You’ve made it to week 36 pregnancy, and are in the final stretch! Are you noticing changes in the way baby moves? Have you been feeling any contractions? Do you know what signs would tell you if you’re in labor? Let’s dive in!
Week 36 Pregnancy: A Look Inside
Let’s take a look first at how baby is growing this week, and what changes are happening in you. You can now feel the top of your uterus more than 5 1/2 inches above your belly button, or 14 1/2 inches from the pubic symphysis. In other words, it’s cramped in there! You may have gained 25 to 30 pounds so far. You may continue to steadily gain over the next month, but it also isn’t uncommon for weight to stay around the same from this point forward (1).
Your little one, at 34 weeks from conception, weighs about 5 3/4 pounds. His or her length is approximately 13 1/2 inches from crown to rump, or 18 2/3 inches in total length (1). Let’s look at what other developmental changes are happening with baby at week 36 pregnancy:
The biggest news in baby development this week is that his or her lungs are quickly maturing! The respiratory system is the last system to fully mature, and most concerns with preterm birth center on baby’s ability to breathe without assistance. If you were to go into labor now, your healthcare provider may run tests to determine fetal lung maturity. At this point, your little one may not even need extra help with breathing.
As your placenta ages, the membrane between your bloodstream and baby’s becomes more permeable, which allows large molecules such as antibodies to reach your baby. This helps protect him against disease, and the protection lasts for months. If you breastfeed, it continues as long as you nurse him (4).
Week 36 Pregnancy: Baby Movement
Right now, your baby is surrounded by the maximum amount of amniotic fluid. Through the end of your pregnancy, the baby will continue to grow, but some of the amniotic fluid will be reabsorbed by your body (1). This reduction in fluid means the baby isn’t quite “floating around” in the same way, and you may notice that his or her movements feel different. While there’s not room for somersaults and rolling around now, you will still continue to feel kicks and fetal movement. (2)
How Does Baby’s Movement Feel?
Women describe baby’s movements in the last month as feeling large (involving the whole body,) slow, stretching, or turning (3). These changes can lead some moms-to-be to feel like their baby isn’t moving as much. Chances are baby is moving just as much as before — it just feels differently now.
Week 36 Pregnancy: Contractions
Braxton Hicks vs True Labor Contractions
You may have already been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, (usually) painless contractions that are felt at irregular intervals and can begin early in pregnancy. As your due date gets closer, you may experience an increase in frequency or intensity of these contractions. (2) Braxton Hicks contractions are not a sign of labor. In contrast, true labor contractions are a sign of labor. They occur regularly, become more intense with time, and get closer and closer together.
Record Your Contraction Pattern
Get a notebook and spend an hour recording facts about your contractions. Try timing your them, from the start of one to the start of the next. Notice whether they’re becoming more intense — are you having a hard time walking and talking during a contraction? Describe how they feel; false labor contractions are more likely to cause discomfort in the groin or lower abdomen. True labor contractions, on the other hand, produce pain that starts at the top of the uterus and spreads over the entire uterus, through the lower back, and into the pelvis. They also create pain that starts in the back and radiates forward (1).
Call Your Doctor or Midwife
If you think you may be in labor, err on the side of caution and call your provider. They can help you determine what you should do next. Logging your symptoms as described above will give you valuable information to share with your provider when you call. For more on discerning the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and real ones, check out this Kopa Birth article.
Week 36 Pregnancy: Symptoms Not to Ignore
Even a doctor, midwife, or nurse can have a hard time telling the difference between prelabor and real labor. To know for sure, he or she may need to observe you for a few hours to see how things are progressing. If necessary, they may do a vaginal exam to check if your cervix is opening. You should know the signs of labor, though, so you can know when you begin to experience “act now” symptoms.
The signs of labor are divided into three categories (4):
These signs indicate that your cervix is probably changing. They may progress right into labor, or it may still be days or weeks away.
- Nonprogressing contractions. These contractions occur regularly and may continue for hours, but not change in intensity, frequency, or duration. They’re likely mild and occur 8 to 20 minutes apart.
- Bloody show. There is thick mucus in your cervix during pregnancy, and it may loosen and be released when the cervix begins effacing and dilating. This passes as what typically looks like blood-tinged mucus. It may happen before any other labor sign or not until hours after contractions have begun.
Possible Signs of Labor
These changes that occur in late pregnancy may indicate that hormonal changes are underway, but don’t indicate changes in the cervix. They can occur for days or weeks without progressing to labor.
- Mild to moderate abdominal cramping. This may feel similar to menstrual cramps, and may come with discomfort in your thighs.
- Restless back pain that comes and goes. This isn’t a pain like sore muscles; it feels more like the pain you might feel before your period, and often comes with a feeling of uneasiness or restlessness.
- Diarrhea or soft bowel movements. This may be due to an increase in prostaglandins, which cause your lower digestive tract to clear itself.
- Nesting urge. You may feel a sudden burst of energy and desire to get your “nest” ready.
Positive Signs of Labor
- Progressing contractions. Progressing contractions dilate your cervix. They become longer, stronger, and more frequent. Over time, they become harder to manage than your earlier contractions.
- Rupture of membranes with a gush of amniotic fluid. This is what people are referring to when they talk of water breaking. In most pregnancies, it doesn’t occur until the active phase of labor or later, but some labors begin with ruptured membranes. This would feel like a gush of water, as if you’d wet yourself. Note the time, and the color and odor of the fluid, and notify your caregiver.
- Changes in your cervix confirmed by vaginal exam. Your caregiver will check you for changes in your cervix — change of position, ripening, effacement, or dilation.
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1. Glade, B.C., Schuler, J. (2011). Your Pregnancy Week by Week, 7th edition. First Da Capo Press.
2. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Your Pregnancy and Childbirth Month to Month, 5th edition.
3. Linde, Anders, et al. “Fetal Movement in Late Pregnancy – a Content Analysis of Women’s Experiences of How Their Unborn Baby Moved Less or Differently.” BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, BioMed Central, 1 June 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4888620/.
4. Simkin, P. (2010). Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn, 4th edition. Meadowbrook Press