The last trimester of pregnancy is full of contrasts: You’re revved up for the homestretch, but you’re tired. You’re thirsty, but you often have to go to the bathroom. Treating your body and mind to the right kind of care is essential. Here’s how your body changes, and how best to take care of yourself.
Not only are you lugging around an extra 20 to 30 pounds (or more), your expanding uterus has rearranged other organs in your body, adding even more strain. You’ll likely have to slow down a little in the third trimester, but you also want to keep your energy up. So:
- Do small amounts of exercise. A walk around the block will do the trick. Swimming and prenatal yoga are good options too, but make sure you listen to your body. If you’re tiring sooner, slow down. And if the thought of even rising from an armchair seems like a workout, just stay put.
- Take short breaks at work. Put your feet up. If possible, take a few minutes to close your eyes.
- Eat small, frequent meals and snacks.You need a healthy mix of protein and complex carbs. Walnuts and dried fruit are a great snack to keep stashed in your purse or desk.
- If your energy level feels really low, check with your doctor. You might be suffering from anemia, which an iron supplement can fix.
An expanding belly can throw off your posture, and the hormone relaxin, which loosens your joints in anticipation of delivery, exacerbates the stress on your body. You can do several things to fool gravity and ease your aches:
- Do pelvic tilts. Rock your pelvis back and forth while kneeling on all fours and keeping your back straight.
- Try an under-the-belly support garment, such as the Bellybra, and maternity pantyhose.
- When you sleep, support your back and abdomen with extra padding underneath your back. If you sleep on your side, wedge a pillow between your legs to create equilibrium for your hips. A maternity pillow might not be a bad investment, especially if you have an older mattress.
- Visit a chiropractor for a prenatal treatment or a spa for a prenatal massage.
- Ask for help. If someone offers to lift something for you, say yes!
Your uterus puts pressure on your bladder most heavily in the third trimester, so you’ll probably have to go to the bathroom more than you ever did before. What’s even more annoying is that you might have sudden, uncontrollable urges to urinate, called urge incontinence. More than 40 percent of first-time moms experience it. Try to urinate on a schedule, such as every hour or two, so that you go before you feel an overwhelming need. After a week or so, gradually extend the time between bathroom visits until you’re urinating every three hours or you reach the goal set by you and your doctor. It’s also important to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day to stay properly hydrated and to eat plenty of high-fiber foods to prevent constipation. Avoid caffeine; it’s a diuretic that can make urge incontinence worse.
Nearly half of all moms-to-be will be plagued by heartburn. Thanks to all the hormones circulating through your body during pregnancy, the muscle at the top of your stomach—the one that usually prevents digestive acids from splashing into the esophagus—relaxes, allowing those harsh juices to shoot back up. What’s more, by now your uterus has taken up most of your abdominal cavity, pushing your stomach up toward your throat, which makes the burn more noticeable. How can you get relief? Try to:
- Steer clear of classic heartburn triggers, like highly seasoned, spicy or acidic foods; greasy, fried or fatty foods; and caffeine. Other possible culprits include fizzy drinks, citrus and some dairy foods, such as milk or ice cream.
- Trade in your three square meals for six easier-to-digest mini ones. Eat them sitting upright, and avoid eating too close to bedtime or lying down right eating.
- Ask your doctor first, but it’s usually fine to take over-the-counter remedies like Tums, Rolaids, Mylanta, Maalox and Zantac.
Edema, the technical name for swollen feet, ankles and legs, is caused by fluid retention in the lower half of the body. Varicose veins occur when valves inside blood vessels in the legs become soft or weak, which allows the blood to flow backward, pool and form painful bulges. Although the swelling should subside, some varicose veins are there to stay. Surgery is one way to remove them, but it’s costly. To ease the discomfort of both edema and varicose veins:
- Put your feet up often, switch standing and sitting positions frequently, and never cross your legs. Lie down whenever possible, preferably on your side.
- Wear support hose, which may help soothe the aches and diminish the appearance of varicose veins. Avoid wearing anything that reduces circulation, like knee-high stockings.
- Don’t limit fluids to try to minimize puffiness. Your body will respond by hanging on to liquids even more.
- Soak in the tub. Studies show that the pressure of even a foot of water reduces discomfort.
By month eight or nine, you’ll probably feel Braxton-Hicks contractions. They are among the “fun” third trimester symptoms that prep your body for labor and can startle you into thinking birth is imminent. How do you distinguish them from labor? False contractions tend to be felt in the front of the abdomen; real ones start in the back and come around to the front, sometimes moving from top to bottom. Real contractions may also intensify if you shift your position, so try moving around to determine whether it’s time to go the hospital. Still not sure if it’s the real thing? Call your doctor.
Many moms-to-be report bizarre dreams, from giving birth to puppies to losing their baby in childbirth. You remember dreams better during your third trimester because you’re waking up frequently at night to use the bathroom or because the baby’s kicking. The most common dreams moms report revolve around:
- Fear of losing the baby
- Labor pain
- Not being a good mother
- Loss of control
While some night visions may seem particularly disturbing, they’re normal. Dreams may be an outlet for your feelings of anxiety. Try not to become too stressed by these strange new emotions, and discuss them with your partner or a close friend.