Congratulations! You're 37 weeks pregnant. You've made it to term and if your baby was born now he would be considered fully mature and ready for birth; his lungs would be ready to breathe air without assistance and so nothing would be done to slow down or delay labour in most cases. Of course your baby is more likely to be born closer to your due date, and in fact, any time in the next 5 weeks is considered completely 'normal' for a baby to be born. First babies are also quite often born after their due date, so you might be in for quite a wait yet. However, it does make sense to be well-prepared, so if you haven't yet packed your hospital bag or made preparations for your homebirth then now is the time! If you are trying for a homebirth then your midwife will now usually deliver a pack of homebirthing essentials.
From here on in you and your partner should really be ready should the labour start. If your partner wants to support you through the birth of your child then it makes sense for him to be within a couple of hours of home at all times, particularly if this is a second (or subsequent) delivery. Whoever is on duty for driving you to hospital should ideally check out the fastest and smoothest – the fewer sleeping policemen the better – route and a back-up in case of traffic/roadworks etc. and be confident about where in the hospital they need to take you. It's a good idea to make sure there's always petrol in the tank ready. And of course, anyone who's on driving or birth partner duty needs to be ready at short notice, so s/he should steer completely clear of alcohol from here on in.
Now you know you're theoretically ready to give birth, you might start wondering whether every ache or twinge is a sign of the onset of labour. Experiencing 'false labour' is very common towards the end of your pregnancy as the practise contractions, Braxton Hicks, become stronger and more noticeable. False labour is also more common when this isn't your first baby. If you're not quite sure how to recognise true labour then the main thing to look out for is regular and frequent contractions. If you are concerned that labour is starting then try timing your contractions – don't rely on memory, write down when a contraction starts and finishes each time so you can see in black and white whether they are regular or not. Even regular contractions may come in waves, so don't look for each and every one to be evenly spaced.
Some women's cervixes ripen and open over weeks, and others can open overnight. Whenever your cervix does begin to ripen then you may have a 'show', which is when you lose some of the mucus plug that has sealed the top of your vagina throughout pregnancy. A show will appear jelly-like and may be blood tinged, pink or brown. It's worth telling your doctor or midwife when you have a show, even though it doesn't necessarily mean that labour is around the corner. You should definitely call your carer if you have any bleeding. don't worry if you don't appear to have a show, this may not happen until right before labour and in any case, many women don't notice a show as it could easily happen when you use the bathroom.
You may be worried about your waters breaking at some inconvenient moment, but remember that only about 15% of labours start with waters breaking (most women have already felt contractions before the waters break). If your waters do go first then the position of your baby's head is quite likely to prevent a huge rush of water, and it may be closer to a confusing trickle of fluid. Check to see whether it looks and smells like urine as stress incontinence isn't unusual at this time in pregnancy. If you think your waters might have ruptured then do call your midwife right away for advice.
Some amount of swelling is very common by this stage of pregnancy, so keep checking now and then to make sure you can still remove any rings. When you're packing your hospital bag remember that your feet may swell after the birth if you end up having an epidural. Stretchy slipper socks might be a better bet than slippers to keep your feet warm in hospital and you may need to come home in them. If you experience severe and sudden swelling, or the swelling is accompanied by swelling on the face, a bad headache, nausea, vomiting or a rise in blood pressure, then talk to your doctor right away to rule out pre-eclampsia.
As you near the end of your pregnancy it's common to experience back pain because of the extra weight you're carrying around now, hormonal changes and the loosening of your ligaments in preparation for the birth. Make sure that you are maintaining good posture, as you'll really pay the price for slouching now, and take the weight off your feet frequently throughout the day. You can support your back by wearing a support belt to help with the weight of the bump and sticking to flat shoes rather than heels. Try warming the area each evening before bed to help you get off to a good night's sleep: You can either use a warm water bottle or similar, or have a warm (not hot) bath. By this stage of pregnancy you can also use a little white Tiger Balm on your sore back, but be careful not to overdo it, as it contains camphor which can cross the placenta if you use excessive amounts of the balm. At night, using a support pillow should help – try lying on your left side and placing the pillow between your legs and up behind your back. If you have sudden and severe backache, or cramps which come in waves then call your doctor. Find out more about dealing with pregnancy back pain here.
As your baby practises breathing by swallowing amniotic fluid he may get hiccoughs, and while you might have thought you felt these earlier, in the last couple of weeks they have probably become quite distinctive.
Things to do this week
Read up If you've already read exhaustively on birth and labour then don't forget to look ahead now to the first week or two with your new baby to give yourself an idea of what to expect. Why not start with the first few hours after birth.
Pack the sibling bag If you've got older children then you'll by now have worked out a plan (or two) for what's to happen when labour does start. If your older child(ren) is going to friends or family then pack the overnight bag soon. Doing this together is a really good idea so that s/he can choose some of the things that go into the bag and you can talk through what's going to happen.
Make sure you're ready for baby Get out your new baby essentials list again and make sure you've ticked all the boxes. If this is your second baby it's a good idea to go through this list and make sure you've remembered to get out and wash all the right bits and pieces.
Put a waterproof sheet on your bed You probably won't need it, but if your waters do break in the night it will save your mattress from being ruined.
Read the instructions You've probably got a few bits of baby clobber that come with instructions, like a steriliser, and the sleep-deprived post-partum period won't be the best time for working out how things work.
See here for more on how your baby will develop in week 38.
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