You’ve made it to the home stretch: the third and final trimester of pregnancy. By this point you’ll probably look very pregnant—and you’ll feel it too, especially when baby performs its summersault routine inside your belly. But just think: You are SO close to meeting your little one!
Some signs and symptoms of pregnancy are more common than others, and they can vary from person to person, even from pregnancy to pregnancy. This trimester you may experience new pregnancy symptoms or symptoms that persist from before. We’re not gonna lie, the last few weeks can be pretty uncomfortable. Learning what to expect during pregnancy helps you better understand what’s ahead, so you can take the best care of yourself for these full nine months.
What to Expect
Here’s a rundown of what to expect during your third trimester, which starts in week 28 and lasts through week 40 of pregnancy (and sometimes a little longer!).
Growing a new human is hard work, so you may be feeling extra-tired as you near the finish line. The best thing you can do here is take good care of yourself: that means eating well, staying active, and getting enough rest (hard as that may be).
Shortness of breath
With baby taking up so much room in there, it’s no wonder you feel winded. Take it easy and practice good posture, which can help you inhale more air into your lungs.
Did you know? Your body produces about 50% more blood and body fluids during pregnancy. Some of that may show up as minor swelling in your face, hands, legs, ankles, and feet—all totally normal. To lessen swelling, avoid standing for long periods of time and put your feet up whenever you can. Drink lots of water and cut back on caffeine and sodium (salt), which can make matters worse. But call the doc if you notice sudden swelling in your hands or face, as it could be cause for concern.
Just when you think you’ve figured out everything your pregnancy hormones are responsible for, here’s one more: They can stimulate the growth of hair follicles. This explains any extra hair you may notice on your face, arms, and legs. The texture of your hair may also change. (On the plus side, the hair on your head has never looked more lustrous.)
You may not even recognize your breasts anymore, because of how much they’ve grown. Keep wearing those maternity bras, and both your boobs and your back will thank you. As your body gets ready for breastfeeding, be on the lookout for a thick yellow liquid leaking from your nipples. This early breastmilk, called colostrum, will be your baby’s first food after birth, if you choose to breastfeed.
If you’ve been experiencing these since the second trimester, you can expect them to continue, possibly with greater frequency. Contact your ob-gyn if you notice a pattern to the contractions or you feel they are getting stronger (like you can’t breathe through them). Your doctor can help determine whether it’s false labor or the real deal. Learn more about the onset of labor here.
Your poor back is really feeling the weight of the baby and the pounds you’ve gained, not to mention looser joints resulting from pregnancy hormones. Sit in a supportive chair and shift your position often. Say goodbye to high heels and hello to low-heeled shoes (ballet flats and flip flops often aren’t the best choices because they don’t provide enough arch support). At night, sleep on your side with a pillow wedged between your legs. A massage, warm bath, or heating pad may help too. But check with your doctor before taking pain medication, as some are unsafe to use during pregnancy.
Heartburn (acid reflux) and constipation will likely reach their peak during the third trimester. Avoid foods known to make heartburn worse, such as spicy foods, fatty foods, and citrus. To keep things moving through your digestive tract, get lots of fiber from fruits, veggies, and whole grains and drink plenty of H2O. If you can, try to exercise at least a little bit each day (walking totally counts!).
Yes, third trimester nausea is a thing. After a reprieve in the second trimester, that feeling of being sick to your stomach could return. While it could be morning sickness, mild nausea is more likely to be caused by crowding in your abdomen and changes to your digestive system. Eating small, frequent meals should help you feel less nauseous.
Lower stomach pain
You can expect more round ligament pain as the ligaments supporting your uterus stretch to capacity. This can feel like a sudden, sharp pain in your lower abdomen. When round ligament pain happens, breathe through it and the discomfort should subside. However, if you have ongoing pain in your upper stomach during the third trimester, get it checked out. It could be from heartburn, gas, or stretching muscles, but you want to rule out anything more serious.
Spider veins and varicose veins
Increased blood circulation may cause patches of reddish-purple veins to break out on your legs or face, called spider veins. When veins in your legs become swollen near the surface of the skin, they are known as varicose veins. Both of these should disappear soon after you deliver. In the meantime, try to avoid standing for long periods of time and put your legs up whenever possible. Wearing maternity support hose or compression stockings can also help with varicose veins.
Speaking of, did you know hemorrhoids are a kind of varicose vein? That’s right: Hemorrhoids are varicose veins that appear in your rectum. They can be painful, itchy, and even bleed a little if you’re not gentle down there. Witch hazel and sitz baths can bring you some much-needed relief. To make pooping more comfortable, ask your ob-gyn to recommend a stool softener that is safe to take during pregnancy. Hemorrhoids might get worse after you give birth but should get better from there. Our Hot & Cold Postpartum Therapy Packs are a great option to help calm the perineal area postpartum.
As baby grows and “drops” into your pelvis, you can expect to make plenty of trips to the bathroom (just like in the first trimester). Those baby kicks on your bladder sure don’t help, either. Be mindful of your water intake in the hours before bedtime. And don’t be surprised if you leak a little pee when you sneeze, laugh, or cough; stress incontinence is common during and after pregnancy. Wearing sanitary pads to absorb the leaks can help, and you should see things improve by the time you’re six weeks postpartum.
Was there ever a more accurate name for a pregnancy symptom? As you get closer to delivery, this can feel like sudden, stabbing pain in your you-know-where. Experts think it could be caused by baby putting pressure on the nerve that leads to your cervix. Breathe through it—lightning crotch pain should only last a few seconds.
During pregnancy it is normal to have heavier vaginal discharge, which could be sticky, clear, or white. The amount of vaginal discharge might increase even more in your third trimester. A trace of blood is probably fine, but call your ob-gyn pronto if you notice a lot of blood or feel a gush of fluid coming from your vagina. It could be that your water has broken.
With all the middle-of-the-night bathroom trips and body aches—not to mention everything that’s on your mind—it’s understandable that you may struggle to get comfy at bedtime. Talk with your doctor if sleeplessness continues for more than a few nights; they can tell you about safe ways to cope. And if you’re having unusually strange or vivid dreams in the third trimester, that’s normal too. (Once again, you can thank your pregnancy hormones.)
In the third trimester you can expect to gain between 1/2 and 1 pound per week, for a pregnancy total of 25 to 35 pounds. It’s normal for weight gain to taper off in your final month of pregnancy. Your ob-gyn will keep an eye on your progress and recommend a healthy range, based on your pre-pregnancy weight and other factors.
Your mental and emotional health
It’s normal to feel excited one moment and nervous the next, especially if this is your first pregnancy. Knowledge is power, so read up on labor and childbirth and make plans for the type of birth you hope to have. Put the finishing touches on the nursery, pack that hospital bag, and stock up on nursing bras and other accessories if you intend to breastfeed.
If you have any lingering questions or concerns, ask your ob-gyn—it’s what they’re there for. You may also find it helpful to talk with friends and family about their own delivery experiences. These people can all be part of your postpartum support network.
Stages and Changes
Pregnancy is a time of enormous change, both inside and out. While some aspects of pregnancy can be uncomfortable, they are usually manageable—and keep in mind, they won’t last forever.
Pay attention to how you feel and call your ob-gyn if you are worried about any of your third trimester signs and symptoms. No question is too small or too strange, and you don’t have to wait until your next visit to seek help. Your ob-gyn practice is there to support you throughout your prenatal care.
It won’t be long now, mama! When you’re ready, head on over to Birth Prep & Recovery to learn more about what’s often called “the fourth trimester.”
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