The last few weeks of pregnancy are such an exciting time, but sometimes it can feel like you’re waiting forever to meet your little one! There are many physical and emotional changes happening in the last few weeks and days before your baby arrives. While these changes may come as a surprise, they are very normal and are a sign that your body is getting ready for birth. In this article I discuss some of the changes that may occur in the weeks and days before birth so that you can feel confident on your journey ahead.
During the last few days of pregnancy many women notice an increase in pelvic pressure or hip/back discomfort. Although this can be uncomfortable, it is very normal. The hormones relaxin and progesterone allow the muscles and ligaments in your body to release and soften, which is very helpful during labour as it can allow more space in your pelvis for baby to move through.
Before labour starts your baby will usually ‘engage’ in the pelvis. What this means is that their head moves down into the pelvis ready for birth. Many women will feel this change, and will tell me that they feel an increase in pressure. If you are expecting your first baby they will usually engage in the weeks or days leading up to labour, however if this is not your first baby engagement may not happen until active labour.
Gentle movement, resting when needed and heat packs on the lower back and hips can all be beneficial if you are experiencing pelvic aches.
Mucus and discharge
During pregnancy many women notice an increase in vaginal discharge. This is called leucorrhoea and is just an increase of the normal vaginal fluid.
Many women will also experience a mucus show or will lose their mucus plug. The mucus plug forms in the cervix during pregnancy to act as a barrier against infection, but in the days before labour starts or even during labour you may lose this plug and notice it on your undies or when you go to the toilet. Some women notice the mucus plug in the days or weeks before labour starts, some during their labour, and some don’t notice it at all! If the mucus has a strange smell or colour call your midwife or doctor for advice.
Braxton Hicks may sound like a funny name, but they are essentially just a practice contraction. As the uterus grows during pregnancy, it also grows oxytocin receptors and the uterine muscles strengthen. As you are nearing labour sometimes these receptors and the uterine muscles will have a practice run! Many women tell me it feels like their belly is tightening and relaxing, and that this sensation often settles when they lie down or rest. Some women notice lots of Braxton Hicks in the last few weeks of pregnancy, others don’t notice any at all. Sometimes women are concerned that they won’t know the difference between Braxton Hicks and real labour, but it is usually quite easy to tell. In real labour the contractions will become more regular, and more intense. Braxton Hicks can be very sporadic and often only last 30 seconds or so. If you change position or try a warm bath or shower the tightening sensations usually stop. If you’re less than 37 weeks and experience Braxton Hicks that are regular, painful or accompanied with pelvic pressure or back pain please contact your care providers as you may be going into premature labour.
Colostrum is the sticky, golden substance that your breasts begin making from around the 16th week of pregnancy. Colostrum is the first milk that your baby will drink when they are born and is rich in vitamins and minerals, immune boosting properties and infection fighting cells. In the last few weeks of pregnancy many women notice this colostrum leaking from their nipples. You may notice it in your bra, or after you have a shower. This is completely normal. Some women choose to collect and store this colostrum in order to have it ready to give to their baby – this is called antenatal expressing. Most babies will breastfeed well after birth and not require any extra colostrum, but there are some circumstances where a baby will need extra fluids/nutrition, and having colostrum ready may avoid the need for formula. If you are considering expressing colostrum antenatally discuss this with your obstetrician or midwife.
Waiting, waiting and more waiting!
The normal range of pregnancy is 37-42 weeks, so those last few weeks can feel like quite the waiting game! Many women feel pressure from friends or family who may be frequently asking if baby has arrived yet. Less thank 5% of babies arrive on their due date so try to think of it as more of an estimated time of arrival, and know that it may be normal for your baby to come before or after this date. I recommend to take some time for yourself, perhaps get a massage or head for long walk at the beach. Trust your body and your baby. You wouldn’t take a cake out of the oven before it’s completely ‘done’ right? Well your baby might just need a little extra time to grow and develop before they are ready to join you on the outside world. There are many benefits to waiting until your baby is ready. A babies brain and lungs are still developing in the last few weeks of pregnancy. Even more reason to give your baby and body the time that they need.
Although you may notice lots of unexpected changes in the last few weeks of pregnancy, know that they are normal and your body is just getting ready for birth. You are so close, your little one is almost here! Be patient, trust your body and your baby, and enjoy those last few weeks before your days are filled with feeding, nappy changes and caring for your new baby.
Article written by PBC Expo Midwife Hannah