You’ve made it to week 36 and from here on in, you will be on labour alert. It is not uncommon to start after 36 weeks, so you should be prepared for labour just in case. If you were to go into labour and delivery now, your baby is fully developed and may only require some minor medical intervention.
Your Baby this Week
Your baby is now around the size of an honeydew melon.
In week 36 of your pregnancy, your baby now weighs about 2.6 kilos (5.8 pounds) and may measure up to 48cm (19 inches) long from head to toe. At this point in your pregnancy, all your little baby has to do is continue to gain weight. All internal organs are fully developed and functional, and your baby could survive with little need for medical help if she were born now.
Your baby is still practising to breathe by inhaling and exhaling small amounts of amniotic fluid. She also continues to swallow some of the amniotic fluid and produce urine which is filtered through the amniotic sac.
As your body prepares for labour, so does your baby. She has taken her proper position – head down – in the womb and is starting to descend into the pelvic region. This is referred to as ‘lightening’. Some babies will begin lightening around week 36. Others may not take their place lower in the pelvis until right before labour. Therefore, lightening cannot be used to determine the onset of labour.
There are a couple of theories on how labour actually begins. Many experts believe that your baby will actually send a signal to your body when it is time to start labour. This theory states that a baby’s brain will signal the foetal adrenal glands causing hormone production that stimulates a rush of progesterone and estrogen, causing labour to start. Other experts believe that signal comes from the baby’s lungs, causing the production of hormones.
These hormones trigger the release of the enzyme prostaglandin, which causes cervix to soften and contractions to begin. These are only theories and to date have not been proven. Either way, the process of beginning labour is incredibly amazing and wondrous!
Your Body this Week
In week 36, you may notice that your energy level is fluctuating dramatically. You could find that you are totally exhausted in the morning, but full of energy in the evening. Take advantage of those small bursts of energy. Complete all those little pending projects and tasks that are needed before you bring your baby home.
At this stage in your pregnancy, you may experience swelling in your ankles, feet, hands, and face. A certain amount of swelling is normal and should be expected; however, if you experience swelling that is rapid and unusual, or is combined with a headache or blurred vision, contact your doctor right away. It could be a sign of high blood pressure or even preeclampsia; a serious condition that requires medical attention immediately.
At week 36, you could find it hard to eat a normal sized meal. There is just no room in your belly! Eating smaller more frequent meals will help. If your baby has already begun to drop down into the pelvis (the ‘lightening’), you could notice that you have less heartburn and it’s a bit easier to breathe. However, with this new development come new symptoms: as your baby drops, there is increased pressure on the lower part of your abdomen. You might find that walking is now difficult and you feel the need to urinate all the time. If the baby is extremely low, you might feel inner pressure on your vaginal area that can be uncomfortable.
If you have not yet had them, Braxton Hicks contractions are probably in your near future. Braxton Hicks contractions are small uterine contractions that do not affect the cervix. Some say they are your body’s way of practising for labour. If you experience Braxton Hicks contractions, watch for true signs of labour such as losing your mucus plug, your water breaking, and contractions becoming longer, stronger, and closer together and do not easy up at all.
If you have not already done so, now is the time to write out a birth plan. Include all the information pertaining to your delivery; where you want to go when you are in labour, who will be allowed to be in the room with you, what medications you want to be offered, positions that you want to use during labour. You can even use the birth plan to document your wishes for your baby’s first bath, vaccinations, and feeding. Make sure that everyone involved in the birth has a copy to refer to.