The Third Trimester (Weeks 28-40)
The final stage of pregnancy, weeks 28 through 40, is often marked by
excited expectation of the babyâ€™s arrival. At this stage, it is a good
idea to have your hospital overnight bag packed and ready to go.
Development. The growing fetus begins to be aware of its
surroundings as the third trimester gets underway. Early in the third
trimester, the fetus begins to open and close its eyes and suck its
thumb. He or she also begins to respond to light and sound. As the
fetus continues to grow, it has less and less room to move around. Some
women report being able to identify the shape of an elbow or a heel
poking into their abdomen. At the end of this trimester, (and the end
of the pregnancy), the fetus moves into the position for birth, which
usually means he or she moves into a "head down" position lower in the
mother's abdomen, nearer to her pelvis.
The Mother's Experience. The third trimester can be marked by
physical discomfort associated with the now large size of the
developing baby and mother's associated weight gain. It is common for
third trimester mothers to experience heartburn, significant
hemorrhoids, increased body temperature, and more fatigue.
Additionally, many women experience swelling in their ankles and
fingers. Although some swelling is normal, you should alert your
physician if you notice sudden, extreme swelling, or if you experience
a rapid, sudden weight gain. These two symptoms may indicate a serious
condition called pre-eclampsia (previously described in detail) which
could harm your baby.
A new experience during this final phase of pregnancy is the
onset of Braxton Hicks contractions, which signal that your body is
preparing itself for labor. Braxton Hicks contractions occur in the
uterus, last about 30 to 60 seconds each, and are usually painless. In
contrast to Braxton Hicks contractions, real labor contractions occur
with greater intensity, regularity, and frequency. Real labor
contractions become more painful over time rather than getting better
or less intense with time as will Braxton Hicks contractions.
ComplicationsThe third trimester ends with labor and the birth
of the baby. It remains possible to enter into pre-term labor prior to
your due date. Contact your physician to make sure you are not in
preterm labor if you experience contractions that are accompanied by a
watery or bloody discharge or back pain, or if you find you have more
than 8 contractions per hour, occurring at regular intervals.