I'm a mom of two, super-powered by a biochemistry degree from UC Irvine and a lot of firsthand experience!
Dr. Rebecca Levy-Gantt, board certified by the American College of Ob Gyn, Premier ObGyn Napa Inc
39 Weeks Means a Full-Term Baby
With only one week left until your official due date, the 39th week of pregnancy is an exciting (and exhausting!) time. Some women will have already had their babies at this point or may go into labor very soon, while others could be two or even three weeks away from delivery!
What to Do for the 39th Week
In any case, you should be prepared for your baby's arrival at any time. Here are a few things to take care of beforehand.
- If your hospital bag isn't packed and ready to go, make sure this task is completed as soon as possible.
- If you have other children, ensure that a caregiver is able to take care of them when you go into labor.
- Try to get some rest. It may seem unfair that it is so hard to get a good night's sleep because you will soon be caring for a newborn in the wee hours of the night! However, do try your best.
- Make a list of the names and phone numbers to notify of your baby's birth.
Many women report a feeling of being "done" with pregnancy at this point in the third trimester and are simply anxious to see their little one!
How Do 40 Weeks Equal 9 Months?
Yes, 40 weeks divided into months gives you 10 months—technically. However, you're not pregnant on the first day of your last period, which is the metric doctors use to estimate how many weeks you are. You aren't pregnant for the first two weeks, as that period of time encompasses your cycle and fertilization. The implantation can take up to two weeks after fertilization, so that's why the due date is right around nine months.
- So, what do 39 weeks of pregnancy mean? If you're 39 weeks pregnant, you've been pregnant for eight months and three weeks. By your 40th week, you'll have completed nine months of pregnancy!
What to Expect When You're 39 Weeks Pregnant
Here is what we'll cover below:
- The Baby Is Dropping
- Cervix Effacement and Dilation
- Late Pregnancy Exam
- What to Expect as Your Body Prepares for Labor
- Baby's Size and Development
- What Triggers Labor?
- My Two Labor Experiences at 39-Weeks
Baby is Dropping to Get Ready for Birth!
For first-time mothers, the baby usually drops into position sometime during the last month of pregnancy. Mothers who are on their second (or third, or fourth) pregnancies may not experience this phenomenon until just before labor begins—or even until labor is well underway.
When the baby drops, his or her head engages with the cervix. In some ways, this will ease some of the discomforts of late pregnancy. It may be easier to breathe, and the baby's feet will no longer be pressing against your rib cage. On the other hand, the baby's head may create a lot of pressure as your body prepares for labor.
- Position refers to whether the baby is facing toward the woman’s back—rearward (face down when the woman lies on her back) or forward (face up).
- Presentation refers to the part of the baby that leads the way out through the birth canal. It's the head that typically leads the way. However, the buttocks or a shoulder sometimes lead the way.
This is the most common (and safest) position scenario:
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- Neck bent forward and chin tucked in
- Rearward facing
- Arms folded across the chest
- Angled face and body, either to the right or to the left
What Are the Different Abnormal Presentations?
- Occiput Posterior Presentation: The baby is headfirst and is facing up (toward the mother's abdomen). This is the most common abnormal position.
- Breech Presentation: The buttocks or the feet present first.
- Face Presentation: The neck is hyperextended and arches back so the face presents first.
- Brow Presentation: The neck is slightly arched. The brow presents first.
- Shoulder Presentation: The baby is curled up against the mom’s pelvis.
What Are the Different Types of Breech Birth Presentations?
If the baby's head doesn't engage with the cervix, it's called a "breech presentation." Instead of the head, the buttocks and/or feet are positioned to be delivered first.
- Complete Breech: The buttocks point downward. The legs are folded at the knees, and the feet are near the buttocks.
- Frank Breech: The baby’s buttocks are aimed at the birth canal. The legs stick straight up in front of their body, and the feet are near the head.
- Footling Breech: One or both of the baby’s feet point downward and will deliver before the rest of the body.
According to American Pregnancy, data shows that breech birth is more common in the following conditions:
- Subsequent pregnancies
- Pregnancy with multiple children
- History of premature delivery
- Excess or deficient amniotic fluid in the uterus
- Abnormal-shaped uterus
- Uterus with abnormal growths
- Women with placenta previa
Cervix Effacement and Dilation
The cervix is a narrow cylinder-shaped passage that forms the lower end of the uterus. When you're giving birth, it dilates widely to allow the baby to pass into the birth canal (vagina) and enter the world!
What happens when your cervix effaces?
Your cervix is thinning to prepare for childbirth. Doctors measure this in percentages, and you'll begin pushing when you're at 100 percent.
What happens when your cervix dilates?
Your cervix opens to prepare for childbirth. Doctors measure this in centimeters, and your cervix is considered fully dilated at 10 centimeters.
Are cervix effacement and dilation an accurate way to tell when you're going into labor?
No. They are notoriously inaccurate. You might be completely uneffaced and undilated and yet go into labor that night. Or, you might be dilated three centimeters and completely effaced but not go into labor for weeks.
Late Pregnancy Exam
The last few weeks of pregnancy will include frequent check-ups with your doctor. Here are a few things that you can expect them to check.
1. Group B Strep
If swabs have not already been taken for Group B Strep, this will be done now. Group B Strep is a common bacteria, and as many as 10-30% of women carry it during their last trimester. In general, you'll be tested for Group B Strep (GBS) at some point between weeks 35-37. If you are positive for GBS, antibiotics will be delivered via I.V. during labor and delivery to protect the baby from possible infection.
2. Cervix Effacement and Dilation
The obstetrician will also check your cervix to see if it is beginning to efface. The cervix usually effaces (thins out) before it dilates. First-time mothers may not have any dilation before labor begins, but mothers who have had prior pregnancies may already be dilated to three centimeters and not even know it!
3. Blood Pressure
There's a good reason why doctors frequently measure your blood pressure during this period and throughout your pregnancy: high blood pressure or preeclampsia. It's a condition that only happens during pregnancy, and left untreated, can create serious health complications. High blood pressure affects many pregnant women, and if it develops from gestational high blood pressure to preeclampsia, the only cure is delivering your baby.
It usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women who have normal blood pressure. Symptoms of preeclampsia typically include high blood pressure and protein in your urine. It sometimes develops without symptoms, and high blood pressure can either develop slowly or come on suddenly.
Mayoclinic shares these symptoms of preeclampsia:
- Excess protein in your urine (proteinuria) or additional signs of kidney problems
- Severe headaches
- Changes in vision, including temporary loss of vision, blurred vision, or light sensitivity
- Upper abdominal pain, usually under your ribs on the right side
- Nausea or vomiting
- Decreased urine output
- Decreased levels of platelets in your blood (thrombocytopenia)
- Impaired liver function
- Shortness of breath, caused by fluid in your lungs
To help keep your blood pressure normal, live a healthy lifestyle. Eat good foods, limit your salt intake, and exercise a little to keep your body in tip-top shape.
4. General Health
Your weight and the baby's heart tones will also be checked.
What to Expect as Your Body Prepares for Labor
1. Braxton-Hicks vs. Real Contractions
Most women will experience Braxton-Hicks contractions throughout their last trimester. These contractions are generally not very painful, do not get closer together, and arrive sporadically throughout the last portion of pregnancy. They will likely occur with increased frequency when you're at 39 weeks. It's described to be a tightening feeling in your stomach and similar to cramps when you have your menstrual period.
Real labor, however, begins with contractions that may be spaced far apart, but get progressively closer together. The intensity of the contractions will increase as they get closer together, and will become painful.
- If any mother is in doubt as to whether their contractions are real labor or Braxton-Hicks, a call (and visit) to their obstetrician should ease any doubts!
Increased acid reflux may occur during this last portion of pregnancy. As the baby continues to grow in size, there is less room for your stomach because your uterus is growing and crowding your belly, forcing acid into the esophagus. Additionally, a hormone called progesterone which relaxes muscles during pregnancy also relaxes the stomach valve that keeps acid out of the esophagus. The baby also presses against the intestines and bladder—fortunately, this late pregnancy discomfort won't last very long because your baby will arrive very soon!
- Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day so that your stomach doesn't get overly full.
- Consume your food slowly and relax as you eat to keep from overeating.
- Don't gulp down your drinks. Instead, sip your liquids during meals.
- Try not to lie down immediately after eating, and don't bend over. Go for a leisurely stroll, clean up the house a little, or read a book.
- Don't eat or drink right before going to bed. Actually, try to make sure the last thing you eat is consumed three hours before you go to sleep.
- Elevate your head and upper chest at night. You can do this by using wedge-shaped pillows that help keep your body slanted upwards.
- Wear comfortable clothes. If you wear tight clothing, it's going to put more pressure on your full abdomen. Don't worsen acid reflux this way!
- Know thyself. Some foods that trigger heartburn in pregnant women don't affect others the same way. A few examples are fat, caffeine, chocolate, and citrus.
- Say yes to ginger. Ginger is a great thing to take, whether with soda or candy form, for an upset stomach. A study conducted by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Chiang Mai University found that consuming ginger is effective for relieving the severity of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
- Take an antacid. If you can't seem to conquer heartburn with lifestyle adjustments, take antacids with calcium or magnesium to calm your acid reflux. In fact, Tums has extra calcium that is good for both you and your baby!
3. Increased Vaginal Discharge/Loss of the Mucus Plug
Some women may lose their mucus plug during this week of pregnancy. The mucus plug was in place to seal up the cervix and protect the womb during pregnancy. As the cervix begins to efface (thin out) and dilate (open), the mucus plug falls out of place.
This "plug" is really just a large amount of mucus, and it may be streaked with blood. In general, the loss of the mucus plug means that labor will start within the next 2-3 weeks. The time is highly variable: Some women go into labor very quickly after losing the mucus plug while others won't lose it until labor has already commenced!
Don't be surprised if you see increased vaginal discharge over the last few weeks of pregnancy. It's simply your body preparing for the baby's passage through the vagina.
4. Pelvic Pressure
If you're feeling discomfort in your pelvic area, know that it's a common symptom women experience at 39 weeks of pregnancy. Your body is getting ready for childbirth. As your baby's head moves deep into the pelvis to get into position, try to remember that it's a sign of their impending arrival.
5. Increased Urination (Again)
One of the first signs of pregnancy is an increased need to urinate. In late pregnancy, this symptom returns as the baby rests on your bladder, which is located directly in front of the uterus. When you're not pregnant, the small size of your uterus puts no pressure on the bladder. When you're pregnant and near full term, your uterus has greatly expanded, which leaves your bladder little room to grow.
In fact, the baby sometimes actively kicks your bladder, which can cause moments of intense discomfort or even leakage. There isn't much you can do about this particular aspect of late pregnancy. Try to pee frequently instead of waiting until you feel a need to go. If you want to actively address this, practice Kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles that stop the flow of urine. Simply tighten the muscles you use when you want to stop peeing, hold the position, and then relax. Do several sets of these to help your body to be better at controlling your peeing habits.
- This symptom will disappear once your little one is no longer in your womb and is held in your arms!
6. Energy Spikes to Encourage Nesting
There are mornings when you might wake up with seemingly boundless energy. You're inspired to clean the house, make enough freezer meals to last a month, set up a crib, and work on the nursery. This is known as the nesting instinct. While this can happen at any time during your pregnancy, it can be a sign that labor is approaching for some women. Enjoy using your energy to work on things you'd like to get done, but try to make sure you don't exhaust your body. Store up your strength for the labor ahead.
7. Weight Gain
Expect to maintain or even lose a little bit of weight during the 39th week of pregnancy. Continue to eat as healthily as possible to help your baby get the best start possible.
- Try not to gain more than one pound this week. If you already gained one pound during the last few days, try walking off some of the calories and doing light exercises to work off any excess weight.
8. Mood Swings
Mood swings can be an indicator of labor. While you may feel a variety of emotions throughout your pregnancy, you'll likely experience stronger mood swings. Your feelings may sway from elation to exhaustion, or worry to excitement. Crying for no apparent reason can also be an early sign of labor—your hormones are running through your body to prepare it for birth.
Do note that these mood swings can continue after you've had your baby. It's known as post-partum depression.
9. Appetite Changes: Does It Increase or Decrease?
You may have noticed your appetite increase at the beginning of the third trimester. Your baby's doing most of its growing here, which explains that situation. When your pregnancy is nearing its end (as in, you're 39 weeks along), you might notice a decreased appetite. Your baby has grown so much that your stomach likely doesn't have as much room to expand. You might get fuller faster. To continue eating well, eat smaller meals that are good for you to get your baby the calories and nutrients it needs.
3D Ultrasound of Baby at 39 Weeks: Video Images
Baby's Size and Development at 39 Weeks
The average baby is approximately 19.96 inches long and 7.25 pounds at 39 weeks. Of course, babies vary considerably in size at this gestational age! Some babies will be a very tiny 5 pounds, while others are over 9 pounds. A late pregnancy ultrasound will give some idea of the baby's actual size.
Your baby is ready for delivery at this stage of pregnancy. He is producing surfactants, which is vital for healthy lung function. Surfactant production also plays a role in the initiation of labor. Your baby continues to put on weight and is ready to meet the world outside!
Early Signs of Labor
What Triggers Labor?
Are There Natural Methods of Inducing Labor?
Here are a few natural measures that are believed to help induce labor.
- Castor oil
- Raspberry leaf tea
- Evening primrose oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Spicy foods
- Gently stimulating your nipples
There are more than thirty additional ways that people have found to help induce labor naturally. However, please consult with your doctor before considering these measures to ensure that the method you want to try is safe for you specifically.
While many people have found certain items on the list to help them personally, ObGyn Rebecca Levy-Gantt warns, "Castor oil should never be used to try to induce labor at home. There is evidence that there is an increase in babies passing meconium in utero after castor oil. It is known to be unsafe. As a matter of fact, there is no scientific evidence for almost anything you can do at home to try to bring on labor, from eating certain things to having sex to jumping up and down. All anecdotes. No evidence."
What If I Don't See Any Signs of Labor?
Don't worry! Many women make it to the 39th week of labor and see no signs that they're going to go through childbirth. Some women experience many labor symptoms in the weeks leading up to delivery, while others don't feel anything until the labor actually starts. Don't stress about being overdue. Instead, take advantage of the time you have before the baby comes and relax. They'll come out when they're ready!
Is It Safe to Have a Baby at 42 Weeks?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1 in 5 births in the United States are induced. If your doctor or midwife shares concerns about your or your baby's well-being, they may suggest inducing labor to speed up the process.
If you're concerned about being induced—using drugs or a procedure instead of waiting for labor to start naturally—know that the doctors typically won't do it until you're around 42 weeks. After 41 weeks of pregnancy, both you and your baby are more vulnerable to complications. The placenta may become less effective at delivering nutrients to your baby, which can then increase the chances of stillbirth or serious health problem for them.
Dr. Levy-Gantt shares, "The latest evidence actually states that the best time for delivery is in the 39th week and that active management, including induction, is better than expectant management and leads to fewer C-sections and better outcomes. Evidence shows that waiting until after the 40th-week results in higher complication rates including C-sections, meconium, and amniotic fluid infections."
How Doctors "Ripen" (Efface and Dilate) Your Cervix to Induce Labor
- Prostaglandin Use: Your doctor may begin induction with medication that contains synthetic prostaglandins. It'll be inserted into your vagina or you will take it orally (misoprostol). Synthetic prostaglandins act like hormones that help ripen your cervix. They sometimes stimulate contractions so that you don't need oxytocin (commonly known as Pitocin), which your body produces naturally during spontaneous labor.
- Foley Catheter or Cervical Ripening Balloon: If your doctor doesn't use medication, they may insert a Foley catheter between the amniotic sac and the bottom of the uterus on the other side of the cervix. The balloons are filled with a saline solution, and the ensuing pressure on your cervix stimulates your body to release prostaglandins, which make your cervix soften and open. The goal is to cause the cervix to mechanically open. While this doesn't guarantee spontaneous labor, using this method can also make the cervix more favorable for oxytocin or another drug induction. An additional benefit is that the balloon catheter has similar or lower cesarean rates associated with its use compared to combinations of other induction methods.
- Stripping the Membranes: Your doctor can insert their finger through your cervix to manually separate the amniotic sac from the lower part of your uterus. This process causes prostaglandin release, which can help ripen your cervix and kickstart your contractions. It's not the most comfortable method and can even feel a little painful.
How to Induce Labor
Induced labor could be an option for you. Delivering Oxytocin (Pitocin) through an IV pump can start or augment your contractions. A Pitocin drip, however, unlike the options above, is a commitment to start labor rather than wait for it to start; it means a scheduled delivery. Ask the doctor and others if induced labor is necessary and what your options are.
- Oxytocin (Pitocin): Getting oxytocin through an IV pump could be an option for you. It can start or augment your contractions.
The Author's Own Experience at 39 Weeks of Pregnancy
I have two sons, and both were born at 39 weeks of pregnancy. The circumstances of their deliveries were very different, which goes to show that you can never know what to expect in late pregnancy!
My First 39-Week Delivery Experience
My first son was due on Christmas Day. I went in for a routine late-pregnancy check, and the nurse took my blood pressure and weight. My son's heart tones were strong, and I was excited to head home and relax until labor started. A short period of time later, the doctor entered the room to take several more blood pressure readings. They then ordered an ultrasound—I was thrilled to see my son's face when they flipped the screen over to the 3-D mode. The obstetrician explained that my blood pressure was high, so she wanted to send me over to the hospital for some monitoring.
I was glad to have my mom with me, but I hadn't thought to bring my hospital bag to the checkup. It didn't really matter, I thought, since I was just going over for monitoring. A few hours later, the doctor arrived and checked my blood pressure readings, which had been taken every half hour or so. I was informed that I would not be going home and would be induced in the morning. I had preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication of high blood pressure and indicators of damage to another organ system. The baby needed to be delivered. Fortunately, I was full-term when the high blood pressure developed. I went into labor spontaneously in the early morning hours before induction could begin. My son was born before 11:00 am the next day.
My Second 39-Week Delivery Experience
Being in labor with my second son was a much different experience than the first. Other than being highly uncomfortable, I had no signs of impending labor. My blood pressure was fine the second time around, and I was simply anxious for my baby to arrive so we could begin our lives as a family of four. At 9:15 pm one evening, the contractions started. By the time I arrived at the hospital an hour later, I was already seven centimeters dilated! My second son was born very, very quickly—just after midnight. I was Group B Strep positive with my second son, and they barely had time to get the antibiotics in via I.V. before he was born!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: When I sit, my baby gets stiff and pushes upward. Though I am in the 39th week of pregnancy, my belly doesn't look like I am that far along. Do I have a chance of an abnormal birth presentation?
Answer: Babies stretch and move a lot in the last few weeks of pregnancy, which is certainly very uncomfortable for the mother! Most babies have oriented with their head down at this stage, but some babies are in a breech or transverse position. A medical professional (physician, nurse, or midwife) should be involved in your care and will be able to assess the positioning of your baby. As with any pregnancy, professional healthcare providers should be involved to guarantee the safety and health of both mother and baby.
Question: What do I pack in the baby's bag for labor?
Answer: The baby's bag usually contains a few things needed for going home once released from the hospital. We packed our baby's diaper bag with a going-home outfit, a baby blanket, some newborn diapers and wipes, a pacifier (if you plan to use one), and some baby nail clippers/emery file. Our second son had really long nails and needed them clipped!
Question: If labour begins but my cervix is thick, what can I do?
Answer: Effacement (thinning) of the cervix typically occurs during the initial stages of dilation in early labor. Hopefully, your labor is being managed by a midwife, nurse, or physician to verify everything is proceeding as expected. If there are any concerns as to the progress or stage of your labor, professional medical advice should be sought immediately.
Question: Currently 38 weeks and 6 days. I went from 2 cm to 4 cm in 6 days. I have been 4cm dilated and about 90% effaced for 3 days now. I lost my mucus plug yesterday morning. I don’t feel any contractions and my water hasn’t broken. Could I go into labor soon or will I still most likely make it to my due date? I’ve tried walking and drinking pineapple juice to help but it isn’t working!