October 5, 2022

Welcome to the home stretch! Now that you’ve reached week 28 of your pregnancy, it’s almost time to finally meet your little one. Your baby will be considered full-term once you reach week 39, and the big day typically arrives around week 40. Remember, your due date is an estimation – you may deliver a bit after or before the exact 40-week mark.

In the meantime, read on to learn what you can expect during the next few weeks. We’ve also provided answers to some of the most common questions parents-to-be have about the third trimester.

Common third trimester symptoms

Every pregnancy is different, but here are a few common changes to your body that you can expect during the third trimester. Your baby grows a lot during this trimester – their weight will triple or even quadruple. Between that and the hormonal changes you’ve been experiencing throughout pregnancy, you may find that symptoms you experienced in previous trimesters continue and become more intense.

Aches and pains

During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin prepares your body for childbirth by loosening the ligaments in your pelvis and, eventually, softening and widening your cervix. While this helps make childbirth easier, it means that your muscles have to work harder to support your baby’s increasing weight. This can lead to more discomfort, particularly in your back, pelvis and legs.

Sleep problems

You may have experienced pregnancy fatigue in the first trimester while your body went through hormone changes and began to grow the placenta and fetus. Fatigue is also a common symptom in the third trimester, but it’s usually because you may not be sleeping as well or as comfortably as before. There are a lot of things that may be waking you up throughout the night, including various aches and pains, frequent urination and heartburn.

Heartburn

Those relaxation hormones also relax your stomach valve, which makes it easier for stomach acid to get through and cause heartburn. Now, as your growing baby presses up from underneath your stomach, this may become more frequent.

Heartburn can be reduced by avoiding fatty and spicy foods, citrus, caffeine and carbonated drinks, and by eating smaller, more frequent meals. You can also take oral antacids, but if those aren’t enough to relieve your heartburn, talk to your care provider. They may be able to prescribe an anti-heartburn medication that’s safe for your baby.

Braxton Hicks contractions

Braxton Hicks contractions are false labor contractions. They can happen throughout pregnancy, but they typically become more common and intense in your third trimester. Some people may not feel these contractions at all, or they may be strong enough to be mistaken for true labor contractions.

Braxton Hicks contractions usually have irregular intervals and stay relatively consistent in strength. They also subside over time, especially with changes in position or after drinking water. This is different from true labor contractions, which become stronger and more frequent as they progress.

If you aren’t sure about what you’re feeling, or you experience contractions with other signs that labor is starting, call your care provider and be prepared to go to a hospital if needed.

Frequent urination or incontinence

The bigger your baby gets, the more pressure they put on your bladder. So in the third trimester, you may find that you’re making more trips to the bathroom. You may also find that the added pressure causes urine to leak when you do things like laugh, cough, bend over or pick things up. This is a form of pelvic floor dysfunction called stress incontinence. It often goes away in the months following childbirth, but may require strengthening the pelvic floor muscles.

Swelling

When you’re pregnant, your body’s blood volume increases substantially and retains fluids differently to support your baby. So, it’s normal to experience some mild swelling in your hands, face, legs, ankles or feet – especially as you get closer to childbirth.

Swelling may increase after long periods of standing, activity or spending time in hot environments (such as being in the sun during summer). However, contact your care provider if you notice sudden swelling in your hands or face, as it may be a sign of preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication involving high blood pressure and possible organ damage if left untreated.

Skin changes

As your skin continues to stretch, you may notice stretch marks appearing on your breasts, stomach and thighs. This may come with itchiness. In addition, the pigmentation of your skin may become more pronounced, leading to color patches around your body.

Varicose veins

It’s common to develop varicose (swollen) veins as a result of increased blood volume and the pressure the baby puts on blood vessels in your pelvic region. Varicose veins may be blue or purple, and appear twisted and “raised” against the skin around them. They’re most common around the legs, genitals and rectum – and you may feel pressure, discomfort or itchiness. Most of the time, they’ll go away within a few months after childbirth.

What fetal development occurs in the third trimester?

The third and final trimester sees a lot of growth for your baby. Over the next few weeks, they’re not only putting on weight – their organs will continue to mature, their bones will harden, and their hair will begin to grow in, along with their fingernails and toenails. They’ll also continue to practice taking breaths and grasping.

How much should the baby move in the third trimester?

Your baby’s growth will leave them with less space to move around, but you’ll continue to notice their movement – your baby may be especially active after meals and in the evening. If your baby seems quieter than usual, try counting their movements. Generally, somewhere around 10 movements within an hour is normal.

But don’t worry if your baby doesn’t move that much – they may just be sleeping. Try eating or drinking something, then counting for another hour. Call your care provider if your baby doesn’t move 10 times within two hours, or if you notice a sudden or dramatic change in your baby’s movements.

Other frequently asked questions about the third trimester of pregnancy

Is nausea normal during the third trimester?

Many people experience nausea during the third trimester. It may intensify as your growing baby competes for space with everything else in your abdomen.

How should I sleep during the third trimester of pregnancy?

By this time, your baby bump will likely be too big for you to sleep on your stomach comfortably. It’s important to avoid sleeping on your back for extended periods of time because the weight of the baby could reduce blood flow through your abdomen.

Sleeping on either side with pillows between your legs and under your stomach is often a comfortable solution, and helps promote circulation. But if you wake up on your back, it’s usually nothing to worry about. Just make sure to roll back onto your side.

Is it safe to have intercourse during the third trimester of pregnancy?

As long as it’s comfortable and your care provider hasn’t told you to avoid it, it’s safe to have sex during the third trimester. Talk to your care provider if you have any questions or concerns about sex during this time.

How much weight will I gain during the third trimester?

If you were at a healthy weight pre-pregnancy, you’ll likely continue to gain weight at the same rate you did during your second trimester. Your personal recommended weight gain will depend on your starting weight and how much you’ve gained up to this point.

When should I stop traveling?

If you have a low-risk pregnancy, air travel is usually fine until around week 36 of pregnancy. Talk to your care provider before traveling near the end of your pregnancy.

How often will my prenatal appointments be in the third trimester?

The exact frequency of your prenatal appointment schedule will depend on whether your pregnancy is low- or high-risk, and the care system where you’re getting your care. Generally you can expect to have visits at least every four weeks until week 36 of pregnancy, then weekly until birth.

How do I know when I’m going into labor?

The most common signs that it’s time to go to the hospital are regular contractions that are five minutes apart for at least an hour (if it’s your first baby) or your water breaks. However, there are a few other signs that labor might be starting, including lower abdominal pain and losing your mucus plug.

Third trimester tests

In addition to routine prenatal tests, your third trimester will include a screening for Group B Streptococcus (Strep) when you’re closer to your due date. Group B Strep bacteria are common and naturally cycle through the body, but they have the potential to cause serious infections in newborns. If they’re present, you’ll have to go to the hospital as soon as your water breaks, because that makes it possible for bacteria to enter the uterus, increasing the likelihood of infection. At the hospital, you’ll start getting antibiotics, which will continue throughout labor.

At around 36 weeks, your doctor or midwife may also do another pelvic exam to check your baby’s position. If your baby isn’t positioned for a head-first delivery, they may recommend methods for getting the baby into the correct position. If it doesn’t look like this will be possible, your care provider will discuss the possibility of a C-section with you.

Get ready for the big day and beyond

The third trimester of pregnancy is a perfect time to start channeling your excitement toward preparations. If you haven’t yet, start thinking about how you want labor and delivery to go. What kind of atmosphere do you want? Do you want to try for an unmedicated birth or use an epidural? You can answer these questions and others by putting together a birth plan.

It can also be helpful to start learning about postpartum recovery and breastfeeding. There’s a lot of advice for new parents out there that can help prepare you for the days after delivery and your first experiences with your newborn.

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