34 weeks pregnant
You’re almost into your final month of pregnancy and while you are feeling more and more tired and achy, your baby is getting stronger and fitter by the day. Here’s some more detail on how week 34 might pan out.
Your baby at 34 weeks
The big change this week is in your baby’s ability to breathe – she truly is getting right for life outside the womb.
- Her lungs are still developing and the number of tiny air sacs (essential for oxygen to get into her body via the lungs) are increasing all the time, while their walls are getting thinner so the oxygen can get through faster.
Before birth, your baby's lungs will be full of amniotic fluid, which she has been swallowing and breathing in. This fluid is full of protein, chloride and surfactant, which helps keep the air sacs open. The act of breathing in all this fluid also helps the lungs develop and gives the muscles in her chest, which will do all the breathing when she's born, a good workout.
Once born, her breathing will squeeze this fluid out of her lungs and through her mouth and also into the blood vessels of the lungs where it will be absorbed.
In terms of breathing, every day of development makes a difference now. As she makes more surfactant – the substance that allows the air sacs to open and close – some of it seeps into the amniotic fluid. This sets up a chain reaction that tells the uterus that your baby's lungs are mature enough for her to be born now because she'll be able to breathe. It’s all incredibly clever.
- Her brain is continuing to develop and her head is growing quickly to accommodate it. If you're worried about her big head getting down the birth canal you wouldn’t be the first – it’s an eye-watering prospect for sure. However, it’s worth knowing that the bones of her skull don't fuse together completely until after birth and the reason they are flexible is so that they can overlap slightly as you push her out… So you shouldn’t feel a thing (just kidding – sorry).
- Your baby’s body is now made up of 15% fat and she is much more cuddly than she was just a few weeks ago.
- Her gums look ridged but her teeth are up to six months away from appearing. However, just occasionally, babies are born with a tooth or two. Apparently Louis XVI of France was born with two teeth, though he was always bound to be an early achiever, we guess.
What happens if a baby is born at 34 weeks?
If you’ve been worried about going into labour early, you can feel reassured that from this week it’s more than likely your baby would be absolutely fine if she were born early. If she were to be born this week she may need some help breathing, but in two weeks’ time she would be able to breathe on her own.
Your 34 weeks pregnant bump
By 34 weeks your bump's fundal height (the distance from your pubic bone to the top of your bump) will be 32-36 inches. However, around this time, you may feel your bump get lower as your baby drops down into your pelvis ready for birth. When this process, called lightening, happens, you might find breathing suddenly much easier as your lungs have more space to expand. On the downside, it does mean your bladder is more squashed, so you'll spend more time in the loo.
What size is the baby at 34 weeks?
At week 34 your baby is around 45cm long and about the size of a cantaloupe melon. Try not to think too hard about that fact while in labour.
How is your body changing at 34 weeks pregnant?
By 34 weeks pregnant you are probably starting to creak around the edges to some extent.
You may feel you could eat a horse but when you sit down to a meal you can barely manage a hoof. Very annoying. Having a large baby inside a large womb pressing on your stomach means you might do better to eat little and often. You may find that you feel sick or even are actually sick because of the mechanical discomfort of a baby pressing on your stomach and the hormone progesterone slowing down your digestion.
You are also likely to feel pretty huge and unwieldy. Swimming is great for making you feel weightless again, and is a great way to exercise in pregnancy because you’re less likely to injure yourself while in water. If you’re suffering from any pelvic pain or SPD (symphysis pubis dysfunction), however, be sure to give breaststroke a miss as this can exacerbate the problem. Other forms of exercise are good but do be careful from now as your joints are all softened and loose ready for birth so it's very easy to do yourself an injury.
If you aren't doing so already, from this week on try to sleep on your side – even for naps. Research has shown that sleeping on your back late in pregnancy may increase your risk of stillbirth. This is rare, so it's not something to panic about but if you wake in the night on your back just turn yourself over before you drift back to sleep.
34 weeks pregnant symptoms
Being so much heavier and the softening effect that pregnancy hormones have on your ligaments can be a recipe for disaster where your back is concerned. Backache in pregnancy is a common issue but many women find that it’s in the final few weeks that they are most debilitated by back pain.
Sciatica is quite common in pregnancy and it hurts. The pain is due to a large nerve that runs down the back of your leg being compressed. You'll feel sharp, constant pain in your lower back that shoots down the backs of one or both legs, as well as pins and needles. The pain can make you feel sick and keep you awake at night.
If the pain or weakness in a leg becomes bad, you need to see your doctor. Otherwise, some women find support belts help – they go under your bump and fasten around your pelvis to hold everything together a bit and support the weight of your bump.
Some women feel pain in their coccyx – the tailbone at the bottom of the spine. It can be tender to sit down on your bottom. You'll feel pain at the base of your spine or in your buttocks. Try to take the pressure off by sitting up straight and not slumping. This area takes a lot of pressure, so is vulnerable to getting sore.
Exercises that can help back pain
- Lie on your back with your knees bent
- Pull in your lower abdominal muscles, squeeze your buttocks and press the curve of your spine into the floor.
- Hold this for 10 seconds and repeat five times.
- Try to build up to 10 repeats.
Things to think about during week 34 of pregnancy
You should have another antenatal appointment this week, at which your midwife will probably talk to you about how to spot the early signs of labour as well as the risks and benefits of a c-section. If you are rhesus negative you’ll have the second of your Anti-D injections this week.
Before you pack your hospital bag, you may want to plan what sort of birth you would like to have ideally. Talk to your birth partner and antenatal team so there are no surprises for anyone else on the day. Broad topic areas include:
- Who will be with you
- Where you want to have the baby (this may be decided already)
- Do you want trainee midwives and medical students?
- Will you have your membranes ruptured?
- What pain relief do you want?
- How mobile do you want to be?
- What position you want to push in?
- Who you want to cut the umbilical cord?
There are many more questions to think about and your antenatal team will be able to talk you through most of them.
Week 34: thinking ahead
You're probably fully focussed on the countdown to maternity leave now but if you can bear to, it is worth thinking ahead, especially if you know you will return to work after your leave.
It's never too early to consider childcare arrangements and at some companies you can even start accruing childcare vouchers from your pay while you're on maternity leave, which can add up to a big tax saving. Have a chat with your HR department and find out what your options are.
I don't have heartburn but am very breathless now. The baby is transverse so I spend most of my evenings sprawled across my birthing ball or on all fours, which isn't comfortable. I'm also finding the baby's movements quite painful, like I'm bruised on the inside, and he's punching my cervix – ouch!