MOM: Braxton Hicks Contractions
How do you get to delivery? Practice, practice, practice. You might not be ready for the baby (still haven't picked out that nursery color yet), but your body is certainly gearing up for the big day. And you're reminded of this each time you feel your uterus tightening up. Those are Braxton Hicks contractions — irregular practice contractions that can be first felt around mid-pregnancy and increase in frequency and strength as your pregnancy progresses. Many novice moms-to-be don't notice them as much (or feel them as intensely) as those who are pregnant for the second time, but even first timers are aware of them occasionally. As you get closer to term, they'll become stronger (beginning at the top of your uterus and spreading downward), longer (lasting 15 to 30 seconds or as long as two minutes), and even a little painful. Braxton Hicks contractions are part of prelabor; in effect a warm-up for the real thing. And though they are not true labor and do not dilate or efface the cervix, they may be difficult to distinguish from real labor as they become more intense. To help with the discomfort of Braxton Hicks contractions, change positions (lie down if you're walking around, get up if you're in bed) or take a warm bath. If the contractions do not go away with a change in activity, and become progressively stronger and more regular, you may be in real labor, so be sure to put in a call to your practitioner.
BABY: Squirming, Pushing, Growing
This week your baby weighs almost four pounds and could be up to 19 inches long. And though that's a head-to-toe length, your baby is actually back to a curled-up position (you try standing up in those cramped quarters!). You're likely feeling tapping and squirming instead of your baby's signature rocking and rolling. That's because, while comfy, your baby is a bit tight for exercise space right now. Your baby has also probably settled into the head-down, bottoms-up position in your pelvis. That's because the fetus's head fits better at the bottom of your inverted, pear-shaped uterus. It also makes it easier during childbirth if your baby comes out head first. Fewer than five percent of babies prefer the bottom-down (or breech) position by full-term. Don't worry if your baby hasn't assumed the head-down position yet. There's still a good chance he or she will flip head-side-down before birth — even in the tight confines of your uterus. While your baby is still getting nourishment through the umbilical cord, it won't be long before you'll be bringing on the breast milk or formula (and soon after, the mashed carrots and peas). In anticipation of that momentous transition to mouth feeding, your baby's digestive system is all set and ready to go. And because your baby is accumulating more fat, his or her skin is finally turning opaque (like yours), which means those see-through days are over. Though weeks away from D-day, your baby's looking more and more like a newborn. And speaking of that big day, hope you're resting up for it — because your bambino certainly is. In preparation for that big first date with you, your baby is sleeping like a baby — with sleep cycles of 20 to 40 minutes long (which would also account for the decrease in movement you're likely feeling these days).
LOOKING GOOD: Insane Veins
Yes, you hate them (what's not to hate?), but varicose veins, or swollen blood vessels, are actually more hideous than harmful. The reason why they develop or get worse during pregnancy is because you've got more blood pumping through your body, and your growing uterus is pressing against veins in the pelvic region, allowing all that extra blood to pool in your legs. Hormones only add to the problem (duh! ) by causing blood vessels to relax. What's a mom-to-be to do? Exercise daily to improve circulation (and take frequent breaks from sitting or standing), don't gain too much weight, elevate your legs as often as possible, and sleep on your left side to relieve pressure on your main blood vessels. One more thing to try: Put on support hose before you get out of bed in the morning to prevent the blood from pooling. (The sexiness never ends, does it?)
EXTRA: Neck Know-How
If you're like most women, you carry a lot of tension in your neck, especially during pregnancy, when your posture is off-kilter. The result can be — a pain in the neck. One way to loosen your muscles and relax your mind at the same time is with simple stretches you can do anytime, anywhere. Start by tilting your head to one side, without raising your shoulders (try to melt them down the back instead). Hold for three seconds and exhale. Repeat on the other side. Do this several times a day — at your desk, while you're waiting at your practitioner's office, or on line at the post office.
EXTRA: Baby's First Mall Portrait?
Ultrasound is a tried-and-true prenatal tool (and a window into the wonderful world of your womb), but lately this procedure has taken a giant leap from the confines of a doctor's office to a storefront at the mall. Is it safe to take a peek inside your tummy on the way to Sears? While the FDA has yet to establish rules on these prenatal photography studios, they do warn against having ultrasounds for fun (as opposed to for medical reasons), since such three-dimensional imaging machines use much higher power than the typical ultrasound machines at your doctor's office. And many medical professionals fear that nervous moms-to-be will come away wrongly convinced there's something wrong with their babies, or, worse, that the untrained wand wavers will miss real problems that would be detected by a pro. If you do choose elective sonography, do so wisely (and after you check with your practitioner for the go-ahead). While there's nothing more precious than seeing your baby in three dimensions (except, of course, seeing your baby for real once it's born), limit your visits to one or two, each no more than 15 minutes in length. And bring your wallet! Some studios charge up to $300 for a photo, CD-ROM, and a video of the fetus.
WELLNESS: Feed a Fever, Starve a Cold? Not!
Sure, you probably knew you were signing on for morning sickness, indigestion, constipation, and even gas when you signed up for pregnancy. But what you might not have realized (that's what you get for skipping the fine print!) is that pregnant women aren't just susceptible to pregnancy symptoms. They're also susceptible to every bug in the book, from colds to stomach viruses to flu. In fact, it may not seem fair (but c'mon — since when is anything about pregnancy fair), but as an expectant mom you can expect to succumb more easily to these nonpregnancy related illnesses than members of the nonpregnant population. That's because your immune system is suppressed during pregnancy in order to protect your fetus (an outsider) from being rejected by your body. Good for your pregnancy and your baby, not so good for your chances of staying healthy. A pound of prevention's always your best investment when it comes to illness — but if you don't manage to duck those germs before they hit, your priority will be getting better fast — and keeping your baby well fed while you do. Whether you've got a fever or a cold, starving is definitely not the way to go — though eating may be more challenging than ever. If your appetite has flown with the flu, or with a nasty cold, or a troublemaking tummy bug, you'll need to try a kinder, gentler approach to eating well. 1. Comfort yourself: Go ahead and soothe those aches and pains the old-fashioned way: Chicken soup for the soul, sinuses, and throat, as well as any foods that make you feel better inside and out. Scrambled eggs, applesauce, hot oatmeal, English muffins, plain pasta, rice, or mashed potatoes are all comforting to you and good for your baby. If it's a stomach bug that's bugging you, start out slowly and think bland, bland, bland (this is the one time when white — as in bread, pasta, and rice — beats whole grain). Stay away from fat in all its forms (have that toast dry, that pasta unbuttered), as well as sugar (which can prolong diarrhea). And don't forget to revisit your old morning sickness pal, ginger, which works just as well when your nausea's triggered by a virus. 2.Drink up: In the short term, liquids are more important than solids — especially if you're losing them through a fever, a runny nose, vomiting, or diarrhea. Aim for at least one cup an hour, and though any liquid you can get down is better than no liquid, opt for nutritious fluids when possible (chicken broth pureed with well-cooked vegetables, juices, smoothies). Hot beverages will definitely soothe a sore throat, so keep a thermos filed with broth, hot decaffeinated tea, or diluted warm juice near your bedside. If your tummy's tumbling, consider sucking on ice chips, Popsicles, or rehydration fluid (such as Pedialyte). 3.See C: Vitamin C is nature's most potent healer, so lay it on yourself in the form of C-rich fruits, vegetables, and juices (but not supplements, unless your practitioner has recommended them). If your tummy's too tender to visit the citrus family, turn to less acidic choices (a mango or papaya, cantaloupe or honeydew, white grape juice that's C fortified). And speaking of vitamins — try to keep up with your one-a-day prenatal habit, but if you can't keep it down, don't worry. You can play nutrient catch-up once you're feeling better. 4.Go easy: If acidic foods are doing a number on your sore throat or tender tummy, stick to foods that won't cause more irritation. Puree the soup, thin out your hot cereals, and dilute juices for maximum comfort. 5.Get milk: Don't shelve milk during your cold just because you've heard it's a mucus maker — research has yet to back up that myth. If it seems to make your symptoms (whatever they are) worse, find other sources of calcium to tide you over. But if it doesn't bother you, go ahead and drink up.
DAD: Paging Dr. Right
Chances are you and your partner have spent more time in medical offices (namely, the ob-gyn or midwife's offices) over the last eight months or so than you ever have in your lives. It's almost time to move on to another set of offices (where you'll also spend an awful lot of time in the years to come), and find yourself another kind of doctor: a pediatrician. Proximity is important (as you'll find out when baby's got a fever and a snowstorm's raging outside), but so is personality. Shop around — ask neighbors and friends with kids how they like their pediatricians. Most important, don't sign up without personally checking out your candidate. Set up a consultation to ask your questions and gauge your comfort level. And don't forget to make sure that Dr. Right is listed in your company insurance plan — otherwise he or she could be Dr. Unaffordable.