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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Third Trimester of Pregnancy
      Category : Health Centers > Pregnancy and Childbirth

Third Trimester of Pregnancy

Alternate Names : Late Prenatal Period

Pregnancy is the process of childbearing. Measured from the start of a woman's last normal menstrual period or LMP, it usually lasts about 40 weeks or roughly 9 calendar months.

The third trimester of pregnancy generally spans weeks 28 through 40, though healthy babies may be born a bit sooner or later. Although most women undergo many of the same physical changes during this time, no two pregnancies are alike.

What is the information for this topic?

During the third trimester, continuing growth and development in mother and fetus cause many changes to occur.

Women may notice:

  • movements of the fetus can be felt more strongly
  • abdominal pain that may or may not be true labor pains
  • shortness of breath because the uterus is pushing against the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a flat, strong muscle that aids in breathing. Towards the end of the third trimester, the baby may drop down into a lower position. This will make it easier for the mother to breathe.
  • a need to urinate more often when the baby drops down into a lower position in the pelvis
  • yellow, watery fluid leaking from her nipples, known as colustrum
  • her navel sticking out
  • As the body readies for birth, a woman's cervix begins to thin out and open.

    During the third trimester, certain discomforts and mood changes may occur:

  • fatigue or extra energy, or alternate periods of both
  • increasingly heavy white vaginal discharge
  • more mild lower abdominal pains with uterine tightening and then relaxing
  • more or less of an appetite
  • constipation, heartburn and indigestion due to gastroesophageal reflux, gas, and bloating
  • headaches, dizziness, or faintness
  • more trouble sleeping
  • itchy abdomen
  • varicose veins
  • swelling of the legs, feet, and hands
  • increasing clumsiness as shape and balance changes
  • anxiety, impatience, and restlessness
  • irritability and unusual sensitivity
  • In the fetus:

  • as the fetus gets bigger, it has less room to kick and stretch, so the movements felt by the mother may decrease
  • fine body hair disappears
  • most bones harden, but bones of the head stay soft and flexible for birth
  • as the time for birth approaches, the fetus usually moves down into the pelvis and settles into a good position
  • At 40 weeks, the fetus is considered full term. It is about 20 inches long and weighs 6 to 9 pounds.

    The most common health risks and concerns in the third trimester of pregnancy are:

  • premature labor beginning before the 37th week of pregnancy. If the labor cannot be stopped, the baby may be born too early. This can cause many problems with the baby's health and development.
  • vaginal bleeding
  • changes in fetal movements
  • rupture of the sac, or membranes, that surround the fetus
  • false labor
  • During the third trimester of pregnancy, monitoring is more frequent. In the seventh and eighth months, it may include:

  • mother's weight and blood pressure
  • urine test for sugar and protein
  • fetal heartbeat
  • height of the uterus
  • size and position of the fetus
  • Any worrisome symptoms or concerns should be reported to the healthcare provider. After the 32nd week, the healthcare provider may suggest monitoring every two weeks.

    Monitoring occurs weekly after about the 36th week as the ninth month begins. It may include all of the above as well as examination of the cervix and discussion about the signs and symptoms of labor.

    Author: Dr. Karen Wolfe, MBBS, MA
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 05/07/01

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