39th – Thirty-ninth week of pregnancy

39 week of pregnancy

The pregnancy is considered “full term” once it reaches the 39th week, meaning that the baby can now be born at any time .

According to a study by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, babies born between the thirty-ninth week and the fortieth week are much less likely to develop certain problems, both respiratory, as regards temperature control and nutrition, and concerning other possible complications such as cerebral palsy and sepsis (blood poisoning) .

The development of the fetus at the 39th week of pregnancy

Brain development

The fetal brain continues to develop rapidly, and is already 30% larger than it was four weeks ago .

His brain development will continue at the same pace until he is around 3 years of age.

The development of fat and skin

The development of the fat layer is in its final stage: a thick deposit of subcutaneous fat around blood vessels, which gives your baby a smoother, plumper appearance.

Skin pigmentation is forming, the color will become definitive during the first years of life .

Around this time, new skin cells begin to form, so your old layer of skin will be replaced by a new layer that is developing underneath.

The development of internal organs

His endocrine system, responsible for the production of hormones, is already preparing for the birth. In fact, the transition from intrauterine to extrauterine life that occurs during childbirth imposes complex adaptations on the child, which include the transition to autonomous breathing and circulation. Among the main regulatory hormones that are produced to deal with the transition is cortisol, known as the “stress hormone”. Starting from the thirtieth week, cortisol levels in the child increase progressively and reach a peak right after birth (about 200 ug/mL).

These hormones also help manage the functioning of the baby’s internal organs and systems after birth, when the placenta and maternal circulation will no longer be present .

Like the brain and nervous system, the lungs of the fetus also continue to develop until the day of birth.

In the last few weeks, the lungs produce surfactant, the chemical that helps keep the baby’s air sacs from collapsing when they first breathe.

In fact, the lungs are usually mature enough at this stage for your baby, should it be born this week, to breathe on its own without outside assistance .

The development of the immune system

The placenta continues to supply the fetus with antibodies and nutrients to prepare it to fight disease and infection outside the uterus . Once born, the baby may continue to receive antibodies from the mother’s milk.

How big is the fetus

At the thirty-ninth week it is about 50 centimeters long. It has therefore already reached the average length of a newborn . It is now the size of a small watermelon, and weighs about 3.30 kilograms .

The fetal position – the breech baby

Now, your baby’s head is probably level with your pelvis, ready to deliver; but it’s also common for some babies to position themselves there, only once labor has begun.

After the thirty-seventh week of pregnancy , the fetus begins to descend into your pelvis, placing itself in the correct position to be born, i.e. head down.

His body could be straight, in a “longitudinal” position, or in an “oblique” position, with a certain angle .

In the event that the fetus continues to remain in the breech (feet down) or transverse (lying sideways) position, the doctor may recommend the external cephalic version (VCE) to turn it by applying pressure to specific areas of your abdomen.

If VCE is unsuccessful, a caesarean section may be scheduled for this week, as breech delivery is associated with risks of life-threatening complications for the baby.

The woman in the 39th week

Your weight gain slows or stops in recent weeks , precisely because your baby has already reached average birth weight, and now takes up more volume of the amniotic fluid in the uterus.

Your baby, who is descending into the abdomen and pelvis, may cause your bump to sag a little too far .

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the baby will be born right away, as most babies position themselves in the weeks before labor begins, especially in early pregnancies.

The baby descending into the abdomen leaves more room for the stomach, diaphragm and lungs to expand, which may relieve some symptoms, such as heartburn , indigestion, chest pain and shortness of breath.

The tests in the 39th week of pregnancy

As with any prenatal visit, your doctor will check your blood pressure this week in order to assess the possibility of developing hypertension or preeclampsia during the last phase of the third trimester , or before delivery .

Other routine checkups include measuring the fundus and checking the fetal heartbeat to ensure that it is in good health.

Your doctor will also likely check your cervix to see if it has begun to soften, dilate, and efface in preparation for delivery .

The doctor may ask for a fetal biophysical profile if the baby’s movements were decreased during kick counts, or if there were other possible complications, such as a decreased amniotic fluid level or placental irregularities .

This exam includes checking the fetal heartbeat and performing an ultrasound. A normal ultrasound done in the 39th week will show the fetus almost exactly as it will look on the day of delivery, with matted hair and plump cheeks.

Signs and symptoms in the thirty-ninth week

Symptoms you may have this week:

  • pelvic pain;
  • Braxton Hicks contractions leg cramps;
  • feeling of pressure and occasional sharp and brief pain in the pelvis or lower abdomen;
  • edema or swelling of the extremities;
  • restless legs syndrome and insomnia;
  • pain in the round ligament of the uterus;
  • joint and back pain;
  • headache and hot flashes or chills;
  • sore throat with runny nose and occasional nosebleeds;
  • Fatigue & Lightheadedness 
  • stretch marks, especially around the belly and thighs;
  • itchy skin, usually around the belly and breasts;
  • varicose veins and hemorrhoids;
  • constipation or diarrhea/frequent bowel movements;
  • depression and mood swings;
  • frequent urinations (as the bladder is now under more pressure, due to the baby descending into the pelvis) 
  • Colostrum discharge from the breast – the first milk for your baby, fortified with nutrients and antibodies .

The signs of labor

As already stated, at thirty-nine weeks the pregnancy is considered “full term”, which means that labor can begin at any time. The first signs of labor consist of:

  • more than 5 contractions in an hour, which do not disappear when you change position, each contraction lasting 30 to 70 seconds 
  • vaginal bleeding;
  • changes in vaginal secretions;
  • brown, pinkish, or bloody mucous discharge (mucous plug loss) 
  • copious watery secretions (leakage of amniotic fluid), indicating water breakage;
  • throbbing lower back pain and menstrual-like cramps 
  • nausea and diarrhea.

Induction to labor in the 39th week

Doctors generally prefer to let the baby complete the 40 weeks inside the uterus, so that its organs and systems can mature as much as possible before it is born.

However, there are many circumstances that could lead your doctor to induce labor sooner.

Some of the reasons that could induce labor come, for example, from the existence of a complication such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes , or from the development of infectious conditions that could be harmful to the baby .

Other causes could depend on too little amniotic fluid, the breaking of the water long before the start of labor, other problems such as kidney stones.

Natural ways to induce labor

Castor oil, raspberry leaf tea , evening primrose oil, and balsamic vinegar are some of the best-known natural remedies for their ability to induce labor.

Even pineapple, eggplant, and spicy foods are believed by some to anticipate contractions and labor .

However, there is no scientific evidence regarding their efficacy and safety, therefore, before considering these remedies, it is always good to consult your doctor.

When to call the doctor

Contact your doctor in the following cases:

  • if you notice reduced fetal movement 
  • if you have any of the signs of labor described above;
  • sudden vision changes, extreme fatigue and dizziness accompanied by persistent headaches, upper abdominal pain, sudden swelling of the face and hands, shortness of breath, sudden weight gain, nausea and vomiting (could indicate hypertension or preeclampsia) 
  • burning sensation when urinating and dark/cloudy urine together with pain in the lower back (around the kidneys), thick white or gelatinous and greenish/yellowish discharge, pain during intercourse, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (may indicate a kidney infection, urinary tract infection , or thrush 
  • extreme thirst, dry mouth and nausea with tiredness, increased urgency to urinate, decreased volume of urine passed (may indicate gestational diabetes )
  • swelling on one side, or one hand or foot more swollen than the other (could indicate a disorder in blood clotting).

Some useful tips for a healthy birth and baby

Some useful tips also for the pregnancy that is about to end:

  • do prenatal yoga exercises or follow a light exercise routine as advised by your healthcare professional, such as taking short walks or swimming, as it helps manage many of the pains of pregnancy
  • follow a healthy diet and take any supplements prescribed by your doctor, in order to get the adequate amount of vitamin D, especially if you will breastfeed the baby, because this is one of the nutrients that is lacking in breast milk (the baby will need about 400 IU , international units, of vitamin D per day); another essential nutrient in this phase is calcium, the recommended intake of which is 1000 mg per day 
  • take all the time you need to relax and sleep, as waiting for labor could make you nervous and agitated; take a warm bath, read a book or listen to relaxing music 
  • some twin pregnancies, instead of ending at the thirty-seventh / thirty-eighth , continue until the thirty-ninth week: it is therefore advisable to consult the doctor about the possibility of an induction to labor, if the pregnancy continues until after the thirty-eighth week , as carrying the twins in the womb longer could cause complications.

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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