36 weeks pregnant
By week 36 of pregnancy you're probably ready to put your feet up and quite looking forward to hitting the eject button.
Your bump at 36 weeks
This week often brings changes in bump shape and positioning as the baby 'drops'. This doesn't mean labour is imminent, however, and it may not happen until week 38, so don't panic if yours remains stubbornly unchanged. Your midwife will be monitoring the position of your baby at each antenatal appointment.
What size is the baby at 36 weeks?
At week 36 your baby is around 47cm long – round about the same as a head of Romaine lettuce – and she weighs around 5lb 7oz.
How is your body changing at 36 weeks pregnant?
Things start to change a little at 36 weeks. There's no denying you will still look like the side of a house but your bump shape may change a bit from this week on as your baby’s head engages and drops down into the pelvis. You may feel you are walking or waddling along with a bowling ball between your legs. How can your pelvic floor keep such a weight up there? But it does.
When this happens, it can look as though your bump has almost vanished overnight and you’ll probably spend the next few weeks being told firmly by completely medically unqualified friends and relatives that 'you've dropped' and labour is imminent. This is not the case. The baby can hang out down in your pelvis for several weeks still.
There are pros and cons to this business of ‘dropping’. On the plus side, your heartburn should ease up as the baby is no longer sitting so high up close to your stomach. It also means you’ll be able to breathe more easily. If you’ve been feeling as though your lungs were being crushed recently – they were. Engagement is also known as ‘lightening’ as it lightens the load on your abdomen and takes the pressure off.
The price is that you can suffer a bit with backache when the baby’s head engages as you will, without meaning to, tilt slightly backwards to compensate for the centre of gravity moving forward.
While heartburn improves once the baby has dropped, urinary symptoms worsen (hurrah). As the baby's head is resting on your bladder, you might find yourself running back and forth to the loo more frequently, which can keep you awake at night.
You might also find your breasts start to feel a bit strange as the hormone oxytocin stimulates production of colostrum. This can cause them to feel a bit lumpy, but don't worry – it's all in the name of being well prepared for your imminent arrival.
Your baby at 36 weeks
This is the last week before your baby is considered really ready for birth. A baby born at 36 weeks is considered early term and not premature if she's born.
- At 36 weeks your baby could almost be considered to have her own personality. How she behaves and thinks are already being determined by connections in her brain.
- She is likely to be sleeping more now and is snoozing anything between 60% and 80% of the time. But between naps she is alert as well as awake, getting ready for what's out there in the big, wide world.
- Some studies of foetal heart rate and movements show a link between those who are active in the womb being more irritable babies. Other research shows a positive correlation between foetal activity and social skills in the early years. Either way, it's not long now till you'll meet your baby and find out what they're really like.
- It's thought that women's hormones can also influence babies’ personalities. Talking to your baby calmly and reassuringly is recommended – poking them or waking them up to stimulate them with a Shakespeare sonnet, on the other hand, may interfere with their normal development.
- She’s shedding her downy hair – called lanugo – which has been keeping her warm in the womb, as well as the waxy coating, known as vernix, which has stopped her skin becoming wrinkly in there. This last minute change of outfit means she’ll be born looking all plump and pink and smooth, rather than waxy and hairy. Don’t be concerned, though, if she is born with any of these extra ‘coatings’. She’ll shed them in the first few weeks of life. For the moment though, she’s content to eat them and will eventually turn them into meconium (her first poo). Amazing and horribly disgusting at the same time.
- The next step for your baby is for her head to engage. This means it drops into the pelvis en route to the birth canal.
Engagement can occur any time now. If you have had a baby already it tends to be later as the muscles are a bit slacker and the baby bobs about a bit longer. In second or third pregnancies, the head may not engage until immediately before you go into labour. If you have twins, obviously only one baby can engage at a time – the pelvis does not have room for two – so after you have given birth to one the other will come down and engage.
Signs of labour at 36 weeks
Going into labour at this stage can be worrying, but it's certainly not a rare phenomenon. Rest assured that at 36 weeks your baby is considered term. You'll probably be aware of many of the signs of labour and are likely on high alert for them, too. Here are some indications that you might be going into labour fairly soon:
It was 24 hours between my bloody show and DD being born. I was having contractions all day on and off.
- Mucus plug or 'bloody show' – this is a sign that your cervix is beginning to open, though labour still might be a few days away, or even a week or so. It usually appears in the form of thick vaginal mucus, sometimes with a brown or pink tinge. Alone, it is not a sign of active labour, but do call your midwife if you are concerned.
- Period-like cramps – these may take the form of a dull ache in your back and pelvis, and later move to your legs
- A tightening across the pelvis
- Contractions – unlike Braxton Hicks, which may well kick up a notch in the period before labour, real contractions do not ease up but become longer in duration and more frequent. They are also – unfortunately – more painful.
- Your waters breaking – contrary to the Niagara Falls-type gush commonly depicted in films, not everyone actually notices their waters breaking. It can be as little as a trickle of fluid, so do keep an eye out for other signs of labour, too.
Things to think about during week 36 of pregnancy
It's important to keep up your pelvic floor exercises at this stage of pregnancy. Not only will a strong pelvic floor help make the birth easier, but your future self will thank you for strong pelvic muscles a few weeks after the birth when you aren't doing a wee every time you sneeze.
How to do pelvic floor exercises
- Imagine you're trying to stop the flow of urine while weeing by tightening your muscles from the front of your pelvis and round towards your bottom. It might help to imagine that you are drawing something up and into your vagina, pulling the muscles upwards.
- Keep the muscles tightened for the count of 10, then let go and relax. Repeat five times.
- When you are used to this, try tightening and relaxing the muscles in succession, without holding the tension. Do this 10 to 15 times.
- A variation is to imagine the pelvic floor muscles as a lift, gradually squeezing them tighter as though they are rising from floor to floor.
What to pack in your hospital bag
If you haven’t already, now’s the time to pack your hospital bag. You won’t need ALL the newborn essentials, as babies really don’t need that much in the early days, but here are some of the items you’ll definitely want in there:
- An old or cheap nightie that buttons up the front is perfect for giving birth and for breastfeeding. Likewise, a partner's long shirt or big T-shirt will do the trick. Don’t plan to wear anything either of you is fond of as giving birth is not kind to clothes.
- Underwear and maternity sanitary towels (quite a lot).
- Nursing bra and breast pads.
- Dressing gown and slippers.
- Earphones (for the postnatal ward).
- Mobile phone, iPod, book, camera or phone for photos.
- Snacks and drinks for during labour.
- Babygros (loads), a baby hat, outdoor babysuit to go home in and a snowsuit if the weather requires it.
- Nappies, nappy sacks, wet wipes, nappy cream.