Week 37 is the start of the “term pregnancy”. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) replaced the term “term pregnancy” in 2013 with 4 labels -“early term”, “full term”, “late term”, and “post term” to stress the importance of a fetus having 39 weeks as much as possible in order to have a healthy start.1
“Term pregnancy” is now more divided into:
- Early Term: Between 37 weeks 0 days and 38 weeks 6 days
- Full Term: Between 39 weeks 0 days and 40 weeks 6 days
- Late Term: Between 41 weeks 0 days and 41 weeks 6 days
- Postterm: Between 42 weeks 0 days and beyond
Statistics show that almost half of all deliveries take place from Week 37 to Week 39. When the baby’s weight goes past the 4.8 lb (2.2 kg) mark, Baby is physically ready to step out into the world. Are you ready to welcome Baby into your life? Let’s take a closer look at Week 37, and what it means to have an early term pregnancy if you go into labor this week.
37 Weeks Pregnant: Lightening – Fetal movement decrease
In Week 37, the fundal height is 32 to 37 cm. The uterus, which was pushing up against the pit of the stomach, now drops down towards the pelvis, and baby’s head now settles into the pelvis. This is called “dropping”, “lightening” or “engagement”. Your baby bump basically seems to have migrated downwards.
When Baby’s head settles into the pelvis, there is less space in the uterus for Baby to move. Fetal movement count might decrease and the overall intensity of the movements might also decrease. However, that said, this differs from individual to individual – some feel aggressive fetal movement all the way until labor. Note that you should feel some movement from time to time, and not feeling any movement at all can be a sign that something is wrong.
37 Weeks Pregnant: Braxton Hicks contractions
Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular contractions of the uterus before labor starts and is not uniform in terms of intensity or frequency. Braxton Hicks contractions are different for everyone – it can range from “nonexistent”, “abdominal tightness”, “menstrual-like cramping” to “sharp lower back pain” for others.
The pain or feeling of tightness in your belly don’t last for a long time, and for some moms it might even disappear in the blink of an eye, so it might be well over even before you starting worrying about it.
However, it would be difficult to ignore true labor contractions. True labor contractions usually take place every 30 minutes at the start and becomes more frequent, occurring about every 15 minutes, then about every 10 minutes. As the intervals between the contractions decrease, the contractions become stronger and you will feel more pain.
It might be especially difficult to differentiate between Braxton Hicks contractions and real labor contractions this week, so take note of your contractions and the time interval between each contraction.
If your contractions show no signs of tapering off, and if your contractions are regular or if the pain is very intense, do not hesitate to call the hospital if you find yourself in need of advice.
Signs of labor: Cervix dilation and effacement
In Week 37 of pregnancy, your practitioner might tell you that your cervix has started to widen (dilate). Towards the end of your pregnancy, your cervix will also ripen and become thinner (efface).
Starting from Week 37 onward, your practitioner will check on the opening of the uterus every time you have a checkup. The cervix, as the opening to the uterus, will soften and expand so that the infant’s head can pass through.
Signs that your uterus has begun to open up include pain in your pelvis and abdominal tightness. However, it might be that you only come to know that your cervix is dilating and effacing when your practitioner tells you that. In Week 37 of pregnancy, most moms have a cervix dilation of 2 cm, and when it dilates to 3 cm, most moms will start to have regular contractions every 10 to 15 minutes.
Signs of labor: Vaginal discharge increase, changes color
When your pregnancy approaches term, the amount of estrogen secreted in your body will increase, and the amount of vaginal discharge increases and also changes in term of its color. There are differences as this boils down to the individual, but you can be on the lookout for changes like:
- Changes in color to a whitish, brownish or yellowish shade
- Discharge becomes watery or more mucus-like
- Vaginal discharge is thick and sticky/becomes like jelly
- Starts to give off a smell
- An increase in the amount of vaginal discharge
When the amount of vaginal discharge increases, the birth canal also softens. This physiological phenomenon helps the baby on its way out while it passes through the birth canal, so there is no need for you to worry about it.
When your vaginal discharge comes out looking thick, is brownish in color or tinged with blood, it is highly possible that you’re actually looking at the bloody show – the mucous plug which is bloody. It is a sign that labor is looming closer. Once signs of the mucus plug or the bloody show appear, you might want to do two things. One, start wearing sanitary napkins. Two, be on the alert for true labor contractions.
37 Weeks Pregnant: Sonogram of fetus in belly
The fetus in the 37th week of pregnancy is 17.8-18.9 in (45 to 48 cm) long and weighs 5.5 to 7.3 lb (2.5 to 3.3 kg). With the internal organs completely formed and with all the breathing exercises done up until now, Baby is all but ready to pop out anytime soon. As the digestive system is now functioning, the waste products or cells that are of no more use to the fetus is stored as dark green meconium (early feces) in the bowels.
The meconium will be passed out after the baby is delivered and the excretory system is activated. The newborn infant brings their hands close to their body, and folds them, bunch their body up into a ball and starts to move and settles in their final birthing position.
- Toenails grow to their “maximum” length – they will not grow anymore up until the delivery
- Circumference of the head, breadth of shoulders and girth measurements are more or less the same
- Meconium accumulates in the bowels
- Number of fetal movements decrease
37 Weeks Pregnant: Edema
As pregnancy approaches its term, the blood in pregnant moms increase by about 3-5 times and as a result, causes edema (swelling) in moms’ bodies. In addition, the growing uterus sits on the pelvis and adds pressure to it, resulting in the poor circulation of the blood flow in the lower half of Mom’s body.
Should you feel that your legs have suddenly become like elephant legs, or if you can’t wear your accessories like rings, or feel that your eyelids have swelled up to the size of sausages, then you might just be suffering from a very serious case of edema.
Edema is partly due to the increase in weight each and every week, but you can try to reduce the severity of it by getting some personalized advice from your practitioner, soaking your legs in a hot tub or avoiding salty foods.
As edema is a symptom of pregnancy, it will go when pregnancy ends and most moms say goodbye to edema after the delivery. Don’t stress over it, do what you can to deal with it and it will end in no time at all!
Weight gain: A difficult labor?
Excepting anomalies in the birth canal, fetus, and the mother’s physical strength to deliver the baby, having a higher body fat percentage and lower muscle mass could spell a hard labor ahead of you.
Moms who have more body percentage fat are not only at risk of getting gestational hypertension or gestational diabetes but also are at risk of experiencing a hard labor because fats accumulate in the birth canal and obstruct the baby while they are on their way out.
Also, when your belly becomes bigger, the body inevitably slows down, and this further decreases muscle movement and lung capacity. This is especially true when pregnancy reaches its term and when you put on weight more easily, you must be more careful about your lifestyle.
Do squats or exercises that help you have an easier labor and aim to have as healthy a lifestyle as possible. Exercise can also help refresh you mentally especially during this period of uncertainty and anticipation even as you await the start of the contractions.
37 Weeks Pregnant: Cesarean section
If you have a breech baby or other health complications, and the doctor advises you against having a vaginal delivery, you might want to start consulting your practitioner and scheduling a date for the Cesarean section.
Once you check on your baby’s health and ensure that Baby is all ready to come into this world, you might want to handpick your baby’s birthday. Although Cesarean sections can be done from Week 37 onward, do remember that the “full term” pregnancy is best for your baby, and each additional day or week in the uterus has its benefits. A cesarean section, like any other surgery, has to be scheduled, so work out your schedule beforehand.
Depending on whether you opt for a classic Cesarean section (long, vertical incision being made in the midline of the abdomen) or a lower segment Cesarean section (LSCS, most commonly used method), the surgery might take about 10 to 15 minutes, and an additional 30 to 45 minutes for the delivery of the placenta and for the doctors to be able to stitch you up.
Do rest well 2 to 3 days before the surgery, and although you might want to get yourself discharged as soon as the doctor gives you the all-clear, you can also opt to stay in the hospital until your dermal sutures are taken out.
37 Weeks Pregnant: Keep calm and carry on
Just one more week and you’re another step closer to the “full term”. Your belly is bigger, you might be feeling the weight of labor and delivery on your shoulders, and you might not be getting the shuteye you need. Soon, you will have a baby in tow wherever you go, so take some time to prepare for life as a parent.
To sum up what you need to focus on in Week 37, practice your breathing exercises to get yourself physically all-pumped-up but mentally calm and prepared at the same time.