The 38th week of pregnancy

Welcome to 38 weeks! Pregnancy is considered to be ‘term’ between 37 and 42 weeks after the first day of the last menstrual period. Your due date has already been calculated and you are probably excited to expect your baby in two weeks’ time. However, we know that only about 1 in 20 babies (5%) are actually born on their due date!

Heavily pregnant mum sleeping in bed with her hands on her baby bump

For women having their first baby, pregnancy lasts on average 40 weeks and five days, and 75% will give birth spontaneously by 41 weeks and two days. So you can see, that you are more likely to spend your due date as a day doing some me time self-care in preparation for the big day.

These are some of the feelings and experiences you can expect around 38 weeks

  • Your tummy is probably feeling rather heavy right now. The increasing weight obviously starts to put more strain on your back, which can cause back pain for some women. A supportive abdominal band may provide some well-needed relief.
  • You’ve also probably noticed that you have been going to the toilet a lot more in the last few weeks, this is likely to continue as your baby gets bigger and there is more pressure on your bladder! During these last few weeks, you may have noticed that your ‘bump’ has dropped, and your midwife will confirm that your baby’s head is engaged. This is when the widest part of your baby’s head passes through the brim of the pelvis.
  • Your body is working at full speed at the moment so don’t worry if you are feeling particularly tired and exhausted, this is normal. Never feel guilty to take frequent rest breaks and try to get plenty of sleep, even if that means taking a short nap during the day. This change in sleeping pattern prepares you for those early weeks after your baby is born when it is likely that your sleep pattern has fewer periods of continuous sleep as your new baby will breastfeed frequently, mostly between 8-12 times in every 24 hours.
  • You may find that you have increased sensitivity on the skin around your tummy, as it stretches and grows in these final weeks. If you notice itching talk to your midwife or doctor about creams or lotions which can help relieve this. Please note that if you are experiencing itchiness not just on your tummy but also on your hands and feet, it is really important to notify and discuss this with your midwife or doctor urgently. Usually, they will want to take a few blood tests from you to check your liver function and your overall well-being. It is important to discuss any itching with your healthcare provider.

Size & weight of the foetus at 38 weeks gestation

At 38 weeks, your baby’s length is around a stick of rhubarb. Your baby measures roughly around 50cm and probably weighs close to 3000 grams.

Your baby in the 38th week: ready for birth

Your baby's organs and reflexes are already fully developed. Your baby is ready to be born over these next few weeks. In the last weeks, they continue to lay down health-providing fat reserves.

Next Steps

  • Normally at this stage of pregnancy you will be having weekly check-ups with your midwife or doctor. They carefully check that you and your baby are doing well.
  • You may have more Braxton Hicks contractions / tightening in your abdomen as your pregnancy hormones prepare your abdominal muscles and cervix for labour.
  • Inform your midwife / doctor of any episodes of itching, headaches, oedema of the hands and/or ankles.
  • Make final preparations for your hospital bag, travel arrangements to the hospital or your home birth.
  • Practice relaxation and breathing exercises that you will definitely use during labour.

Note: *The data on length and weight are average values that cannot be applied to individual cases. Every baby develops individually.

References

1 Moore KL et al., editors. The developing human: Clinically oriented embryology. Eleventh edition. Edinburgh: Elsevier; 2020.

2 World Health Organization (WHO). Integrated Management of pregnancy and birth: Standards for Maternal and Neonatal Care. Geneva, Switzerland; 2007 [cited 2021 Nov 16].