In those final weeks of labor, nothing is more anticipated than those first few twinges of contractions. Understanding how to time the contractions is invaluable, especially when your doctor is telling you that the contractions need to be four or five minutes apart before coming to the hospital.
The easiest way to time the contractions is by using a stopwatch or digital watch. You will need to record two pieces of information.
1) How frequently the contractions are coming
2) How long the contractions are lasting
When you feel a contraction beginning, have someone write down the start time, while you walk or breath through the contraction. When the contraction tapers off, let your timer know and have them write down the time. When the next contraction starts, repeat the previous steps without stopping the watch. After about ten contractions, have your timer start doing the math. Calculate how long the contractions are lasting. The time between the contractions is calculated by determining the time from the start of one to the start of the next. Don't time every contraction, after timing a few, take a break. The times will not always be the same, but as labor progresses they should become more regular.
As you enter the “home stretch” of your pregnancy, you’ll undergo some of the most significant physical changes yet. Many of them will be the same symptoms you’ve been experiencing during the second trimester, although to a greater degree. Now more than ever, it’s important to pay close attention to your body and report any concerns to your doctor, who will also be examining you more frequently as your due date approaches.
Below are some of the most common physical changes you’ll notice during the third trimester:
• Heartburn: Many women complain of this uncomfortable burning sensation at the tail end of their pregnancy. This is often due to a combination of elevated hormone levels and the pressure applied by the weight of the baby.
• Swelling: Although a moderate amount of swelling is normal, especially in the ankles, fingers, and face, you should contact your doctor immediately if you notice excessive or sudden bloating or weight gain, as this could be an indication of preeclampsia.
• Restless sleeping: Many pregnant women complain of having trouble sleeping as they approach their due date. As the baby -- and your belly -- grow larger, you’ll most likely find it difficult to get into a comfortable position. You may also experience muscle spasms, late-night thirsts, and sudden changes in body temperature, all of which contribute to restlessness.
• Bladder sensitivity: The urge to urinate, usually starting at the end of the first trimester, will ramp up now that the baby’s heavier weight is pressing against your bladder and other organs.
• Shortness of breath: A carry-over from the second trimester, this symptom will intensify in the final weeks of pregnancy, as your uterus grows larger and your respiratory system becomes more taxed.
• Discharge: It’s normal to see thick, white discharge during the final weeks of pregnancy. To prepare for delivery, your cervix will begin to thin out and grow softer, which causes the mucous-like secretion. Your doctor will check your cervix regularly to monitor the effacing process as you approach your due date.
• Weight gain: During the third trimester, the rate of weight gain will be approximately 3-4 pounds per month. An overall gain of 25-30 pounds throughout the entire pregnancy is considered a healthy range for both mom and baby.
Once the bone-weary fatigue and queasiness of the early weeks of pregnancy have abated, many expectant moms find the second trimester to be much easier in comparison. Even so, you’ll continue to undergo significant physical changes, many of which are more noticeable from the outside. Although you may be feeling much better, it’s important to monitor your body to make sure everything is progressing as it should be.
As the second trimester draws to a close, you’ll be experiencing some of the most exciting aspects of pregnancy, including fetal movement and a real, honest-to-goodness baby bulge.
Below are some of the most common physical manifestations as you approach the mid-point:
• Muscle aches and pains: Most women notice these primarily in their abdomen, thighs, groin, and back. This discomfort is a completely normal effect of your body stretching and expanding to accommodate your growing baby. These symptoms can be remedied with moderate exercise, pregnancy yoga, and daily stretching.
• Shortness of breath: You may notice that you become winded more easier after physical activity, such as climbing stairs or walking long distances.
• Changes in complexion: Many expectant moms find that their skin changes in appearance, for the better or the worse, during the second trimester. The luckier ones experience an improvement in their complexion, taking on what’s commonly known as the “pregnancy glow,” while others may be stricken with acne or splotchiness.
• Itching: This is usually due to tautness of the skin as it stretches to accommodate your growing baby. If you experience intense itching in tandem with vomiting, nausea, or loss of appetite, contact your obstetrician or midwife to rule out a potentially dangerous condition.
• Stretch marks: Some women begin to notice stretch marks in the abdomen area as their bellies expand. You can treat and prevent these by applying “belly balm” or other lotions designed to counteract stretch marks.
• Weight gain: Although every woman -- and every pregnancy -- is unique, average weight gain during the second trimester is one pound per week.
Congratulations -- you’re pregnant! Once the initial excitement subsides, your thoughts will most likely center around how your body will change in the coming months. Most expectant moms can’t help but anticipate the bulging belly, the cute maternity clothes, and even the endearing “pregnancy waddle.” But you’ll quickly realize that many of the most obvious physical changes are still a long time coming. In fact, if this is your first baby, you may not even start to show for two or three months.
That said, your body will experience some significant changes during the first trimester, even if they’re not detectable to the naked eye. Below are some of the most common symptoms:
• Fatigue: Many women notice that they tire a lot faster in the early weeks of pregnancy, experiencing what is often described as a bone-weary exhaustion. This tiredness is a result of your body working extra hard to support the new fetus growing inside of you. To counteract the weariness, rest as often as possible and try to get at least eight hours of sleep each night. It may sound contradictory, but regular moderate exercise is also a great way to offset fatigue.
• Nausea: Morning sickness (a bit of a misnomer, as this can strike anytime of the day or night) is prevalent during the first trimester. Try to stick to bland foods, never start the day on an empty stomach, and avoid any known triggers that bring on queasiness.
• Bladder sensitivity: It may not be obvious just yet, but your growing uterus is already beginning to press against your bladder, causing you to experience more frequent urges to urinate throughout the early weeks of pregnancy.
• Weight gain: On average, women gain approximately one pound per month during the first trimester, so you shouldn’t see any drastic changes in this area just yet.
We’ve all heard of the “baby blues” — but what happens when the blues come before the baby? It’s estimated that for every 10 women, one or two will exhibit symptoms of depression during pregnancy. For those who are already predisposed to depression, the surge of pregnancy hormones can alter levels of brain chemicals and exacerbate the condition, known as antepartum depression.
How do you know if you’re clinically depressed? Many of the signs can be attributed to other causes, which can make the medical disorder challenging to diagnose. The key is careful self-monitoring. If you experience any of the following symptoms for a period of two weeks or more, you should consult your obstetrician or health care provider:
• Persistent feelings of sadness
• Excessive fatigue or sluggishness
• Disinterest in activities you once enjoyed
• Difficulty focusing on one topic or activity
• Loss of appetite, or a suddenly insatiable one
• Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
The safety of anti-depressant medication during pregnancy is a subject of some controversy among medical professionals. When considering an antidepressant, such as Prozac, Zoloft, or Paxil, it’s important to carefully weigh the potential benefits with risks to the fetus.
If you’re not comfortable with the risk associated with antidepressant medication during pregnancy, there are alternate methods of treatment. Holistic therapies such as support groups, light therapy, and psychotherapy can help restore feelings of well-being and minimize risk to you and your baby’s health.
For more than 70% of expectant mothers, the joys of pregnancy can be overshadowed by persistent heartburn. This very common symptom is distinguished by pain or discomfort in the chest area, often just above the breastbone, and is often marked by an unpleasant burning sensation. Pregnancy heartburn is caused primarily by the hormones that are released into the digestive system, increasing the flow of stomach acids into the esophagus, and can be exacerbated by certain foods or positions. As your baby grows and your uterus becomes heavier, the increase in pressure against your stomach can exacerbate the symptoms of heartburn, which is why the condition seems to worsen during the third trimester.
Although certain types of acid reflux medications are not recommended during pregnancy, there are several home remedies that can help relieve the symptoms:
• Instead of consuming large meals at one sitting, graze on several smaller portions throughout the day.
• Avoid spicy, greasy foods, which tend to aggravate heartburn.
• Increase your intake of milk and other dairy products, which have been shown to alleviate symptoms.
• Avoid lying down for an hour or so after eating, allowing your food ample time to digest and helping to prevent acid reflux.
• Instead of drinking throughout a meal, hold off on liquids until you’re finished eating.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|