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38 weeks pregnant

You’re likely to be counting down the days now – but B-day could still be anything from hours to weeks away. It’s an exciting time. Make the most of these last few days and weeks – the calm before the storm – by relaxing and doing some things just for you. Scrubbing the skirting boards can wait.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Mar 20, 2023

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Your baby at 38 weeks

Your baby is getting ready to meet you. Here’s a sneak preview of what she looks like now, which won’t be very far off the way she’ll look at week 40.

  • If her eyes are blue at birth, don't get too used to them – they may darken as pigment develops over the first few months. If your baby has brown eyes, they won't get lighter though. Pigment is only added, not removed.
  • Her lanugo (downy hair) has all but gone from her body and she'll have a little chest that sticks out and tiny breast buds.
  • Babies sometimes exit the womb with a proper hairdo, or they can be virtually bald.
  • She may have long fingernails, which need cutting to stop her scratching herself.
  • She will have been developing her own routine inside the womb – it will be up to you and her to help fit into a routine that’s a bit more suited to the outside world after she’s born.
  • She will now be in an active (as opposed to quiet) state for about 40% of the time. While she is active she will be moving her legs and arms, her heart rate will go up and she’ll be making breathing movements (though not actually breathing literally). When she is quiet she won't be doing any of these things and her heart rate will stay the same. Her eyes will be open when she is awake and shut when asleep.
  • Your baby will hiccup a lot around this time as the amniotic fluid she is breathing in will sometimes tickle her throat. She’s also learning how to coordinate things so she can suck, swallow and breathe at the same time – early multiskilling in action.
  • At 38 weeks your baby's bones are getting harder but some of her skull bones will stay soft to help her get out more easily. The soft parts of the skull mean your baby's head has some give in it as it pushes out through the birth canal. Good news for both of you.
  • The first breath out in the world is a big shock for your baby and she will be practising for this moment right up until birth. This practice is essentially breathing underwater as she is surrounded by amniotic fluid.
  • Her lungs are pretty mature now but will still develop and grow tiny air sacs long after birth. In the last few weeks before birth the lungs make lots of surfactant – the fatty substance that keeps the tiny airways open – helping them to them take in as much oxygen as possible.

Your bump at 38 weeks

With two weeks to go, needless to say, you've pretty much reached peak bump. Although sometimes it feels like peak blimp. Just take heart in the knowledge that you'll be seeing your own toes again before too long. You're on the home straight now.

What size is the baby at 38 weeks?

In week 38, the average baby weighs around 7lb and is about the length of a leek.

How is your body changing at 38 weeks pregnant

There’s not much going on by this stage other than your body gearing up for birth. If you have an antenatal appointment at this time they’ll be wanting to check that the baby is head down and may also do an internal exam to see how ‘effaced’ you are, if at all. Effacement means that your cervix stretches out and gets thinner. It’s usually described in percentage terms, so you might hear the midwife say you are 50% effaced.

This is a weird time. You may feel you are waiting for something to happen, that your life is in limbo and you'd better not go further than down the road in case something happens. You go to bed thinking, “This could be the last night I go to sleep before the baby's born.” You know you can't control when it will happen but it feels weird that it will happen without your say so.

Friends and family will start ringing to see how you are – a euphemism for “Why aren't you in labour yet, we are tired of waiting”. You too, huh?

Pregnancy niggles in week 38

If you’ve already started ‘leaking’ a little, with your baby’s head pressed firmly on your bladder, we’ve said it before but it bears repeating – don't forget your pelvic floor exercises. You'll thank us later when you don't leak as much as you would have done after giving birth.

The purpose of pelvic floor exercises is to gently work out the muscles around your anus and vagina. If you’re having trouble even working out where the damn things are, try putting your finger in your vagina – if you can still find it – and tensing the muscles around it. Stand and tense your muscles for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds and then repeating 10 times but it may take you a while to build up to that. Do three sets a day.

Things to think about during week 38 of pregnancy

You should have an antenatal appointment this week, which could be your last. The midwife may discuss whether you want a sweep or induction if you go over 40 weeks. It’s also a good opportunity to ask any last-minute questions you may have about labour, birth, pain relief and anything else that is on your mind.

If you’re on maternity leave and feeling a little like a spare part, make the most of that time and cook up some healthy recipes for the freezer to keep you going through the first crazy weeks with a newborn.

If you’re already a little stir crazy, however, don’t feel you have to simply sit around the house staring at your hospital bag and waiting for labour to hit you. It’s never too late to get out and get some exercise. Not only will getting out for a gentle walk or a swim help you feel better in mind and body, it may even help to bring labour on a bit sooner. Do take it easy though – you don’t need to be breaking a sweat at this stage, just keeping active. And if you feel dizzy, breathless, or weird in any other way, stop immediately.

The big question on your mind this week will be 'could I be in labour?' Just a word of warning – this will probably be the big question on your mind for the next fortnight and possibly the next month. By the time you actually are in labour, you’ll probably have convinced yourself this can’t possibly be it.

Braxton Hicks contractions are a constant reminder of what it is to come any day now. These ‘practice’ contractions can get stronger and more frequent as you reach term so it can be tricky to tell real labour from Braxton Hicks (false labour). Here’s a quick primer to help you make the distinction:

Real labour

  • The contractions are regular and become closer together.
  • Each contraction lasts for 30 to 70 seconds, sometimes longer.
  • You feel the contractions in the back of your body but they also move round to the front.
  • The pains continue no matter what you do or whether you change position.
  • The contractions get progressively stronger.
  • You may experience other signs of early labour such as diarrhoea or a show.

False labour

  • Contractions are irregular and they don’t get closer together.
  • Each contraction lasts only about 15 seconds (though Braxton Hicks can often last longer than this).
  • The contractions can stop if you move around having been in a sitting position, or sit down if you were moving about.
  • The pain doesn’t 'change' or move around the body.

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