Understanding Changes that Occur During the Third Trimester

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The third trimester of a pregnancy encompasses the period of time from Week 28 until the day the baby is delivered.  The full term for a pregnancy is 40 weeks.  You should expect that some of the symptoms that you have experienced up until now will continue, and that there may be some new ones heading your way.  You should also expect that the frequency of your doctor visits will increase as you get closer to your delivery date.  The fetus will continue to change and grow as the third trimester progresses, as will your body.

At this stage of the pregnancy, the fetus has developed to a point where it is able to both see and hear, and it is able to cry.  You may even be able to see ultrasound images that will depict the baby sucking its thumb!  The internal systems and organs continue to develop and grow.  The development of the brain, kidneys, and lungs has progressed significantly, however, the full maturation of the lungs does not occur prior to the 38th week.  As you approach the final weeks of your pregnancy, the positioning of the baby in the uterus will start to shift, with the head facing downwards to better assist with delivery.

Possible Third Trimester Symptoms:

•    The mother should find that the frequency of her bathroom visits has increased!  As the uterus grows, the pressure on the bladder is increased.  The increased pressure essentially shrinks the size of the bladder, resulting in increased need for urination.

•    It was noted above that the growing fetus and abdomen can put pressure on the bladder.  This growth can also result in the application of pressure on the primary vein that carries blood from the heart.  When this occurs, the mother will experience drops in her blood pressure.

•    The mother may feel an increase in body temperature.  This is a result of the production and radiation of heat by the fetus, which effectively increases the skin temperature of the mother.

•    Another common symptom of the third trimester of a pregnancy is general swelling of the face, hands, and ankles.

•    The mother should prepare herself for the experiences of heartburn, indigestion, and constipation, as all of these are possible symptoms for the third trimester.

•    The development of stretch marks is quite common during the third trimester, in particular if they have not been noted previously.  The most common areas where stretch marks develop are on the abdomen, the upper arms, on the breasts, and on the buttocks.

•    One of the most common symptoms experienced by pregnant women as they move into their third trimester is back pain, which often radiates from the lower back.

•    Many expectant mothers will periodically experience false labor during the third trimester of their pregnancy, which is a simple byproduct of the woman’s body trying to prepare itself for the upcoming demands of labor and delivery.

•    Another common pregnancy symptom during the third trimester is the production of a fluid called Colostrum, which will develop in the breasts and leak from the nipples.  This fluid is nutrient rich and will help to establish and fortify the immune system of the baby as it drinks its mother’s milk.  It is suggested that the woman wear padded bras, which will serve to help soak up the leaking colostrum.

As the pregnancy progresses into and through the third trimester, the mother will tend to become preoccupied with consideration of the issues of labor, childbirth, breastfeeding, and other related topics.  

This presents itself as a perfect time to consider attending childbirth classes, which will help inform you about the steps of pregnancy planning that are required for the remaining weeks of your pregnancy.  These classes also represent a good time for the mother to be able to address any worries or concerns that she may have regarding the maternal tasks on the horizon.

Prenatal Checkups:

•    Childbirth classes are not the only resource available for a pregnant woman to voice their concerns or worries.  Your obstetrician may be the best resource for questions of this nature, as he is most familiar with what you have been personally experiencing.  You should expect that the frequency of your required doctor visits will increase markedly during the third trimester.  Starting after week 29, your obstetrician will ask that your prenatal checkups occur every two weeks, with the frequency advancing to every week after week 36.

•    It should be expected that the obstetrician will be tracking fetal heartbeat, development, grown, and positioning during the doctor visits.  Your health care provider should also be taking measurements to examine the height of the fetus.  The mother should also expect that the doctor will be reading her blood pressure, and tracking both her weight and her temperature.  A urine test should be expected, as the obstetrician needs to test for the presence of albumin, which is a protein, as well as testing for the presence of sugar.  The presence of sugar in the urine could be an indicator of a condition called hyperglycemia, and the presence of albumin might suggest preeclampsia or toxemia.  

•    Doctor visits should be an opportunity for the mother, and/or her partner, to get some peace of mind or to have questions answered.  They will also serve to help ensure that the third trimester of the pregnancy is healthy, and increase the odds that your labor and delivery will hopefully be problem free.

The visits to the obstetrician will not only ensure a healthy third trimester pregnancy, but will also calm any fears that you or your partner might be carrying.


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By Jack Rambadt of Expecting Parents Alliance of America

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