23 weeks pregnant
Welcome to week 23. If you could see your baby now, he’d look pretty much like he will at birth – only quite a bit scrawnier. Your bump will still be expanding with every week and you’re gearing up now for a period of extreme growth, with your baby set to double in weight over the next four weeks. Make sure you have located those elastic expanders on your maternity jeans in readiness.
Your baby at 23 weeks
At 23 weeks he’s still on the slightly ratty-looking side but his cheeks are getting chubbier and, as he lays down fat deposits over the next few weeks, his skin will slowly become less transparent. At the moment it still has a reddish tinge from the blood vessels just beneath the surface, and his bones and organs are visible through his skin, which gives a fascinating – albeit slightly off-putting – look.
What else is happening in week 23 of your pregnancy?
- His eyes may not yet be open, but behind his eyelids the eyes themselves are moving quickly, and he may even blink if he’s startled by a loud noise nearby.
- Speaking of hearing, his ears are becoming much more adept at picking up sound and he can now hear noises that are further away, though they’d have to be pretty loud – things like police sirens or a dog barking.
- His lips and tongue are now completely formed and he’s getting used to the way in which they work, licking his lips and sometimes sucking his thumb if he happens to find it.
- Hair and nails are continuing to grow, though some babies are born with more hair than others. Despite anything the ‘old wives’ tell you, the amount of hair your baby appears with has nothing to do with either what foods you eat or how bad your heartburn is. Whether he emerges more Telly Savalas or Russell Brand is pure luck (or perhaps just bad luck).
- Your baby's immune system gets going during this period and he starts producing white blood cells, which the body uses to attack bacteria and other infections.
- By week 23, the amount of time your baby spends asleep and awake is around the same as it will be when he is born. He will spend around six hours awake and 18 asleep in any 24-hour period, and will sleep in set positions – yes, the signs that he could one day be a duvet-hogger are there early. He won’t have a sleep pattern as such just yet though, so there’s no point worrying if you seem to have a night owl in there.
Out in the big wide world, your body produces melatonin to make you sleepy in response to it getting darker as well as using your own circadian rhythms. Babies in utero obviously don’t have these cues to sleep. However, it is thought that they do respond to small amounts of melatonin – the sleep hormone – that cross the placenta, so he may start to feel sleepy at the same time as you do.
There is some debate among researchers as to what ‘being awake’ really means in the womb. Certainly, there are times when your baby will respond to things happening in the outside world, such as a loud noise or you suddenly changing position but whether he’s fully ‘awake’ is another question. Some researchers think your baby isn't really awake because the activity of his brain and nervous system is kept quiet while it's in development by hormones such as prostaglandins and steroids, produced by the placenta.
- The development of the human brain is incredibly complex. Not only do cells in the brain and the spine have to grow, but they also have to make intricate connections with other nerve cells. Your baby's highly specialised sense of smell, as well as his sight, is all being developed at the moment and it’s a tricky job. For example, the optic nerve, which tells the brain what your eye is seeing, is made up of more than a million nerve cells that grow into the brain. It's – literally – mind-boggling.
What size is the baby at 23 weeks?
By week 23 your baby is about 29cm from head to heel – just less than the size of a standard ruler – and weighs around 500g (that’s just over 1lb in old money).
How is your body changing at 23 weeks pregnant?
You might just be beginning to feel the strain of pregnancy around this time, with your bump growing faster than ever and your body starting to take it easy.
Now’s the time that many women find they start to naturally slow down. If you’ve kept up running until now, for example, this is the point at which lots of mums-to-be find their pace naturally slows and those runs become more of a gentle jog.
However, it’s really important to keep up exercise at this time, as being generally active will help keep all your bodily functions going strong, preventing issues like constipation and pregnancy headaches. Regular exercise will also ensure you are as fit as you can be for labour and birth.
If you’re pregnant and over 40 you might find you feel the strain of pregnancy tiredness and general exhaustion that bit more. Just tell yourself that at least you’ve had a few more years on everyone else to learn to hide it well – and find the most effective eye creams.
Pregnancy symptoms in week 23
Hopefully everyone is commenting on your luscious locks and glowy skin around now… because behind closed doors, pregnancy can otherwise feel pretty low on glamour.
It’s all about ‘the bottom line’ this week. Constipation and piles are just two of the many indignities of pregnancy and often go hand in hand. You might notice hard, grape-like lumps sticking out of your bottom when you wipe, or see bright red blood on the toilet paper after you've had a bowel movement. Both are signs of piles – swollen blood vessels sitting within cushions of tissue in the lowest part of your rectum.
Pregnancy encourages them because weight gain and your growing uterus put added pressure on the veins in your rectum. Additionally, your digestive system is more sluggish than usual during pregnancy, resulting in constipation, which, in turn, can make you strain on the loo, causing piles.
Piles can itch a bit or feel sore. Sometimes they can get squeezed out when you’re on the loo and don't go back up the rectum straight away, so they sit, rather uncomfortably, outside your bottom. Usually, they are just deeply irritating and uncomfortable but, for an unlucky few, they can be really painful.
Topical creams can often help with the symptoms – check with your pharmacist which ones are safe for use in pregnancy. Anusol cream or suppositories that contain bismuth oxide and zinc work really well. Anusol is not licensed for use in pregnancy, but doctors think it is safe so just check with your GP first before going ahead. Creams that contain steroids and painkillers are usually not needed and have active ingredients that can reach your baby anyway, so they’re best avoided.
Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and drinking lots of water can really help relieve piles by softening your stools. Getting plenty of fluids and fibre also means you don't strain on the loo and make the piles worse. Try to stay active, too. Gentle exercise that’s safe in pregnancy will also help to keep your whole body ticking along.
If the pain is excrutiating, a warm bath can be soothing, or alternatively, a cold compress – a glug of witch hazel on a sanitary towel stuck in the freezer for a few hours can often bring welcome relief to the area. The good news is that piles usually disappear again soon after you have had your baby.
Urinary tract infections
Women are more prone to UTIs than men because bacteria only have a short distance to travel in order to get into the urethra and bladder and start causing trouble.
During pregnancy, things get worse as the hormone progesterone makes the urethra more relaxed and therefore more open to bacteria. At the same time, it becomes harder for you to wipe your bottom as there's that great big bump getting in the way.
If it stings or burns when you wee, if you find yourself going to the loo even more often than a pregnant woman should, or if you are suffering from abdominal pain, you should see your doctor straight away. UTIs can sometimes put your unborn baby in danger and there are safe antibiotics to take if you need them.
Things to think about during week 23 of pregnancy
With just a month to go until you’re in the third trimester, you might be giving some thought to labour and birth.
You probably don’t need to pack your hospital bag just yet, but it’s certainly worth thinking about who you might like to have as your birth partner and checking they are willing and able! If you fancy another pair of hands, you could consider hiring a doula, a sort of ‘second pair of (very capable) hands’ to help you at labour and birth. You can find one local to you at Doula UK.