Third trimester pregnancy: What to expect

The third trimester of pregnancy can be tiring and uncomfortable. Here's help relieving symptoms — and anxiety — as your due date approaches. By Mayo Clinic Staff

The third trimester of pregnancy can be physically and emotionally challenging. Your baby's size and position might make it hard for you to get comfortable. You might be tired of pregnancy and eager to move on to the next stage. If you've been gearing up for your due date, you might be disappointed if it comes and goes uneventfully.

Try to remain positive as you look forward to the end of your pregnancy. Soon you'll hold your baby in your arms! Here's what to expect in the meantime.

Third trimester pregnancy: Your body

As your baby grows, his or her movements will become more obvious. These exciting sensations are often accompanied by increasing discomfort and other third trimester pregnancy symptoms.

Continued breast growth
By now, you might have an additional 2 pounds (nearly 1 kilogram) of breast tissue. As delivery approaches, your nipples could start leaking colostrum — the yellowish fluid that will nourish your baby during the first few days of life.

Weight gain
By your due date, expect to weigh 25 to 35 pounds (about 11 to 16 kilograms) more than you did before pregnancy. Your baby accounts for some of the weight gain, but so do the placenta, amniotic fluid, larger breasts and uterus, extra fat stores, and increased blood and fluid volume.

Braxton Hicks contractions
These contractions are warm-ups for the real thing. They're usually weak and come and go unpredictably. True labor contractions get longer, stronger and closer together. If you're having contractions that are painful or regular, contact your health care provider.

Backaches
As your baby continues to gain weight, pregnancy hormones relax the joints between the bones in your pelvic area. These changes can be tough on your back.

When you sit, choose chairs with good back support. Apply a heating pad or ice pack to the painful area. Ask your partner for a massage. Wear low-heeled — but not flat — shoes with good arch support. If the back pain doesn't go away or is accompanied by other signs and symptoms, contact your health care provider.

Shortness of breath
You might get winded easily as your uterus expands beneath your diaphragm, the muscle just below your lungs. This might improve when the baby settles deeper into your pelvis before delivery. In the meantime, practice good posture and sleep with your upper body propped up on pillows to relieve pressure on your lungs.

Heartburn
During the third trimester, your growing uterus might push your stomach out of its normal position — which can contribute to heartburn. To keep stomach acid where it belongs, eat small meals and drink plenty of fluids between meals. Avoid fried foods, carbonated drinks, citrus fruits or juices, and spicy foods. If these tips don't help, ask your health care provider about antacids.

Swelling
As your growing uterus puts pressure on the veins that return blood from your feet and legs, swollen feet and ankles might become an issue. At the same time, swelling in your legs, arms or hands can place pressure on nerves, causing tingling or numbness. Fluid retention and dilated blood vessels might leave your face and eyelids puffy, especially in the morning. If you have persistent face or eyelid swelling, contact your health care provider.

To reduce swelling, lie down or use a footrest. You might even elevate your feet and legs while you sleep. It can also help to swim or simply stand in a pool.

Spider veins, varicose veins and hemorrhoids
Increased blood circulation might cause tiny red veins, known as spider veins, to appear on your skin. Blue or reddish lines beneath the surface of the skin (varicose veins) also might appear, particularly in the legs. Varicose veins in your rectum (hemorrhoids) are another possibility.

If you have painful varicose veins, elevate your legs and wear support stockings. To prevent hemorrhoids, avoid constipation. Include plenty of fiber in your diet and drink lots of fluids.

Frequent urination
As your baby moves deeper into your pelvis, you'll feel more pressure on your bladder. You might find yourself urinating more often, even during the night. This extra pressure might also cause you to leak urine — especially when you laugh, cough or sneeze. If you're worried about leaking urine, panty liners can offer a sense of security.

Continue to watch for signs of a urinary tract infection, such as urinating even more than usual, burning during urination, fever, abdominal pain or backache. Left untreated, urinary infections increase the risk of pregnancy complications.

Vaginal discharge
Potentially heavy vaginal discharge is common at the end of pregnancy. If you saturate a panty liner within a few hours or wonder if the discharge is leaking amniotic fluid, contact your health care provider.

Dec. 04, 2012 See more In-depth