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The final days of pregnancy can be a challenge, but they are also filled with joy, hope, and awe at how far you and your baby have come on this journey together. It’s hard to believe, but I’ve reached the last few weeks of my own pregnancy, so I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on this ephemeral time. In this week’s blog, we’ll talk about some of the ways to make the most of the final days and weeks before you welcome your baby earthside.

The end of pregnancy is truly one of my favorite seasons of life. Both times that I’ve reached this point have been full of excitement, rest, and preparation. These final days, however, also come with aches, pains, and exhaustion. We’ll start by discussing some discomforts you may be feeling and some potential sources of relief.

It is very common to notice an increase in Braxton Hicks contractions and cramping towards the end of pregnancy. While this shouldn’t be painful, the sudden tightening around your bump can be jarring and uncomfortable. Often, changing positions can help. If you’ve been standing for a long period of time, try sitting down, and vice versa. Dehydration can amplify Braxton Hicks and uterine cramping, so try drinking a glass of water too. True labor contractions will get stronger, longer, and closer together. If changing positions or drinking some fluid curbed your cramps, it’s not go time yet. Rather, your uterus is practicing and preparing for the big day.

Your digestive system may begin to revolt toward the end of pregnancy. Acid reflux and nausea can be vicious. Avoiding spicy or greasy foods, drinking plenty of water, and eating small frequent meals may provide some relief. It’s also generally safe to take calcium-carbonate antacids, like Tums. If you’re having a tough time at night, try giving yourself a few hours between eating and lying down in bed. It may also be beneficial to sleep with an extra pillow or two so that you’re propped up a bit. Increased blood flow to your pelvic region and extra pressure from your growing uterus and baby can cause hemorrhoids in the third trimester. Avoiding constipation is critical to treating hemorrhoids – so stay hydrated and eat foods rich in fiber. A magnesium supplement, like Natural Calm, might also help. In addition, I highly recommend witch hazel! This natural astringent is soothing on a sore bottom and reduces swelling to provide relief from pain and itching. Luckily, hemorrhoids usually go away after birth.

Chances are you’re experiencing some back pain, pelvic pain, and/or headaches in these final weeks. Using hot or cold therapy can be really beneficial. Try using a rice sock, heating pad, ice pack, or cold compress where you’re feeling the most discomfort. It may also help to soak in a warm bath, take a shower, or do some gentle stretches at the end of the day. Pregnancy support belts work well for some people, and they may be covered by your insurance. Others find relief by using massage, acupressure, or chiropractic care. It’s also a great time to get your partner working on their counter pressure technique! Hip squeezes and sacral pressure often feel amazing in these final days.

What’s worse: first trimester exhaustion or third trimester exhaustion? They’re both really tough! Many pregnant people experience insomnia toward the end of pregnancy as well as several wakings each night thanks to the increased pressure on their bladders. It feels cruel that just before you’re about to have a newborn keeping you up, your own body does the same. Do your best to get as much sleep as possible, even if that means bowing out of social activities or going to bed at 9pm. There have been many days recently when I come home from work and promptly take a nap on the couch, and that’s okay. Go with what your body is telling you it needs. Take all the naps, go to bed early, sleep in late. Take whatever rest you can get.

Try to go on a walk or do something to move your body in a way that feels good each day. Staying active can help with any physical discomfort you’re experiencing, keep your digestive system on track, improve your sleep, and reduce fatigue. As a bonus, it helps prepare your body for giving birth and boosts your mood. I know this can be a tough recommendation to follow. It’s hard to feel motivated to get active when all you want to do is lay down, but it really will help with just about everything at the end of pregnancy.

And finally, the comments from friends, family, even strangers can be draining. People seem to think it’s completely appropriate to probe about your due date, whether or not you’re having twins and if you’re sure it’s just one baby, how much bigger you might get, and if you should really be doing that (whether it’s lifting a box of pillows or giving birth birth outside the hospital). They also love to hit you with the just you waits, which unfortunately plague many people well into early parenting and beyond. Do your best to ignore any unwelcome insights and questions from the people around you. Remember, this is your body and your baby. Your experience is completely unique to you, and you are making the best decisions for your family.

Now for the good stuff! Take time to be alone as well as with your family and loved ones. One of my favorite things to do at the end of pregnancy is to throw on a long podcast and walk around my neighborhood. I’ll often make a destination out of a local bakery or ice cream shop and treat myself to something yummy as an incentive. I also really enjoy the process of lovingly preparing my body and mind to give birth. I’ve been brewing big batches of red raspberry leaf tea, bouncing on my birth ball, and nesting up a storm. This is a great time to read birth stories and affirmations. Whatever feels right for you, savor some alone time and embrace who you are in this moment.

In my last pregnancy, my husband and I took every opportunity to enjoy our time together before becoming parents. We went on dates, spent time with friends, and lounged liberally on weekend mornings. This pregnancy, I’ve been savoring time with my husband and daughter before we become a family of four. We’ve been going on special outings, spending time with our loved ones, and snuggling as much as possible. We also had photos taken, and I am so glad to have our current family and my big belly captured on film. Spending time doing things you enjoy with your partner, friends, and family is important in these final weeks before a new little person takes center stage.

It is likely that you will be pregnant past your due date, particularly for people who are giving birth for the first time. I strongly encourage you to celebrate reaching 40 completed weeks of pregnancy. You’ve been thinking about this day for the better part of a year, so plan a special activity to commemorate reaching this milestone. Stay in a hotel overnight or go out for a fancy dinner. Do something to revel in all the work you have done and the joyful knowledge that you will be meeting your baby soon.

Taking advantage of the final days of pregnancy to prepare for your postpartum is another great way to joyfully pass time while you anticipate your upcoming birth. Make some meals and freeze them, stock up on pantry essentials, and make sure you have plenty of snacks that will be easy to eat with one hand while your other is holding/nursing your baby. Create cozy spaces in your home that you can settle into in the early days postpartum. Think lots of pillows, blankets, an end table, and a lamp within arm’s reach. You can also make padsicles to have on hand for your postpartum recovery using menstrual pads, witch hazel, and/or aloe vera. These will really help to soothe your bottom after giving birth.

There’s a passage I love from the The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother by Heng Ou that describes the end of pregnancy as The Gathering:

“Nearly ten months have passed, and you stand before your future, belly swollen with a life you have yet to know. Baby will be here soon. As you prepare your home for your little one, a flurry of anticipation moves through you. Your life is about to change forever and you can feel it. But don’t lose yourself in the process. Tending to yourself in these final weeks prepartum is essential for your long-term health and vitality – and for baby’s well-being too.

The Gathering phase is an opportunity to build the nest that will carry you through your first forty days of motherhood. You gather your resources, fill your larder, and create a landing pad that is safe, warm, and welcoming for your baby’s arrival, and that will hold you securely as well. 

It is also a time to slow down and start to turn your focus inward. Your first tender weeks of mothering will require surrender, release, and tuning into your needs. Start to hone that listening now, and your instincts will be sharp by the time your child arrives.”

For many people, the final days of pregnancy live vividly in their memories. You and your baby are the closest you will ever be. Relish the whoosh of those big baby movements. Enjoy your beautiful bump. Appreciate how powerful and strong you are.

Author Mary Badame is the Quality Assurance Manager at Fika Midwifery and is a passionate advocate for midwife-led care, increased birth options, and better reproductive healthcare for everyone.