The long-awaited final inning of pregnancy is finally here. With it comes a range of emotions and other ways you’ll know when you’re in the third trimester. While you await the imminent birth of your baby, you may experience excitement, nervousness, and anticipation, along with a ton of new physical sensations. Your belly is growing bigger by the day. That probably excites and terrifies you at the same time while also causing a range of physical symptoms. You’re also likely preparing to welcome the baby into your life, which comes with many emotions. Perhaps you’re more than ready to meet your little one. Or maybe you need a little more time and would like to please stay pregnant a little longer!
Any way you feel about this stage of pregnancy is normal and acceptable. Most women feel a combination of patience and desperation. It can be helpful to know that other moms-to-be are in the same boat, both physically and emotionally. Here is a list of common sensations and experiences that may help you know you’re in the third trimester.
You always feel full
When you’re in the third trimester, the hormone progesterone is soaring to continue maintaining your pregnancy.1 At the same time, oxytocin starts to rise in preparation for labor and delivery.2 High doses of both hormones can contribute to delayed gastric emptying, meaning your stomach holds onto food longer.3,4 Your baby is also taking up more room in your abdomen as they continue to grow. The baby can put pressure on your stomach, decreasing the volume it holds.5 These factors may lead to reduced appetite or make it uncomfortable to eat full meals. Many women resort to frequent, small snacks to keep their energy up without feeling stuffed.
The same hormones that cause your stomach to empty more slowly late in pregnancy can also slow the speed at which food moves through the intestines.6 Your growing baby also places pressure on the colon, making it more difficult to pass stool. Fiber, water, and exercise can help with pregnancy constipation and move things along.
You have constant heartburn
Pregnancy hormones can cause relaxation of the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus, allowing food and stomach acid to travel back toward your mouth.7 This, combined with increased pressure the baby puts on your stomach, causes heartburn, or acid reflux. There are many medicinal and lifestyle remedies for this condition. Try eating small meals, avoiding spicy and greasy foods, and sitting upright or elevating the head of your bed after eating.
None of your clothes fit
Experts recommend gaining 25-35 pounds throughout pregnancy if you start at a healthy weight.8 This weight is concentrated in your midsection, where your baby resides, but the rest of your body also grows to store nutrients and prepare for birth. During the third trimester, between weeks 28-40, your baby triples in size.9 Your constantly growing and changing body means you will probably outgrow most of your clothes—maybe even your maternity clothes. Your standards for acceptable dress outside the house may lower, and many pregnant women have been known to wear just their husbands’ clothes in the third trimester.
You’re always tired
Along with causing you to outgrow your clothes, carrying around extra weight when you’re in the third trimester can contribute to exhaustion. You may get winded from one flight of stairs that used to be second nature. Insomnia can also strike at night, which can cause tiredness during the day.10 To combat this fatigue, allow yourself rest periods during the day, even if it means cutting back on your schedule or commitments. Eating a balanced diet and exercising can boost your energy13.
You suddenly need the perfect house
Although you are probably generally tired once you reach the third trimester, you may experience sudden bursts of energy and the urge to clean your house and prepare your space for your new arrival, often called “nesting” Interestingly, this phenomenon is not unique to humans and has also been observed in other mammals14. A friend of mine bleached all the baseboards in her whole house just days before her scheduled C-section! Other nesting examples include ensuring the nursery is perfect (even if the baby will be sleeping in your room for a while), washing and organizing infant clothing by size and season, or preparing meals to freeze for the postpartum period. It doesn’t hurt to prepare and do this work before you have a baby to care for!
You’ve taken a birth class or two
Along with preparing your environment for your new baby, anthropological data has shown that preparing for birth and controlling the environment is a key feature in late pregnancy14. Childbirth classes are offered online or in person; you can source them anywhere, from Instagram educators to the hospital where you plan to deliver (if you’re having a hospital birth). These classes can help you identify what interventions you do and do not prefer, who you want present at the birth, and where the delivery will take place.
You’re no longer scared of birth
In the early days of pregnancy, giving birth can seem like the most daunting part. You’ve seen movies and heard horror stories of how terrible and exhausting delivery can be. However, as you near the end of pregnancy and endure physical discomfort daily, the fear of pushing out a full-sized baby often subsides. You are so desperate to no longer be pregnant that you don’t care how difficult labor will be.
You feel like you live at the doctor
Most obstetric and midwifery practices see patients every two weeks starting at 28 weeks, then every week starting at 36 weeks.11 These frequent appointments are essential, as your doctor or midwife can monitor your weight and blood pressure for signs of preeclampsia and other third trimester complications. However, these check-ups can feel like a big-time commitment when you have so much else to do before the baby comes. If you can, treat yourself to a fun activity while you’re out.
You feel like your pelvis is splitting apart when you walk
Symphysis pubis dysfunction is a pain in the center pelvic area due to hypermobility between the left and right pelvic bones.12 There are many theories this happens, such as hormonal changes, strains on the pelvic ligaments, or because of weight gain. Your baby is putting increasing pressure on your pelvic bone and pelvic floor. Although your pelvis is loosening for a reason, it can be excruciating, especially when doing activities such as walking, taking the stairs, or even standing on one foot to get dressed. Try wearing a pregnancy belt to relieve some of the weight on the pelvic bone, and know that this symptom typically subsides immediately after birth15.
You might as well sleep in the bathroom
The second trimester often relieves the frequent urination you may have experienced in the first trimester because the uterus grows up and out of the pelvis. However, when you’re in the third trimester, the baby is placing additional weight on the bladder, especially as the baby “drops” in preparation for delivery16. In some women, this can also cause leaking of urine when you laugh, sneeze, or cough. For some reason, the frequent urination always seemed to disrupt me most at nighttime when I was trying to sleep, and I thought it might be more convenient just to sleep next to the toilet!
You’re constantly trying to differentiate Braxton Hicks contractions from the real thing
During my third trimester, I was constantly trying to decipher whether the tightening I was feeling in my uterus was “uncomfortable” or “painful” because that is what differentiates a labor contraction from a Braxton Hicks practice contraction17. People would tell me, “You’ll know when it’s real,” which only annoyed me. Either way, the contractions are irritating and toy with your mind as you try to determine if this could be the start of labor.
You take lots of bump pics
In the third trimester, there is no doubt that there is a baby in your belly. You probably have a nice, rounded abdomen that looks cute in your maternity clothes. You want to cherish and memorialize your pregnancy, but you are also ready for it to be over so you can have some physical relief and finally meet your baby. I took so many bump photos in the third trimester to observe the growth of my belly and baby, but also because I never knew if it might be my last photo taken while pregnant.
You think there’s no way you’ll sleep worse with a newborn than you are sleeping right now
In the third trimester, solid and comfortable sleep can be challenging. From the aches and pains of late pregnancy to the recommendations on helpful pregnancy sleeping positions, to the frequent urination during the night, some women are lucky to get one hour of sleep at a time. It can often feel like you’ll be able to sleep better once the baby is here because at least you can get comfortable. Give yourself the best sleep environment possible and rest while you can.
You’re leaking milk
Some women experience their breasts starting to leak colostrum in the third trimester as their body prepares for lactation18. Colostrum is a thick, yellow substance and is the first milk a baby gets. While it is normal to leak or not to leak milk, you can try some nursing pads in your bra if it is leaking through your shirt. This can also be an excellent way to find out which nursing pads you might like for breastfeeding once the baby arrives.
Your social media feed consists of nursing bras and newborn essentials
Somehow social media knows you’re about to have a baby. Maybe it’s through what you’ve been searching for online, but those targeted ads are spot-on. They know delivery is around the corner and plant a seed of, “well, maybe I do need another baby carrier…” with every post. You can’t have a single scroll session without seeing another gadget that you have to have.
Remember that the discomforts of the third trimester are all a side effect of your body growing a healthy baby. You can never be fully prepared for the baby until they arrive, and you learn what each of you needs. That baby is coming soon, whether you are ready or not. In the meantime, give yourself extra rest and grace, and find someone who relates and lets you vent about your current ailments. You will have relief from the pain; everything with your home, birth, and new family member will fall into place. Pregnancy will be over in the blink of an eye. Before you know it, you’ll be soaking up the newborn snuggles and losing sleep for an entirely different reason. Take care of yourself and find camaraderie in the countless other women who have made it through the third-trimester woes and wonders.