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You’ve reached the final stretch. (Literally!) The third trimester is the most exciting and suspenseful trimester of pregnancy − the climax of which is taking your sweet baby home. Take your time planning for the birth and what comes afterward, and enjoy these last few weeks of pregnancy.

Your Baby’s Development in the Third Trimester

In the third trimester of pregnancy, your baby continues to grow, doubling in size during the last seven weeks. By the end of week 32, your little one may weigh about 4 pounds and be about 11 inches long, but by the time she's born, she may weigh about 7 to 8 pounds. As your little one develops fat under her skin, she starts to look like the baby you expect to see at birth.

She’s getting ready to meet you in so many other ways. Her eyelids are no longer fused, which means she can open and close them regularly. She develops the ability to see and hear, and she’ll react to stimuli such as the lights and sounds of the outside world. She’ll even be able to recognise your voice.

She'll also begin to develop a sleep-wake cycle, and you may start to be aware of when she's awake and moving and when she's asleep and quiet. You may also notice periods of rhythmic movement that probably mean she has the hiccups.

She continues to develop during each week of pregnancy. In the third trimester, your baby now begins to suck her thumb or make sucking movements with her mouth, so that she'll already have learned how to nurse by the time she's born.

Sometime during the 9th month of pregnancy, she will probably settle into the head down position, and ‘drop’ more deeply into your pelvis in preparation for birth. This means you’ll be able to breathe a little easier, although you may feel more pressure on your lower abdomen and pelvis. Some babies don’t turn into a head down position by the time mum-to-be goes into labour (when this happens the baby’s position is called ‘breech’), but midwifes and doctors know what to do if this is the case. Usually, the midwife or doctor will attempt to turn your baby, so that she’s in a head down position by the time you go into labour. Helping the baby move into the head down position increases the chances of a vaginal birth. If the baby remains in a breech position, a caesarean section may sometimes be required.

What You Can Expect in the Third Trimester

Although the third trimester weeks are commonly considered to be weeks 28 to 40, the duration of pregnancy varies from woman to woman. In fact, very few women give birth on their exact due date! Keep in mind that you could go into labour anytime, but most likely between weeks 38 to 42.

You'll probably discover positives and negatives about the final months of pregnancy. The negatives are the physical discomforts you’re probably experiencing, most of them due to the increasing size and weight of your baby.

Two of the most common pregnancy symptoms during this trimester are breathlessness and digestion problems. These ailments will most likely go away right after birth, but there are measures you can take to help you feel more comfortable now:

  • Shortness of Breath
    Because your uterus is getting larger, growing higher in your abdomen, and pressing on your diaphragm, breathing can become more difficult. You might find that you can't make it up a flight of stairs without being winded. The best thing to do is simply take it easy, and try not to become overheated. Some women have problems breathing when they lie down, too. If this is the case, try sleeping in a semi-sitting position, surrounded by pillows for support. Nearly all shortness of breath during the last trimester is normal, but if you are concerned, talk to your healthcare provider. Once your baby ‘drops,’ breathing will be a little easier, although you may feel more pressure on your lower abdomen and pelvis.

  • Heartburn and Indigestion
    These two, related stomach ailments can occur during pregnancy, often in the third trimester, because the entire gastrointestinal system slows down when you are carrying a baby. As a result, the muscles of the stomach and oesophagus (the tube leading from the mouth to the stomach) relax. This allows digestive acids, which normally stay in your stomach, to go backward, up into your oesophagus and mouth. The acids give you a burning feeling in your throat. (Though it's called heartburn, it has nothing to do with your heart.) You're then left with an awful taste of old food and stomach acids in your mouth, and that's indigestion. To help prevent heartburn and indigestion, try to eat small, frequent meals, snack between meals, and avoid fatty foods. Stay upright after you eat, and don't have a meal right before going to sleep. You can chew gum to help take away any bitter taste in your mouth, but don't take any over-the-counter products, like antacids, without first checking with your healthcare provider.

You might experience a range of third trimester symptoms such as leg cramps, feeling unstable on your feet, backaches, fatigue, wrist pain, and itchy skin. Many pregnant women also get stretch marks around their belly, breasts and thighs, though these generally fade with time. Many mums-to-be notice swelling (also called oedema) in their ankles and feet because of extra fluids in their body. Elevating your legs whenever you can will help relieve this swelling.

Emotionally, you may find that you're getting downright impatient with this pregnancy. You want your baby in your arms, not in your uterus any longer. The good news is, starting at week 37 the baby is considered ‘full term’ and ready to arrive. Become informed about the signs of labour so you’ll recognise when it’s happening and when it’s time to go to the hospital. False contractions will go away if you move around, but if your contractions are regular and your water breaks then you are in labour. Before you know it, you’ll be holding your baby in your arms.

What to Keep in Mind for the Third Trimester

From around week 32, your healthcare provider might want to see you more often. Keep your weekly prenatal appointment so that your physician can follow your progress and your baby's as you approach giving birth. Knowing that all is well will help you relax and enjoy the last few weeks of being pregnant. If you’d like to have a birth plan, discuss your options and preferences with your midwife regarding labour and delivery.

Read as much information as you can about labour, delivery, and baby care. This will help decrease your anxieties and prepare you for the events ahead. During the third trimester, it’s also a good idea to take childbirth classes. You’ll learn comfort measures and stretching exercises. These courses often suggest relaxation techniques and tools, such as visual imagery and music, which will help you remain calm and focused on the task ahead.

Start looking at childcare options for your little one.

Early in the third trimester, you can start organising baby gear (like the right nappies for newborns). Now is also the perfect time to install the right baby car seat for the drive home from the hospital. Plus, having your hospital bag packed and ready to go is also a good idea, just in case your little one makes an early appearance.

Falling (and staying) asleep can be tricky with a belly the size of a watermelon, but some tips on how to sleep better during the third trimester can help. Sleep on your side at night for better comfort. Use pillows to support your upper leg and your back. Get at least seven hours of sleep each night, and nap during the day so you approach childbirth as rested as possible. As you sleep, you might also find yourself waking to run to the bathroom as the baby presses on your bladder. Cutting down on fluids just before you go to bed will help.

During this trimester, your anticipation and excitement may be building as you choose a name, buy baby clothes, and get things ready to care for her in your home. Just knowing she'll be here soon, makes this a very special time.

Last, but not least, take this chance to slow down, and make fewer demands on yourself. If weather permits, take a leisurely walk outdoors a few times a week. The fresh air will invigorate you, get your blood circulating, and decrease some of the aches and stiffness you may be feeling. Ask friends or family members to help you whenever possible. And, whenever you can, treat yourself to a little me-time — you deserve it!