So. 34 weeks. Five more weeks to go. A little over a month. I’ve always found that reaching weeks 35 and 36 is a big mental milestone, as (depending on the pregnancy math) I suddenly find myself looking at just one more flip of the calendar. And I no longer have to include the MONTH when I tell people my due date.
“The 15th,” I can say. With September 15th behind us, it’s clear that yes, I am in the homestretch.
But beyond my own little strange tics, the only real change this week is in your prenatal care. You’ll start seeing your OB or midwife every week instead of every two weeks from now on. (At least until you hit your due date, and at that point you’ll be seen every couple days or so for even closer monitoring.)
At one of these visits, between now and week 37, you’ll get a lovely little poke with a cotton swab down there (in BOTH places down there, actually) to check for Group B streptococci. Group B strep is a harmless bacteria for adults, and 10 to 30 percent of pregnant women carry it without even knowing it. BUT if you pass it on to your baby during birth, it’s bad. Whole heaping mess of problems bad. BUT BUT, a positive culture generally just means you’ll get an IV on antibiotics during labor to reduce the odds of giving it to your baby.
What else will your doctor be checking for at these weekly visits? Well, the usual blood pressure cuff and pee-in-a-cup business, first and foremost. A sudden spike in your blood pressure and/or protein in your urine is often a telltale sign of pre-eclampsia, which causes your blood vessels to constrict and deny blood to your vital organs. It can set in VERY VERY QUICKLY during late pregnancy, and the only cure is to deliver your baby. I’ve known a few women who have shown up, completely innocently and feeling completely fine, to a routine prenatal visit only to get a one-way ticket to the hospital for a date with magnesium sulfate and pitocin and an emergency induction. So…you know. Don’t start skipping appointments, think about getting that hospital bag ready, and make sure your labor coach is reachable at all times.
(I very recently chewed my husband OUT over his voice mail because he went out to run errands and left his phone in the car, because WHAT IF I WAS IN LABOR RIGHT NOW? HUH? WHAT IF I NEEDED YOU RIGHT THIS SECOND? I SWEAR I WILL STAPLE THAT PHONE TO YOUR FOREHEAD IF I HAVE TO.)
(I wasn’t in labor, but I DID need to remind him to pick up a nice pitcher so I could make sangria for a dinner party and NEEDLESS TO SAY, he forgot to buy a pitcher.)
Your doctor will also do abdominal exams to check on your baby’s size and position. This is totally NOT an exact science, but OBs and midwives can make pretty good guesses about which direction your baby is lying and whether your baby has “dropped” into your pelvis. They may start complimenting you on your birthin’ hips or warning you about your narrow pelvis. You can take all of this with a shaker of salt.
(And this also goes for late-pregnancy ultrasounds, which can be off by your baby’s weight by up to two pounds in EITHER direction. I was told my first child, Noah, would be about 8 pounds. He was closer to 10. But on the flipside, I also know women who were sent right from an ultrasound to an induction because of fears of a big, unmanageable baby, only to birth a perfectly reasonably-sized 7-pounder.)
They may also start internal exams soon, which are LOVELY and COMFORTABLE and sort of YOWIE, to check for any cervical activity. Again, this can seem more momentous than it actually is. Some women start dilating weeks before they actually give birth, showing up every week as 1 or 2 centimeters dilated, and some women can show zero progress at a morning appointment but be fully dilated and pushing a baby out by dinnertime.