40 weeks pregnant
Your baby is coming whether you're ready or not! (Hopefully… Maybe this week… Definitely within the next fortnight or so.) Despite most babies looking somewhat like Churchill, she will have her own individual look now and you’d be able to pick her out of a line-up of other babies. She may well even bear a bit of a resemblance to you and/or your partner.
Your baby at 40 weeks
After 40 weeks, your baby might be physically ready to live outside your womb but do not expect her to be happy about it – there will be a lot of tears in the early days, and that’s perfectly normal. Part of her crying will simply be in protest at all the noise and new sensations.
She will also have to learn to do many things for herself that you did before – breathing, eating, regulating her temperature, not to mentioning urinating and opening her bowels – imagine having to do that for the first time ever!
Be patient when she howls with misery and hold her close. From her perspective, her entire world has changed, but you’re the one constant in her life so far – a huge responsibility but one that comes with huge rewards.
Back in the womb though, here’s what she’s up to as she is poised on the starting line, ready to make her exit.
- Birth weights differ enormously but she should be lovely and chubby at week 40.
- Her skin will be a whitish-pink colour at birth as melanin isn’t produced until after your baby has seen light.
- Her bones have become hard now but her skull stays soft and pliable for passing down the birth canal, so the pieces of the skull can overlap and she can get out. Because of this flexibility, her head may have a cone appearance for a few days after birth (particularly if you have a ventouse delivery), but fear not – it will settle down. The soft parts of her skull are called the fontanelles. The front fontanelle becomes hard between the eighth and 15th months of life. The back fontanelle becomes hard earlier, between the third and fourth month.
- As soon as she is born and takes her first breath a huge change occurs – the blood in her lungs will be oxygenated and she will breathe at a rate of 50 breaths a minute.
- She will want to be held close to you. In the womb she had a limited area in which to thrash about, so she is more comfortable when she is a bit snug – the world may feel too big to her at the moment. But don't swaddle her too tightly and always make sure her mouth and nose are clear and cannot get covered up because she can't uncover them herself.
- At birth she can see between 20cm and 30cm – the distance between your breast and your face.
- In this scary, loud world that she's found herself in, you are familiar to her. Your heartbeat and voice have been her soundtrack for months so hearing you talk gently to her and listening to the sound of your heart as she lays on your chest should calm and soothe her.
Life with a newborn can be tough but keep in mind that it’s probably tougher on her than you.
What size is the baby at 40 weeks?
In week 40, sizes and weights vary enormously but you should be expecting to push out a person about the size of a small pumpkin.
How is your body changing at 40 weeks pregnant?
Everything is poised, waiting for the hormonal tip that will start labour and begin your baby’s short but tricky descent down the birth canal.
Only 5% of women give birth on their due date, so you're quite unlikely to give birth on the day you're expecting. Most babies arrive within a week either side of their due date, however, with the majority coming after rather than before, but you shouldn’t have long to wait.
Try to distract yourself and make plans for each day rather than staying at home ‘just in case’ something happens. Even if you only walk round the corner to see a friend, you should get out and about and get a bit of exercise. When you do go for a walk you'll still get short of breath because, even though your bump has dropped down, your baby still restricts how much your ribcage can move.
Signs of labour in week 40
The early signs of labour differ hugely from one birth to the next. You might have a niggling back ache for days beforehand or Braxton Hicks that ever so slowly become more regular and more painful. Or you might find your waters break with a splosh on the floor of Tesco and two hours later you’re sitting up in a hospital bed, holding your baby and having tea and toast.
Read up on some of the signs to expect so you aren’t caught out, but don’t expect anything to be textbook. Labour is never exactly how you expect it to be.
If you don’t yet have any signs that birth is approaching you might be feeling understandably narked about the whole thing. There’s no hard evidence to back any of it up, but there are a few things you can try to get labour started…
Ways to trigger labour
There is no evidence for anything working but since you've got nothing else to do why not try long walks, sex (sperm contains prostaglandins, which are hormones like the ones used in pessaries to induce labour) or nipple stimulation – this encourages the production of the hormone oxytocin, which can stimulate the uterus to contract; however, research shows you would have to stimulate your nipple for an hour at a time so the level of commitment required here is high. Raspberry leaf tea, curry and pineapple are also suggested, as is acupuncture.
Things to think about during week 40 of pregnancy
The best and most important thing you can do for your baby and you right now is ditch the guilt. As a parent, you could spend the next 18 years (possibly the next 50 years) worrying about whether you’ve done the best for your child, and it won’t help you be a better parent. So start as you mean to go on and remind yourself that good enough really is good enough and the best thing you can do for your baby is stay happy and healthy yourself.
Read up about labour and birth, but if you’ve decided on how you want your special delivery don’t be disappointed if things don't go to plan. There are no medals for bravery in pregnancy and you should never feel bad asking for pain relief. You are much more likely to bond well and quickly with your baby if your labour is not hideously awful, so the gas and air or epidural are for her as much as you.
Similarly, if it all goes pear-shaped and your natural waterbirth ends up with you recovering from a c-section, worry not one jot about it. It may feel to you as though you didn’t “do birth properly” now but believe us, in a few years’ time you’ll struggle to remember how your child came into the world. The only important thing is that they are here.
Don't worry if you don't feel overwhelmed with love for your baby as soon as you see her. Sometimes forming a bond can take a while. It doesn't mean you are not going to be a great mother.
Finally, give yourself a pat on the back. You and your body made a whole new human being from scratch. It’s mind-boggling terrifying and wonderful all at the same time but you’ve permission to go forth and feel very smug indeed.
Help! I’ve got a baby! What do I do next?
This may be the final week in our pregnancy calendar, but we've got a child development calendar covering your baby's first year, so you can find about the milestones ahead for your baby – and you.