for childcare and babysitters so you’re ready once your baby is here.
Choose or start designing your birth announcement. Ideally, get it far enough along so that all you have left to do is to fill out the date of birth and name, and to add a sweet picture of your little one.
8 Weeks to Go
Take another class – for example, try one on baby care, infant first aid or breastfeeding.
Finish planning and decorating your baby’s nursery.
Ask your midwife if it’s possible to go on a tour of your hospital’s maternity unit or the birthing centre where you plan to give birth.
Plan, practice and time the route you’ll take to the hospital or birthing centre. Hospitals can be very large, so it also helps to learn the way to the maternity unit once you’re there, and to find out the best entrance to use if there’s more than one.
Write thank you notes for the baby shower gifts you received.
Go over our baby essentials checklist to make sure you’ve got everything you need.
4 Weeks to Go
Wash everything your baby will wear in the first few weeks.
Prepare some meals in advance and freeze them – you might not have the time or energy for cooking in the first few days and weeks after bringing your baby home.
Check that you’ve got enough nappies and wipes to take with you to the hospital or birthing centre, and for when you come home with your new baby. It helps to buy more than one size of newborn nappy, as you can’t tell for certain what your little one’s birth weight will be.
Now that you’ve done all that, there’s just one last box to check: Slow down and make fewer demands on yourself. It could be a long time before you get another chance to relax like this!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.
Checklist for This Trimester
Sign up for and attend childbirth classes to help you get ready for the big day
Prepare a birth plan, if you want one
Get prepared for your little one’s arrival by stocking up on baby gear like nappies and wipes, clothes and nursery essentials
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