Tired of being tired? And of people asking you when you’re going to “pop”? What about all the questions – and inevitable stories – about labor? Everyone has to add their two cents about whether you should go the epidural route and about how long the pain lasts. There’s no sugarcoating it: The ninth month of pregnancy is like the other eight rolled into one. This is when everything hits you like a giant wave: You’re ready for it to be over, but nervous about what’s to come.
Jill Ralston of Chattanooga, Tenn., admits she had a great pregnancy up until the final days before her due date. “I felt like I was the size of an elephant and was so incredibly uncomfortable,” she says. “And this went on for two weeks. I could barely stand due to excruciating back pain, I had swelling in my feet and numbing in my hand. I know it’s a small price to pay for such a sweet ending, but it was really agonizing.”
The home stretch is the most challenging, confirms Joel Kramer, M.D., an ob-gyn at Holy Redeemer Hospital and Medical Center in Meadowbrook, Pa., mainly because of the increase in blood pressure, the increase in water retention and the emotional concerns about labor. He says the top three complaints among new moms tend to be fatigue, back pain and edema (excessive accumulation of fluid). Brette Sember, author of Your Practical Pregnancy Planner and the mom of two, suggests listening to your body and reacting accordingly. “At this point, your body has taken on a life of its own and if you surrender to that, you’ll do better,” she says. Here, experts weigh in on what to expect and how to survive the last trimester of pregnancy:
Sheer exhaustion is usually the biggest obstacle during the last month. It’s also increasingly difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
What helps: Chamomile tea works for expectant mom Donna Marsh of Stratham, N.H. Because the fatigue is especially bad by the end of the day, she also says she makes dinnertime as easy as possible with healthy frozen foods like Amy’s pizza or burritos. Tyeese Gaines Reid, a new mom from Jersey City, N.J., suggests sleeping in a rocking chair away from your hubby. “Sitting upright was the most comfortable way for me to sleep in my ninth month because lying down caused the baby to press against my diaphragm, making it harder to breathe,” she says. Of course, naps help as well, adds Wendy Wilcox, M.D., an ob-gyn at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City and the mom of two. She suggests cutting your fluid intake after 8 p.m. (to avoid nighttime bathroom visits) and avoiding high-fat, high-calorie meals.
Back pain is almost inevitable towards the end of pregnancy (if you haven’t had it earlier). At this point, you’re carrying close to the full 25 to 35 pounds of your pregnancy and your center of gravity is pulled forward.
What helps: Prop up your knees on pillows as you sit on the couch or your bed. This will help to relieve some tension on the lumbar vertebrae, according to Lisa Johnson, a Massachusetts-based master Pilates instructor. To get a little stretch, sit with your bum against a wall, feet open and in front of you, legs straight. Inhale to prepare for movement, and on the exhale press your back into the wall and feel each vertebrae touch the wall. This will get you a little abdominal work as well, but very gentle. Another biggie is the cat stretch–basically a long arch where you place yourself on your hands and knees and drop your tailbone down to the floor. Then pull your abs up and pull your spine into an arch sequentially from the bottom (your bum) to the top. You will finish with the top of your head pointing down toward the floor. This should feel really good and relaxing. Joel M. Evans, M.D., founder and director of the Center for Women’s Health in Darien, Conn., and the author of The Whole Pregnancy Handbook, likes the homeopathic approach. He suggests rubbing tiger balm or white flower analgesic balm over the painful area (available at health food stores). And if your mother didn’t already tell you, don’t lift heavy objects and wear low-heeled, “sensible” shoes (Tyeese Gaines Reid says she found the “trendiest” Hush Puppies loafers).
Indigestion and heartburn are aggravated by the uterus pressing against the stomach. These symptoms generally subside once the baby drops into the pelvis, though this puts more pressure on the bladder—meaning more trips to the ladies’ room. Constipation can also occur due to the pressure of the uterus on your rectum, which slows the movement of food through the digestive tract.
What helps: Eat several small meals instead of two or three large ones. Wait an hour before lying down. Drink lots of water and eat high fiber foods.
Thanks to hormone fluctuations, you’re going to be emotional and you’re supposed to be, so go easy on yourself and be more forgiving of your mood swings (and if your husband doesn’t believe you, make sure he reads this paragraph!). You’re going through a huge change in your life and you need time to adjust to it. It’s OK to be upset or scared or excited or to overreact to small things.
What helps: Just accept that it’s a normal part of pregnancy. Do what you can to pamper yourself, rest and take it easy. Many women find that projects–like cleaning the closets, decorating the nursery, knitting or scrapbooking–help keep their minds off the pain. To reduce panic about labor, it’s helpful to read books about what to expect. You should also be enrolled in a childbirth education class; the teacher is usually an experienced labor nurse who can talk with you one on one about your fears. It can also help to locate a doula and at least meet with her to see if she might be helpful to you. A doula helps you through labor, along with your medical care provider. Meditation can also be a powerful tool to find your inner strength and reassure yourself about your abilities, says author Brette Sember. Chattanooga mom Jill Ralston says what worked for her was just keeping her eye on the prize. The discomfort, nervousness and worry about the “unknown” all dissipated the moment she gave birth to her son, Brady Jack, this past August. “All the pain and panic was worth it,” she says.
Some ankle puffiness is normal, but prolonged standing will make it worse.
What helps: Lying down for at least 30 to 60 minutes and resting on your left side is the best remedy, says Dr. Wilcox. (The left side is usually recommended as it increases blood flow to the heart, thereby increasing blood flow to the baby.) You should also elevate your legs as much as possible—ideally with a pillow under your feet. Drink plenty of water (it removes excess salt from your body) and eat less sodium. You can also try pregnancy support hose (found at maternity stores).
Another reason you feel so tired—it takes more effort to breathe! Ninth-month breathlessness is often caused by the enlarged uterus pressing against the diaphragm and crowding the lungs, as well as simply the physical exertion of carrying the weight of the baby.
What helps: Try to sit up straight during waking hours and sleep with your head on two pillows. Breathlessness often improves once the baby’s head drops into the birth canal, about two to three weeks before delivery, leaving more room for the diaphragm.