What to expect in your third trimester

You’re finally on the home stretch! Find out what to expect physically and emotionally during weeks 28 through 40, and what you need to do to prepare for baby’s arrival.

Most women welcome the third trimester with a mix of excitement and fear. On the one hand, you’re two-thirds of the way through your pregnancy and you’ll be holding your precious baby in no time. On the other, there’s so much left to do to prepare and there’s the slight matter of childbirth to contend with. Take a deep breath and try not to panic – here’s what you can expect and what you should try to get done before your little one arrives.

Your changing body

The glory days of the second trimester are over (sorry!). Fatigue will return and a range of other symptoms will persist or appear as your bump grows (and grows some more). But you’ll also feel super-connected to the baby you can feel moving and kicking inside your belly, so it’ll all feel worthwhile. Here are some of the symptoms you may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Backache
  • Round ligament pain (pain in the lower abdomen)
  • Braxton Hicks contractions (“practice” contractions)
  • Frequent urination
  • Urine leakage
  • Heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Varicose veins
  • Stretch marks
  • Weight gain
  • Mild swelling of the feet, ankles, face and hands
  • Swollen and leaky breasts
  • Vaginal discharge (leukorrhea)
  • Vivid dreams
  • Lack of balance and clumsiness

While many symptoms are normal, call your doctor right away if you experience:

  • Heavy bleeding
  • Severe abdominal pain or cramping
  • Severe dizziness
  • Severe nausea or vomiting
  • Fever over 101.5F
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Very fast or very slow weight gain
  • Signs of preterm labor including strong cramps, regular contractions, bloody discharge, lower back pain and pelvic pressure

Your emotions

As the big day approaches, you might be feeling nervous about the labor and delivery. The best way to ease your fears is to attend a childbirth class/ workshop and learn as much as possible about the process so you go into the delivery room feeling prepared and empowered. It’s also a great place to meet other moms-to-be who are going through the same emotions as you are.

If it’s what happens after you bring baby home that’s worrying you, you can attend breastfeeding and parenting classes to learn valuable tips and tricks. There are also plenty of great parenting books out there, as well as online mothers’ groups where you can exchange information with other mamas.

And if you don’t feel that deep sense of connection with your baby that books and movies make you believe you should be feeling at this stage, don’t panic because you’re not alone. Many women have trouble connecting with their baby during pregnancy and that feeling will develop in due time once your little one is born. You can try talking, singing or reading to your baby to develop that sense of connection. But above all, be patient and kind to yourself – these feelings are normal.

Your to-do list

Attend your check-ups and do all your tests: Your healthcare provider may want to see you more frequently during the third trimester – approximately every two weeks from week 28 and every week from week 36. They’ll check your weight and blood pressure, as well as the baby’s growth and heartbeat. In the last few weeks, they’ll perform an internal examination to check if your cervix has dilated and effaced in preparation for labor. You’ll also need to undergo tests for a range of conditions, including gestational diabetes, iron-deficiency anemia and group B strep (which, if positive, will require you to take antibiotics during labor). If your pregnancy is considered “high-risk”, your doctor may want to perform a nonstress test (fetal heart monitoring as the baby moves), a contraction stress test (fetal heart monitoring in response to stimulated contractions) or a biophysical profile (a combination of an ultrasound and a nonstress test).

Track fetal movement: Starting at week 28, you should “count kicks” (all fetal movements) twice a day, preferably in the morning and the evening. You should feel 10 movements within an hour; if you don’t, have a snack and keep counting. If you haven’t counted 10 movements by the time you reach two hours, or if you notice a sudden decrease in your baby’s movements, contact your healthcare provider. It may not be anything to worry about, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Continue to exercise: Unless your doctor has advised you not to exercise, you can keep it up until your due date. But save high-impact activities until at least 7 weeks postpartum and stick to gentle activities such as swimming and walking instead.

Attend classes and tour the hospital: A childbirth class is a must for first-time parents. You’ll learn everything you need to know about labor and delivery, which will help you create your birth plan (see below). You may also want to attend a parenting class or a breastfeeding class. If you’re birthing in a hospital, taking a tour of your hospital’s maternity ward or your birthing center will help you feel comfortable and prepared for the big day.

Create a birth plan: Do you prefer a natural birth or do you want to have an epidural or use other pain medications? Who would you like to have present in the delivery room? Do you want immediate skin-to-skin contact with your baby? A birth plan outlines all your preferences for your ideal birth experience so your healthcare team knows what you want. Read more about how to write a birth plan.

Buy all your baby gear and essentials: Stock up on several months’ worth of baby essentials such as diapers, wipes and newborn clothing basics. Confused as to what baby gear you really need? Our Guide to Baby Products by Months will help you choose everything from the perfect stroller to a practical yet stylish diaper bag. 

Set up the nursery: There’s nothing like decorating your nursery to get you excited about your baby’s arrival! Check out How to design a nursery for eight top styling tips.

Pack your hospital bag: By 35 weeks, you should have your hospital bag packed and ready to go. From comfy pajamas to your cell phone charger, find out what to pack in your hospital bag.

Make cord blood banking arrangements: Stem cells from the blood in your baby’s umbilical cord can be transplanted to save the lives of people with diseases such as leukemia or used in clinical trials to try to find treatments for neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy and autism. If you think you might be interested in cord blood banking, talk to your healthcare provider to find out more. 

Choose a pediatrician: It’s a good idea tohave a pediatrician lined up before your baby arrives. Don’t hesitate to meet with a few candidates and ask them a list of questions before you make up your mind, such as whether they take your insurance and what their views are on topics such as co-sleeping and immunizations.

Create a postpartum plan: You’ve thought about how you want your birth to go, but what will happen once you take your baby home? A growing number of parents are choosing to write a postpartum plan covering everything from dealing with visitors to the division of household tasks. Find out how to write a postpartum plan.

Your baby’s growth

By week 29, your baby is busy kicking, stretching and grasping. Within the next two weeks, your baby will open its eyes and start gaining weight quickly in preparation for its grand entrance into the world. Most of its major organs and systems are fully developed, except for its lungs which will continue to mature until birth.

At 35 weeks, your wee one has lost its furry coating (lanugo) and has smooth, pink skin. In the last few weeks of your pregnancy, your baby will drop into your pelvis to prepare for delivery and its head may turn down toward your birth canal. By now, your baby can respond to light, sound and touch. When you give birth, your little bundle of joy will measure 18 to 20 inches and weigh approximately 7 pounds!