38 Weeks Pregnant
Yow! If you feel a lightning bolt-like sensation running up and down your legs (and in your vagina!), don’t freak out. At 38 weeks pregnant, baby is probably sitting pretty low in your pelvis, which means they’re bumping into all kinds of nerves down there—including some super-sensitive ones you might not know you had. While you’re dealing with that new discomfort, be on the lookout for signs of labor at week 38 of pregnancy, including contractions that come on stronger and at more regular intervals, and, of course, the “ bloody show.” The big event could happen any day now—or it might not be for a few weeks. Until then, try to chill.
At 38 weeks pregnant, baby is as big as a winter melon. Baby is about 19.6 inches long and their head is about the same circumference as their abdomen. Average baby weight at 38 weeks is 6.8 pounds. Sounds a lot like a birth weight, huh?
At 38 weeks pregnant you’re nine months pregnant. You’re heading down the home stretch of pregnancy.
Common 38 weeks pregnant symptoms have everything to do with being really, really pregnant. You’re big; baby is almost ready to arrive and your body is getting ready for D-day (that’s delivery day). Here’s how your body is affected:
- Braxton Hicks contractions. At 38 weeks pregnant, contractions are to be expected. You may have been having these for weeks now, or you may be just starting to notice what seems like 38 weeks pregnant cramps or tightening of your belly. If your contractions aren’t painful, and go away when you switch positions, they’re still Braxton Hicks (aka “practice” contractions).
- Trouble sleeping. Maybe you’re feeling anxious, or maybe it’s just all the aches and pains. But for someone who’s so tired, man it’s hard to get a good night’s rest!
- Increased vaginal discharge. You may begin to notice globs of a thick, mucus-like substance in your discharge this week. This yucky stuff is called the mucus plug, and its presence is totally normal. It gets released as your cervix dilates in preparation for labor. Take heart; every bit of the mucus plug brings you that much closer to going into labor!
- Itchy belly. Your 38 weeks pregnant belly is stretched practically as far as it can go, so it makes sense that it’s more sensitive. What’s not normal is a rash, so let your OB know if you get one.
- Swollen feet and ankles. You’re 38 weeks pregnant, so basically you have the excuse to sit back and put up your feet as much as humanly possible to reduce the swelling.
You’re so close! At 38 weeks pregnant, you’re what’s called “early term.” It’s almost an in-between stage—you’ve passed preterm (which is before 37 weeks) but you’re not yet at full term (which starts at 39 weeks). At this point, you’re counting down the days!
At 38 weeks pregnant, signs of labor may begin. Some early signs you’ll go into labor soon include:
- Mucus plug and/or bloody show. You might have a discharge that’s thick like mucus (the mucus plug) and could have a slightly bloody tinge (the bloody show). This is a sign your cervix is starting to dilate in preparation for birth.
- Diarrhea. At 38 weeks pregnant, diarrhea might not be because of that spicy food you ate—it could be a sign that labor hormones are present in your body. It may be “go time” very soon.
- Nausea. Same goes for 38 weeks pregnant nausea. This isn’t a measurable sign of labor, but some women swear they felt queasy just before labor started.
- Contractions. At 38 weeks pregnant, contractions may be a normal part of your day—or maybe you haven’t noticed any yet. But know that if your 38 weeks pregnant belly starts tightening at regular intervals and doesn’t stop, then you’re likely in the early stages of labor. Painful contractions or ones that are closer than five minutes apart and last more than two hours are probably a sign that you’re in labor and ready to go to the hospital!
- Back pain. You may have had a sore back for weeks now, but at 38 weeks pregnant, back pain that’s intense or sudden could actually be back labor, so let your doctor know if you’re experiencing this 38 weeks pregnant symptom.
- Water breaking. If you feel a trickle of water, it means the amniotic sac has ruptured and the fluid is leaking out. Labor usually starts pretty soon after a woman’s water breaks, so let your OB know if you get this 38 weeks pregnant symptom.
Yes! Babies tend to come on their own timeline, and sometimes that’s a couple of weeks early. But remember that at 38 weeks pregnant, you’re still technically “early term,” so don’t be in a rush to try to induce labor on your own. Baby usually needs a little more time on the inside. That said, at 38 weeks pregnant, inducing labor may be medically necessary if you have a complication such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, a uterine infection or a placental problem. If you’re 38 weeks pregnant with twins, or if you’re experiencing bleeding at 38 weeks pregnant, your doctor might say, “it’s time!” This can send any mom-to-be who thought she had two more weeks into a panic, but know that everything will be okay. We can never really be 100 percent ready (well, maybe you’re one of those women who makes it to week 42), and you and baby are in good hands while under the care of your OB and the pediatrician.
Inside your 38 weeks pregnant belly, baby may have about an inch or so of hair already. Baby is slowly shedding that white goo on the skin (remember, that stuff called vernix caseosa?) but you might see some of it at birth.
You’re seeing the OB weekly now, so you’ll have an appointment this week. At these weekly appointments, your doctor will check that baby is in a head-down position and to see if the head has moved down into the pelvis. Also, get ready for a pelvic exam, where your cervix will be checked for dilation (opening) and effacement (thinning)—both signs your body is readying for labor. Unfortunately, there’s no “normal” when it comes to predicting labor based on dilation or effacement; if you’ve started, it could be hours or weeks before labor starts. But even if you’re not dilated at all, you could still go into labor tomorrow. Ah, the unpredictability of childbirth!
If your doctor wants a more in-depth check on baby, they may order a 38 weeks pregnant ultrasound to see the size of the baby. They may also order a biophysical profile, during which baby’s breathing, movement, muscle tone, heart rate and amniotic fluid will be scored. In some cases, the result of the biophysical profile could make your doctor decide to deliver baby earlier than your due date.
It’s different for every mom-to-be. Some women may not be dilated yet, while others may be a centimeter or two. Your OB will check on this during your weekly appointments. If you’re 4 centimeters dilated, get ready—you’re in active labor!
Show your belly some love
Your itchy belly may be uncomfortable right now (and there’s also the matter of being 38 weeks pregnant!), so do what you can to feel better. Rubbing on a heavy-duty moisturizer, like pure shea butter, can help with dry, overstretched skin, and so does staying hydrated with lots of water.
Go for a walk in the park
Get that blood flowing to reduce swelling while enjoying fresh air and beautiful scenery. Pretty soon, you’ll be walking a stroller in the park!
Stop and smell the lavender
This scent is known for its calming, relaxing qualities, so it’s a great natural sleep aid. Scent your bedroom with lavender essential oil in a diffuser or diluted with water in a room spray.
Find a reliable timer
Bookmark The Bump contraction timer! To figure out if you’ve got Braxton Hicks contractions or the real deal, you’ll need to know when each contraction starts and how long they last. Braxton Hicks contractions are generally painless contractations that stop. If your contractions continue and are painful, it’s time to call your OB!
Reminders for the week:
Medical content was reviewed November 2020 by Sherry A. Ross, MD, an ob-gyn and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, and author of she-ology and she-ology, the she-quel: let’s continue the conversation.