Completing the Pregnancy Journey: the Third Trimester

By: Life's Choices|August 10, 2022

If you’ve been following along over the past several weeks, we’ve been sharing what to expect in each stage of the pregnancy journey. For both your body and your baby’s body, so much happens from the first trimester through labor and delivery (and into postpartum)! Today, we’re breaking down the pregnancy journey in the third trimester, from mom’s symptoms to baby’s development and much more. If you didn’t get a chance to read about the first trimester and second trimester, you catch up in our previous blog posts:

As mom enters the third trimester, she is now in the homestretch of her pregnancy and will soon be meeting the beautiful and unique little human that has been kicking, swirling, and twirling inside her for the past nine months. The third trimester of pregnancy is defined by the 28th through the 40th weeks of pregnancy, although some babies prefer a little extra time in their mommy’s womb (uterus) and may hang out here up to 42 weeks gestation.

SYMPTOMS IN THE THIRD TRIMESTER

third trimester

During this phase of pregnancy, mothers may start to experience something known as “nesting.” Nesting is simply an innate urge to clean one’s house well, along with cleaning and setting up baby items. Simply put, mommy is getting ready to bring her baby home. She will also notice more changes to her body. Baby will be gaining a lot of weight during the third trimester, and this will cause the mother to feel very “full” in her belly. She may also want to know where the bathrooms are when visiting different places as frequent urination has returned. The soon to be mother may also experience an increase in acid reflux, otherwise known as heartburn, for two reasons:

  1. As the baby grows it compresses the intestines slowing down digestion.
  2. The hormones, progesterone and relaxin, needed to support your pregnancy has relaxed the smooth muscles in your digestive tract. This alone slows down the peristalsis, which is the movement inside your intestines to move food through your digestive tract.

These hormones also relax the valve (esophageal sphincter) between the stomach and esophagus (the tube-like organ that allows food to travel from your mouth to your stomach). A woman may also notice that her feet have grown. Yes, it’s true, and it’s not just from the swelling in her feet either! These same two hormones are also relaxing all the joints in a mother’s body. This allows for the hip joints to expand and allow passage for the baby through the hip bones and into the birth canal, otherwise known as the vagina. Even though we don’t need our feet to expand to give birth, these hormones cannot pick and choose joints. But don’t fret, just think of it as a happy excuse to go shoe shopping.

BABY’S GROWTH AND PROGRESS

So, what is happening with baby during this time? As mentioned earlier, the baby will gain weight quickly in the third trimester, but there is still much more to come. By 28 weeks, the baby is partially opening his or her eyes. The central nervous system has matured enough to regulate rhythmic breathing and body temperature. Remember, your baby is breathing in his or her amniotic fluid which is vital to helping the baby’s lungs mature.

Fun fact: Did you know amniotic fluid in the third trimester consists primarily of the baby’s urine? It’s true, really!

third trimester
Baby in utero at 32 weeks, 1 day

At 30 weeks, the baby’s eyes are now wide open, and he or she may possibly have a full head of hair. At this stage of development, the baby has begun with grasping movements; babies have even been seen grasping onto their umbilical cords during ultrasounds. Also, his or her red blood cells have begun forming the bone marrow.

Once the baby reaches 34 weeks gestation, all the major organ systems are developed. The baby’s finger and toenails are fully grown in, and other than the cranial bones, the bones are becoming even harder, stronger. It is important for the cranial bones to remain soft and moveable to be able to mold the baby’s head to fit through the pelvic bones and into the birth canal. This is the reason you may hear others talk about babies being born with a cone head. No worries, though! This is normal, and the baby’s head will return to its normal shape typically within the first 48 hours.

PREPARING FOR LABOR

This brings us to our 35 and 36 week gestation babies. In the world of Labor and Delivery, we like to refer to these babies as “the great pretenders.” If a baby is born at this gestational age, they may appear to be full term, weight wise, etc., but it is important to not be fooled. Although some of these babies will do well without any needed intervention when born, this is not the case for all, and they will need to be closely monitored.

Once a pregnant mother reaches 37 weeks gestation, her baby is full term. At some point now, most moms will notice that their “belly has dropped.” What is happening is the baby has moved further into the pelvic region, essentially that would be the baby’s head moving down and nestled between the hip bones.

What should a woman expect when her labor starts?

Labor is very different for every woman, and one woman’s pregnancies all may differ from each other. Typically, if it is the first time a woman is laboring, she should prepare herself for a marathon. Her body has never done this before, and it will take time, sometimes a few days, so we encourage her to be patient with herself and her baby. We also recommend both women and their partners to take a birthing class, especially if it is their first baby. Life’s Choices offers free childbirth classes, so please feel free to contact us at any time to schedule yours.

It is a good idea for a mom to put together a birth plan and discuss it ahead of time — ideally during a prenatal visit – with her healthcare provider and then again with her labor and delivery nurse. Although birth plans are important, women should keep an open mind. Labor and delivery can sometimes come with unplanned events, and it will be important to be flexible to insure a happy and healthy outcome for both mom and baby.

THE DETAILS OF DELIVERY

Babies can exit the womb through two different passageways, vaginal or cesarean section (a surgical incision made thought the abdomen). Both are very admiral ways to deliver, and any woman should be proud of her accomplishment. For this post, however, we are going to focus on the three stages of labor (vaginal delivery).

  1. Stage One of Labor: Dilation

    During the first stage, the woman’s cervix will dilate from 0 to 10 centimeters This occurs through the women’s uterus contracting and squeezing the baby. Contractions typically start like mild menstrual cramps and increase in intensity as labor progresses. When the baby is squeezed, it forces the baby’s head to apply pressure on the cervix, which causes the cervix to dilate and moves the baby down into the birth canal. The baby’s position is measured as “station.”  The first stage of labor is the longest stage of labor. This is also the time when a mother may notice her “water,” or the baby’s amniotic sac, break either naturally or artificially by a healthcare provider.

  2. Stage Two of Labor: Active Pushing

    Once a woman has reached 10 centimeters dilated, she can begin to push. At this stage, women who are unmedicated will feel an uncontrollable urge to bare down. If the woman has an epidural, her urge at this stage may vary from feeling no urge to feeling a pressure sensation in her rectum/vaginal area (or that unbearable urge to push). This stage can take anywhere from a few pushes up to four hours. Pushing time is dependent on position of baby, if it’s a woman’s first delivery, the shape of a woman’s pelvis and whether she has an epidural or not.

    Once this precious new life has emerged from the womb to the room, mom may notice baby’s color may be blue or pale initially, and baby will be covered in amniotic fluid and blood. There is no need for alarm — this is all normal. As the baby begins to cry and fill his or her lungs with oxygen, the baby’s color will improve. Then a nurse will stimulate and dry off the baby while the new mother holds her new bundle of joy in her arms — it is a messy process. This, however, is not the end of the birthing process, because the woman still must deliver the placenta.

  3. Stage Three of Labor: Delivering the Placenta

    Delivering the placenta does not take any effort on the mother’s part. Within up to 30 minutes after the baby is born, the placenta will separate from the uterus and deliver out of the vagina. This is also the time when a health care provider will check to see if a woman needs any stiches to repair any tears in the vagina or perineal area that occurred during the birth of the baby. Meanwhile, mom is holding and snuggling her new little blessing.

There is no such thing as a pain free birth — it does not exist. Yes, there are pain medications and other options like epidural to help with pain control, but labor is not pain free. It is hard work. Please remember that pain that comes with contractions is positive. It means that a women’s body is doing the right thing to help deliver her baby — she is ok.

Women, you are stronger than you know. Remember, God brought forth life. He created mankind and breathed His breath into us. God has blessed women with the same awesomeness and pleasure that God Himself has experienced. He has entrusted women with also bringing life into this world. What an amazing Gift He has given!

In our next blog post, we’ll be sharing about what to expect in the postpartum stage of pregnancy, also known as “the fourth trimester.” We hope you’ll continue to follow along as we get ready to conclude our series on the pregnancy journey! For more information about pregnancy and postpartum, we encourage you to sign up for one of our free prenatal classes. Contact us today to schedule your class.

“A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” -John 16:21

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