Your body during weeks 37 to

Before you were pregnant, your uterus weighed only about 2 ounces and could hold less than a half-ounce. At term, it will have multiplied in weight by a factor of 20, to about 2 1/2 pounds and will have stretched to hold your baby, your placenta and about a quart of amniotic fluid. At the end of this month, after 40 weeks of growth and change, you'll go through labor and delivery, giving birth to a new human being — your one-of-a-kind baby. Here's an overview of what's happening and where:

Your respiratory system

You may still be having some shortness of breath. If your baby drops lower into your pelvis before labor begins, which is more common among first-time moms, you may feel less pressure on your diaphragm. As a result, you may be able to breathe more deeply and easily during your final weeks of pregnancy.

Your digestive system

Your digestive system remains slowed this month, influenced by hormones. As a result, you may still be experiencing heartburn and constipation. If your baby drops this month, this situation may improve. With less pressure on your stomach, digestion may be easier.

Your breasts

Stimulated by estrogen and progesterone, your breasts will reach their full size this month. As delivery time approaches, your nipples may start leaking colostrum — the yellowish milk your breasts first produce.

As your breasts have grown over the course of your pregnancy, your nipples may have become inverted, dimpling back into your breasts. If you have inverted nipples and are planning to breast-feed, don't worry. You can use some special techniques to prepare your nipples for breast-feeding. Ask your health care provider or lactation consultant for more information.

Your uterus

This month, your uterus will finish its expansion. When you reach term, it will extend from your pubic area to the bottom of your rib cage. If your baby hasn't already dropped lower into your pelvis, that may happen this month. If this is your first baby, you may experience lightening weeks before you ever go into labor. If you've been through childbirth before, lightening and the onset of labor will probably happen closer together.

Your urinary tract

This month, you'll probably again feel the need to urinate more frequently, as your baby moves deeper into your pelvis and presses on your bladder. You may find it hard to get a good night's sleep because you have to get up so often to urinate. You're probably also continuing to leak urine, especially when you laugh, cough or sneeze. Hang in there. Your pregnancy is almost over.

Your bones, muscles and joints

The aptly named hormone relaxin, which is produced by your placenta, is continuing to relax and loosen the ligaments holding your three pelvic bones together. This will allow your pelvis to open wider during childbirth — hopefully wide enough to accommodate your baby's head as it passes through. For now, you're probably continuing to feel the effects of relaxin in clumsiness and loose-feeling limbs.

If your baby drops a couple of weeks before labor begins, which is more common among first-time moms, you may also feel some pressure or aches and pains in your pelvic joints.

Your vagina

At some point in the next several weeks, your cervix will begin to open (dilate). It may start a couple of weeks before labor begins, or just a few hours. Ultimately, your cervical opening will stretch from zero to 10 centimeters in diameter so that you can push your baby out. As your cervix begins dilating, you may feel an occasional sharp, stabbing pain inside your vagina. You may also feel pressure, aches or sharp twinges in your perineal area — the area between your vaginal opening and anus — as your baby's head presses on your pelvic floor.

When your cervix begins to thin and relax, you may lose the mucous plug that's been blocking your cervical opening during your pregnancy to keep bacteria from getting into your uterus. There isn't a strong relationship between the loss of the mucous plug and the beginning of labor. It can happen up to two weeks before labor begins — or it can happen right before. When it happens, you'll likely notice that you have thick vaginal discharge or stringy mucus that's clear, pink or blood tinged. Don't worry if you don't notice this change. Some women don't even realize it when they've lost their mucous plug.

For about 10 percent of pregnant women, the amniotic sac breaks or leaks before labor begins, and the fluid that has cushioned the baby comes out as a trickle or a gush. If this happens to you, follow your health care provider's instructions. He or she will probably want to evaluate you and your baby as soon as your membranes rupture (water breaks). In the meantime, don't do anything that could introduce bacteria into your vagina. That means no tampons or sexual intercourse.

If the fluid coming from your vagina is anything other than clear and colorless, let your health care provider know. Vaginal fluid that's greenish or foul smelling, for example, could be a sign of uterine infection or that your baby has passed a bit of stool into the fluid.

Your skin

You may be continuing to experience the following pregnancy-induced skin changes this month:

Varicose veins, particularly on your legs and ankles

• Vascular spiders, especially on your face, neck, upper chest or arms

• Dryness and itching on your abdomen or all over your body

Stretch marks on the skin covering your breasts, abdomen, upper arms, buttocks or thighs

Many of these changes will fade or disappear after your baby is born, although evidence of stretch marks will remain.

Weight gain

Your baby is gaining weight more slowly this month. As a result, you may notice that your own weight gain has slowed or even stopped. It is even quite common to lose a pound or so at the very end of the pregnancy. By the time you reach term on your due date, you'll probably have gained a total of roughly 25 to 35 pounds. Here's a breakdown of how that weight may be distributed:

Your baby

6 1/2 to 9 pounds

Placenta

11/2 pounds

Amniotic fluid

2 pounds

Breast enlargement

1 to 3 pounds

Uterus enlargement

2 pounds

Fat stores and muscle development

6 to 8 pounds

Increased blood volume

3 to 4 pounds

Increased fluid volume

2 to 3 pounds

Total 24 to 32 Vi pounds

Total 24 to 32 Vi pounds

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