38th – Thirty-eighth week of pregnancy

38 week of pregnancy

Pregnancy in a singleton pregnancy lasts an average of 40 weeks (280 days) from the first day of the last menstrual period. In the past, a pregnancy was considered full-term during a 5-week period: from the 37th to two weeks after the 40th.

However, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), babies born between weeks 39 and 40, in general, do much better off than those born in the previous two weeks .

Research has also shown that fetal mortality risks are also slightly higher before the 39th week .

For these reasons, a pregnancy is considered “full term” only at the thirty-ninth week . Those born between the 37th and 38th week are defined by the ACOG as “early term”, therefore precocious, but still full-term.

By now in view of the birth , the cradle , the changing table, the bouncer , the layette for the newborn, diapers, pacifiers, the bottle, the bottle warmer , the bottle sterilizer , any pram, and all the other accessories for the newborn .

Of course, the delivery bag is also ready and close at hand.

Baby development in the 38th week of pregnancy

brain development

Inside the womb, the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system continues.

His nervous system has now taken over the job of regulating certain bodily functions such as circulation, respiration and digestion .

The development of internal organs

All of the baby’s major organs are fully developed, ready to assume their respective roles once it is born .

The only organs that still need “tuning” are the lungs, which will only start functioning after birth, since there is no air in the uterus to practice breathing.

While waiting, the lungs continue to produce large amounts of surfactant, the chemical that keeps them from collapsing.

Even his digestive system is already active, and produces a sticky and greenish substance, called meconium (substance formed by epithelial fragments and secretion products of the digestive system of the fetus), which will be the first product expelled from the intestine of the child.

It also contains the hair called lanugo, and the vernix lost by your baby in these last stages of pregnancy, and swallowed by him together with the amniotic fluid 

The outward appearance

Your baby is still developing the layer of fat that will help maintain its body temperature once it is out of the womb .

His skin color is becoming what he will be at birth.

The color of the eyes

It may be difficult to tell what color a baby’s eyes are immediately after birth, as their irises are usually lightly pigmented and therefore may have a bluish appearance. They will acquire more color during the first months of life  .

This means that gray or blue eyes may turn green or brown due to the pigment added over the first few months.

However, eye color never gets lighter, as pigmentation can only increase; thus brown, green and hazel eyes have more pigment than blue and gray eyes.

How big is your baby

Arrived at the thirty-eighth week, the fetus is about 50 centimeters long , weighs about 3 kilograms and is almost as big as a leek .

Despite its continued fat gain, the fetus is now gaining weight more slowly as it is reaching its birth weight.

The fetal position – the breech baby

Your baby is already in the position to exit through the birth canal, and his or her head is probably at pelvic level.

In some cases, in the last phase of the third trimester, the baby may not be able to turn while remaining with the feet down (breech position).

Your doctor may therefore recommend an external cephalic version (VCE), in order to correctly position the baby breech or transverse, by applying external pressure to specific points on your abdomen .

The VCE has about a 50% probability of success: it is in fact linked to several factors, such as the weight of the fetus, the angle of its position, the age of the mother.

Babies who remain in the breech position necessarily come into the world by cesarean section.

The changes in the woman’s body

One of the positive aspects of this week is the disappearance of indigestion and heartburn , thanks to the baby who is descending in the abdomen towards the pelvis.

This descent also creates more space for your lungs, thus relieving some symptoms, such as chest pain and shortness of breath.

At the same time, however, it doubles its pressure on the bladder, forcing you to go to the bathroom more often, and sometimes causing you to leak urine when you sneeze or laugh .

Your weight gain begins to gradually slow down around 37/38 weeks of gestation .

Some women continue to notice thick, yellowish colostrum oozing from their nipples.

This is the first milk produced by a woman’s body, and it is fortified with nutrients that will make the baby able to fight off various diseases and infections during the first few weeks  .

The woman’s body also begins to prepare for labor: the vagina begins to dilate (open) and thin, so that the baby can pass through the birth canal .

The twin pregnancy at the 38th week

Most twins are delivered in the 37th year.

Only less than 50% of twin pregnancies reach the 38th week.

So have your hospital kit ready , because your labor could start at any moment.

It is usually recommended that twins be delivered in a hospital, so that specialized doctors may be able to provide any care that may be needed immediately after delivery 19 ) .

Although multiple pregnancies have a higher risk of complications, twins born at 38 weeks, after about a week in the neonatal care unit, are doing quite well.

Test and ultrasound at 38 weeks

Unless your pregnancy goes too far (that is, unless it continues past week 40), your week 38 prenatal checkup will likely be your last before the baby arrives.

It is a good idea to ask your doctor for information and advice on everything you need about labor, childbirth, and pain remedies that could be useful to you during labor 20 ) .

Ultrasound scans are not usually done in the final weeks, unless the doctor needs to check the baby’s position or a VCE is needed to turn it in the uterus.

Your doctor will also perform a physical exam to check if your vagina has begun to open. At about 10 centimeters dilated and 100% thinning, you’ll be ready to give birth 21 ) .

In early pregnancies, dilation and thinning will likely begin several weeks before labor begins.

In subsequent pregnancies they will begin just before labor begins.

Symptoms of this week of pregnancy

During this period, the most common symptoms of pregnancy are:

  • Braxton Hicks contractions 
  • pelvic pain;
  • pain in the round ligament of the uterus;
  • leg cramps;
  • tailbone pain;
  • swelling or oedema, especially of the hands and feet;
  • joint, thigh and back pain;
  • itchy skin, most commonly around the baby bump and breasts 
  • stretch marks;
  • headache , hot flushes and sore throat,
  • varicose veins and hemorrhoids;
  • constipation or upset stomach/increased bowel movements;
  • restless legs syndrome and insomnia
  • depression and mood swings;
  • carpal tunnel syndrome (tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers).

The signs of labor

Between weeks 38 and 42, labor can start at any time 

So it is recommended to pay attention to the following conditions:

  • five or more contractions in an hour 
  • menstrual-like cramps;
  • feeling of pressure in the lower abdomen or pelvic area 
  • vaginal bleeding;
  • increased vaginal secretions;
  • throbbing pain in the lower back, which may be constant, or may come and go;
  • copious clear watery secretions (amniotic fluid leaks);
  • flu-like symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) :
  • brown, pinkish or bloody mucous discharge (loss of mucus plug).

When to call the doctor

Contact your doctor in the following cases:

  • when you notice a decrease in fetal movement during the kick count;
  • when you have the signs of labor described above:
  • when you have pain or burning when you urinate, dark or cloudy urine with or without a bad smell, pain in your lower back (around the kidneys) and/or stomach pain, white or greenish/yellowish jelly-like discharge, fever, nausea, pain during intercourse (could indicate a kidney infection, urinary tract infection, or thrush 
  • in case of extreme fatigue and dizziness, together with sudden vision changes, persistent headache, sudden swelling of the face and hands, upper abdominal pain and shortness of breath (could indicate hypertension or preeclampsia) 
  • if you have excessive thirst and dry mouth, accompanied by tiredness, lightheadedness, increased urgency to urinate, shortness of breath, recurring urinary tract infections, and ketones in your urine (could indicate gestational diabetes) 
  • one-sided swelling (of only one hand, foot or ankle), which could indicate a disorder of blood clotting;
  • extreme itching of the hands and feet, especially on the palms and soles, that does not go away with usual remedies (could indicate cholestasis of pregnancy, a liver condition) .

Some useful tips for a healthy pregnancy and baby

Some useful tips for you, who are now at the end of pregnancy:

  • avoid spicy foods, especially in the evening, to reduce indigestion and heartburn, which will help you sleep better 
  • install a booster seat for your newborn in your kitchen and car as he could be born at any time, in fact no more than 5% of babies are born on the exact due date 
  • eat bland foods, such as plain pasta, chicken soup, and whole-grain crackers , rather than heavy meals, to aid digestion and relieve nausea caused by pregnancy;
  • under the advice of your doctor, do regular prenatal yoga exercises , or do light exercises, such as swimming or taking short walks, in order to manage back and abdominal pain, leg cramps, and discomfort in the pelvic area;
  • Check with your doctor if you’re considering taking natural “measures,” like castor oil, to induce labor at home. They may have unexpected contraindications for pregnancy, or may not have been tested adequately.

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform, Maternicity.com.

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