January 23rd is a special day for me. It’s the day my last baby was born, just after a very big snowstorm. I’d been feeding the town crew cookies for weeks and they knew I was ready to pop. I was so thankful our dead-end road was plowed! When I emailed my son to tell him “It was a good day for me when you were born”, he noted,  “It was also a good day for me when I was born, probably, though maybe a little disorienting.”

What made it fun was – he was born on his due date. (The doctor raised an eyebrow – but I knew what day he was made.)  I was very tired of being pregnant by the time he was born. I had a five year old and two year old, and I had bronchitis besides. Pregnant over Christmas, husband working away from home, no family around…

How long does it take to make a baby? Yes, I know – only a moment! But I’m talking about those long last days of the countdown when it seems like forever. In the business, this is called “Pregnancy Miseries”, and we used to say it started around 36 weeks.

What are these miseries? Ask any very pregnant mama, and she will tell you. They are all signs that she is not going to be pregnant forever!

  • Increased levels of the hormone relaxin lead to a feeling of loose limbs (it’s getting your pelvis ready to open up for the baby during the birth) – but also feeling clumsy.
  • As the baby “drops” into position for the birth, the relaxin may also lead to pressure on the joints in your hips. That makes it Hard to sleep – Put a bag over your LED clock so you don’t know what time it is when you get up and get up and get up!
  • Speaking of getting up – part of it has to do with needing to urinate more often. Your body is hanging on to fluids, and at night with your feet up, your kidneys process those extra fluids. That means extra trips to the bathroom.
  • Less room for food means one of your major pregnancy pleasures is gone. Try small meals of things that are nutrient dense to continue feeding yourself and your baby well. (That means yogurt instead of all ice cream, a baked potato instead of Pringles, granola instead of Lucky Charms)
  •  Waiting is just plain hard. What day will the baby come? What will the labor be like? Why do I have to wait so long?

Why would you want to wait? Why not have your baby early and just get it over with? Here are some good reasons to stay pregnant until 38 weeks – or until your due date, usually 40 weeks of gestation:

In the short term

  • Late preterm babies have a hard time staying warm. They haven’t yet developed the fat stores that keep them at an even temperature. If you aren’t holding them skin-to-skin (which is pretty tough 24 hours a day, much as you might like to do it), they may need to be in a isolette where they can stay warm. That will help them gain weight too.
  • Feeding problems abound. These little guys don’t know they have to wake up to eat. If you are lucky, they will not need a tube threaded through the nose into the stomach for feedings. But it can take a couple weeks of pumping before they are ready to competently feed at the breast. This is one of the major challenges for breastfeeding moms – “I can take this baby home if I just use a bottle. I didn’t want to use a bottle!”  And sometimes these babies have a hard time eating with a bottle too.
  • How do you coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing?
  • Your late preterm baby may have a head that seems too big for his little (usually fairly scrawny) body. That puts him at risk for a “compromised airway” – can’t use a baby swing or car seat (we have car beds that Rescue gave us for these little ones) because the baby’s head lolls around and kinks off the breathing pathways.

In the long term

  • Your baby’s brain at 35 weeks is only 2/3 of the size it’s going to be at 40 weeks. The brain during those last weeks will develop all the wonderful swirls, hills and valleys that make it ready to use. Keeping your baby inside longer will put him at risk for developmental delays, mental retardation and cerebral palsy.
  • Late preterm babies are at higher risk for ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)
  • Babies born late preterm are at higher risk for RSV (Respiratory Synctial Virus), a potentially lethal virus that loves to attack babies born before term.

It’s been harder to stay pregnant lately. Scientists say that it may have to do with the stress of modern life. A couple of years ago the March of Dimes did a survey and found that many young women believed a full term pregnancy lasted 36 weeks! And although for many many years we “knew” it was 40 weeks to term, a higher number of babies conceived through ART (assisted reproductive technologies), stress, and the increase in inductions to get labor going have all conspired to make it seem like the due date should be sooner.

Between 1990 and 2006, the number of babies born late preterm – 34 weeks, 0 days gestation up to 36 weeks, 6 days gestation – sky rocketed. The good news is, since 2006 that number has slowly started to come down – you can see how much on the graph at the CDC.

Do all you can to keep yourself pregnant and your baby safe for these last weeks! I know that late pretermers can turn out fine. (I was born at 36 weeks myself!)  But every day you stay pregnant helps your baby to be “fully cooked” and healthy.

What to do while you wait?

  • Check out the great website Giving Birth With Confidence to keep up with the latest in birth and breastfeeding. You can even read about the practice of labor induction.
  • Visit our Brattleboro New Moms Network page on Facebook.
  • You are also welcome to join us anytime at the New Moms Network group to hang out with moms and babies.
  • Go out for breakfast or lunch with girlfriends or your partner. Much more satisfying than going out to dinner, as you’ll be able to fit the food in!
  • Every day after work, get yourself something nice to drink. It should have some sugar in it! Lay down on your left side, and relax yourself methodically and slowly from head to toe. Enjoy your baby’s kicks and swirls – “Why are you laying down? I want to rock!” This is a sneaky way to do fetal kick counts. It will let you know your baby is doing just fine.
  • While you’re at the fetal kick site, check out some of Robin Elise Weiss’s good info. She’s got a passel of kids, is a great Lamaze instructor, and you can trust what she has to say.
  • If you haven’t taken a Lamaze class yet, check out what we’ve got to offer at the BMH Birthing Center.   Maybe you’ve got time to slip in that Birthshop you were wondering about!

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