For most women, this is the month in which playing host to the baby within becomes absolutely impossible to put in the background. The room demanded by the baby, and the weightiness of the baby's body and the system supporting it, bring a whole range of new feelings, including the moods we'll describe in a moment.
This Month For Your Baby
In the eighth month, your baby gains at least two pounds, mostly in the protective padding of fat we mentioned last month. This, in fact, is the month when he or she may become very chubby if you are seriously overeating. Don't let that make you diet, but do give protein and vitamins the upper hand over calories.
Acrobatics are out of the question now for your baby. Things are so snug in your womb that he or she can only turn from side to side. No more somersaults.
Because your baby's head is the heaviest part of his or her body, and because it is the best match between the baby's body and the shape of your lower uterus, your baby is likely to settle into the usual head-down position for birth. This is a big change for the baby, and his or her patterns of activity may very well be different. Activity may slow down a lot, but because of the cramped quarters, you'll probably be very aware of your baby's movements.
Remember to drink plenty of water during the day.
The Squeeze . . .
At about 34 weeks your baby enters her or his most heavyweight growth period, gaining a good half-pound a week. The above illustrations show how much your intestines are being squeezed inside your abdominal cavity (or what's left of it). It's understandably normal to experience short ness of breath, partially from this big squeeze and partially from hauling the added weight around. As the stomach is pressed up against your solar plexus it can make you feel a little nervous all the time as well. Deep breathing (within your new limits) can be helpful at this time, and frequent and small meals will make you feel more comfortable than a few big ones. But the main thing is just to understand that the discomfort and slight nervousness are both normal.
. . . And Late Month Moods
While the mood swings produced by the hormonal shifts of early pregnancy are something you've outdistanced by now, the "squeeze" we've just mentioned and the weight of late-month pregnancy on your body and psyche can produce new swings in your feelings. So don't be surprised by any dark moods that surface, and try not to take them to heart. Remember, just the pressure on your solar plexus (the physical center of feelings in your body) is enough to throw you off sometimes or make you feel a slight fear of you-don't-know-what. This is not a fear of having a baby. It's just a physical feeling produced by physical pressure. Remember, too, that eating sugar, honey, white flour or large amounts of fruit can fuel your emotions. If you find yourself having real trouble with your moods, it may greatly help to back off on these foods. It's good to eliminate refined sugar and refined flour completely if you can. (Keep in mind that sugar is routinely found in many processed foods from catsup to canned corn. Better look at the label.)
"Think through what kind of birth experience you want and discuss it with your doctor/midwife. Be assertive about making sure your desires are followed in the hospital during your labor and delivery. Allow for some private family time following the birth with your spouse and baby before calling other family and friends. The news can wait but you can never re-live the special first hours and days."
You may find yourself waking up a lot at night. This seems like a natural preparation for being awakened to nurse your new baby or change a diaper in the nights to come. If you just can't sleep (and your schedule allows), maybe it would help to get up and do something wash the dishes you left in the sink, write a letter or look up at the stars for a while.
Remember to do your Kegels.
If this is your first baby, what will it be like to be a mom?
When we asked about the kind of lives they were experiencing as parents, more than five hundred new mothers replied that being a mom was a combination of demands and rewards they hadn't anticipated and couldn't put fully into words. For instance:
"What a challenge! It's the most demanding job I've ever had."
"People (friends, family, co-workers) kept saying, 'Oh, are you in for it; you never get any sleep; they cry all the time; the diapers etc.' Nobody said anything about how wonderful caring for a baby can be."
"One smile is an incredibly rewarding thing."
"I figured it would be tough. I expected the bad times. But I didn't expect it would be so fun. A great surprise."
"The joy is indescribable, the work is hard, the stress is greater than I ever imagined."
"It's worth all the effort. What an opportunity to see life new again!"
"I never knew the depth of love I could feel for all my children..."
"There are those moments when I could magic wand my son away. But I just can't imagine life without the questions, those little hands, the smile, and the pat-pat-pat of little feet coming in to say good morning every day."
"Being a mother has helped me slow down, to live in the present and enjoy each day for what it is, for what it may bring. Children have so much to teach those of us who have the patience and time to listen."
"I never could have imagined that another person (so small) could be so fun and that watching and experiencing growth would be such a high."
As the end of pregnancy gets near and your "nesting urge" gets stronger and stronger, you'll be doing lots of things. One of those things can (and should) be resting.
Even if you're too wired to sleep, lying down for a few minutes can be renewing. Just sitting won't always do it stretch out and surrender.
Keep in mind that the end of pregnancy, which seems like such a big goal in itself, is actually the beginning of a very busy time that calls for physical and emotional strength. Soon you'll be rising from a resting position with a baby in your arms, trying to do things one-handed, hauling a diaper bag when you go somewhere, missing sleep. And you'll need the emotional stability to surrender to the needs of your baby at moments when you'd rather not. If you take time now to rest, to consciously treat yourself to what you won't be getting that much of later, it can be like building a bank account of physical and emotional readiness.
Diapers . . .
At a time when disposable diapers are so ubiquitous that they are the only kind of diaper most mothers-to-be have ever seen, cotton diapers remain available, and they are our strong personal choice. You've probably heard about the environmental reasons, centering around the obvious fact that there really is no "away" into which to throw disposables. But another big reason to our minds is that cotton diapers avoid the questionable use on or near a baby's genitals of the petrochemical materials used to make and perfume disposable diapers. And cotton "breathes," allowing air to flow in to a baby's skin and the ammonia vapors from urine to flow out, while the plastic film on disposables seals in heat and moisture, creating conditions that encourage bacterial growth. Our personal feelings are that cotton diapers are the only kind to consider for day-after-day use.
If the thought of washing cotton diapers isn't appealing, check on the possibility of diaper service in your area. A good diaper service can be a real blessing, as convenient as disposables and a lot less expensive over the diapering years.
If you do wind up having to wash diapers yourself, you may feel that the service you are doing for your baby (examine a cotton diaper and a disposable and ask yourself which one you would enjoy wearing) balances out the inconvenience. You will need five or six dozen cotton diapers, and an extra two dozen can give you a nice cushion against falling behind. Use hot water to wash, a mild soap, and the hottest available setting on an automatic dryer for about forty minutes to kill bacteria.
. . . And Diaper Covers
Both the important "breathability" of cotton diapers and the nice way they feel to your hands as well as to your baby will be compromised a lot if you use conventional plastic pants to go over the diaper and protect clothing or bedding. There are a few nylon diaper covers available that breathe somewhat and some tightly woven cotton covers are also on the market. Wool is also a "natural" for this use, because while it breathes to make things comfortable for your baby's skin, it resists taking up moisture for awhile, and thereby protects outer clothing. There are the old-fashioned knit or crocheted "soakers" that you or a grandma-to-be can make, and new felted-wool flannel covers. Several companies now import the latter. Virtually all of the new generation of diaper covers, which open at the front and use velcro or snaps, allow you to diaper your baby without using safety pins. You can also make good ones for your baby by cutting the pattern we illustrate out of some old wool sweaters from your bottom drawer or the thrift store.
Making a Diaper Cover
Here's the shape to cut out for a woolen diaper cover. If you want to be fancy, you can sew the "hook" sections of velcro fasteners on points A and B and a longer section of velcro pile (if needed; sometimes velcro will hook right onto the wool) on the underside of C. You can also elasticize the portions we've marked with little "x's" to help keep in the diaper. If you are cutting your pattern out of wool material that's not thick, an inner flap may help as a moisture barrier. But in a pinch you can do the whole thing simply by cutting a no-longer-used wool sweater to the shape shown and pinning it in place over the cotton diaper, no sewing needed.
"Look ahead not just to birth but to being with your baby. And think about prolonging your time together by not going back to work right away. You'll find that you learn to 'live without' quite easily. You'll want to concentrate on what's happening and absorb as much as you can because it goes by in a hurry and it's the greatest time of your life."
A Premature Baby
A baby born anytime (even a few days) before the thirty-seventh week of your pregnancy that is, three weeks or more before your due-date, is considered premature, and almost always will need extra care. So if you feel severe cramping of your cervix, or what you really think may be birth contractions, more than three weeks earlier than expected, call your health care provider right away.
Prematurity may be due to nutritional deficiencies, maternal (or second-hand) smoking, or other factors, and is most common among young or older mothers. Since the lungs are the last thing to mature fully, a baby born early may have a hard time breathing. And since another main factor of development in the last month is the adding of body fat as insulation, special attention will be needed to keep the baby warm. Both those things lie behind the use of incubators in hospitals.
If your baby has to spend time in an incubator, anything you can do to help your new one be aware of your nearness will be a benefit to her or him. It may be possible (although you may have to insist on it) for you to take the baby out of the incubator for breastfeeding. If not, your breast milk expressed into a baby bottle will at least help your baby get the highest quality nutrition at this demanding time, and will help you maintain your breast milk supply for later. And if the milk you can produce isn't enough to cover all feedings, it's often possible to obtain breast milk from other nursing mothers rather than having to accept formula. (La Leche League is a good resource here.) But your simple presence is also a vital nutrient. So, if you can, you and your partner should spend lots of time near the incubator, touch your baby through the holes, and let him or her hear your voices. As after any birth, this is an important time of bonding, and anything you can do to help it happen can help give your baby a more secure foothold in the world and get your family off to the loving start you all deserve.
Remember to drink plenty of water.
You Don't Have To Circumcise A Son
It's worth knowing in advance that there's abundant information now indicating that it isn't necessary or healthier in any way to circumcise a male baby. The practice is still semi-routine in a lot of hospitals, but more and more people are getting away from it, and you don't have to go along with it. If you would like to research this more, "Mothering" magazine offers a reprint of their extensive coverage of this subject for $8 postpaid. Their address is P.O. Box 1690, Santa Fe, NM 87501.
"Find a birth assistant who supports your choices."
Working It Through (Part Two)
One of the most knowledgeable people about birth we know, who has guided many, many women through pregnancy and birth, says that every single pregnancy she has seen has had at least one major crisis in it (the house suddenly needing major repairs, somebody losing a job, one partner's parent getting seriously ill, etc.) that winds up causing some real stress on a relationship. And during many pregnancies, there are also times when the woman, feeling some aspect of her pregnancy very deeply, finds that her partner isn't feeling the same thing at all and isn't inclined in the same direction her feelings are taking her.
These are times for communication rather than solitary irritation especially when it comes to differences in feelings. Realizing that while an increased tuning-in to one another is one of the long-term benefits of pregnancy and family living, the best way to help that tuning-in happen is to share your feelings very explicitly rather than assuming that your partner knows how you're feeling or feels the same.
Your feelings at various times in pregnancy can be very intense, and a partner's apparent insensitivity can trigger strong feelings of doubt that you're really meant to be together. But again, as we said on the same subject in the Second Month, it is almost always best to stick with it until there's a very clear sign to the contrary. You may see things very differently in a few days or a few hours. And, especially at a time when the two of you are in a negative, naggy pattern with each other, a simple change of scene for one or both of you (going to see some friends, going out to the store, taking in a movie), can usually help break the pattern and make it easier for you to reconnect.
The approaching of your baby's birth day is a reminder that your life is going to change. And it's an incentive to realize that, especially if this is your first baby, you may profit from the company of people who have recently gone through the experience of giving birth and living with a new baby.
We are living at a time when the kind of exchange of experiences among women that used to happen in neighborhoods, small towns, and villages is usually ruled out by the distances we live from others in the same life-situations, and by the pace of our busy lives. That may not be a total negative, because some of the earlier exchange in many societies was of a limiting kind that accepted needlessly narrow ways of seeing life. But while our group perspective may be wider now, we don't get much of a chance in daily life to experience it.
So think about going out of your way for some good friendship and support. (More on this after your baby's birth.)
"My advice to pregnant moms: Get used to being and socializing with other people with kids. After the baby comes, your relationships with single people and childless couples will change and not be as rewarding."
"Finally by my third birth I realized how important it was to focus on not tearing my perineum or having an episiotomy. I felt this wasn't stressed enough in my birth education. The healing that accompanies having stitches is very uncomfortable and it really detracted from my enjoyment of the early days with my first two babies, especially with all the getting up and down that they required me to do."
Tearing, or the episiotomy incision that doctors use to "prevent" tearing, can be a result of the tremendous stretch your perineum is called on to make as the baby finally emerges. The better the tone of the muscles in your perineum, the more likely you are to avoid tearing. The specific "Kegel" exercise we talk about in the Third Month helps build this tone.
An important factor on the day of birth is holding back just a little when it's time to push the baby out. (This gives the perineum, now taut from the pressure of the baby's crowning head, the extra moments it may need to give just that little more.) It takes some real effort to remember at this overwhelming time to hold back just a little, and it's good (almost necessary) to have someone else help you focus on this. The panting or "hee-hee" breathing taught in most birth classes can be a great help.
Massaging your perineum with oil every day for a month or so before birth can make a big difference, and so can having a partner give you this oil massage during birth itself. This will help ease the strain on the area stretching around the baby's emerging head.
"Coming our of the birth experience completely intact made a wonderful difference. It helped me give undivided attention to my baby and really enjoy our first days together."
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All contents copyright © 1991 by Crystal Press. Used by permission of authors. Neither text nor illustrations may be reproduced in any form, in print or on the Intenet, without permission in writing from the authors, John Milder and Candie Snow, who may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also contact us at that address to purchase copies of Year of Birth.