■ 3rd trimester

As you approach your due date, you may feel that the baby has settled deeper into your pelvis (dropped). The common term for the descent of the baby's head into the pelvis is lightening. You may indeed feel lighter, as the position relieves some of the pressure on your diaphragm and stomach. You can breathe again, and digestion is easier. At the same time, you'll probably feel the need to urinate more often because of the increased pressure on your bladder.

If this is your first baby, lightening may occur weeks before the onset of labor. In women who have had children, it usually doesn't happen until labor begins.

When lightening does occur, your abdomen may shift down and forward, or sag lower. The change may be noticeable enough that your friends comment on it. Or you might not be aware of it at all. Some women feel pressure or aches and pains in their pelvic area and groin. You may feel sharp twinges in the vagina or perineal area as the baby's head presses on the pelvic floor.

■ When to seek medical help for lightening

Lightening is usually a sign that the baby's head is engaged — that it has moved below the upper part of the pelvis in preparation for birth. Your health care provider can examine you during the last weeks of pregnancy to check whether engagement has occurred. Nothing needs to be done in response to this event except to prepare for your baby's delivery.

If your baby has dropped and you have other signs of labor, such as regular contractions, contact your health care provider. (See also Contractions.)

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