As 2017 winds down and we count down the days and hours until 2018 arrives, to-do lists spring to mind. What better time to consider another important countdown: the end of pregnancy? If you’re in the pre-baby homestretch, there’s something about those last several weeks that kick you into high gear, as your body preps for birth and your mind and heart prepare for parenthood.
As you count down to your own personal new year, here’s what you need to know to get as ready as you reasonably can be:
Visit the doctor (often). In most cases, you’ll be hitting the OB’s office weekly once you’re past 36 weeks. Aside from the usual assessments, your healthcare provider may recommend “kick counting,” which is a way to keep track of the baby’s movements throughout the day. Given the tight quarters, your baby’s moving less now then he was in your second trimester, but noting what’s normal now and keeping tabs on movement is still a good idea. Here’s how. As for when labor might start, your guess is as good as anyone else’s! A normal term is anywhere between 38 and 42 weeks, but talk to your healthcare provider to be sure. Signs that labor is imminent include the baby “dropping” lower in your uterus, an increase in Braxton-Hicks contractions, lower back pain and cramping, and what’s called “bloody show,” or the loss of the mucus plug from your cervix.
Feather the nest. We likely don’t have to tell you to tackle this task, since it’s nearly a universal urge for women in the final stretch of pregnancy to get her surroundings prepped and ready to welcome her new baby. This can include setting up a crib or other sleeping space, buying and washing bedding and clothing, sorting through gifts, decorating, and lots more. Not every pregnant woman will “feather” in the same way. Your friend may have dropped enormous sums on a state-of-the art nursery; you may be content washing some crib sheets and clearing a drawer in your dresser for stacks of onesies and cloth diapers. But whatever form it takes for you, embrace nesting. It obviously serves a practical purpose as you literally create space for a new addition, but these ritualistic and homey tasks also fulfill an emotional need to prepare you for impending parenthood.
Cook and freeze meals. If you’re a home chef, now’s a good time to get busy making food you or someone else can quickly heat and serve in the hectic vortex of the first several weeks at home with a newborn. Soups, stews, casseroles: All can be made and frozen in small batches. If you’re not that much of a cook, enlist loved ones to do the work for you; chances are you have people clamoring to help.
Wash baby clothes and gear. If you received gifts of toys, clothes, blankets, towels, sheets and other gear, now’s the time to unpack them, wash clothes for immediate use, and put away things you won’t need in the immediate term. If you plan to use bottles (either for pumped breastmilk or formula), wash and sterilize some now to be ready.
Get ready for the big reveal. Want to get a jump on announcing your new arrival? If you’re planning to snail-mail cute baby announcements, get your mailing list ready and address and stamp envelopes. You may also want to ready an email address list for immediate-term “Baby’s Here!” sharing. (Spare some time now, too, to send out thank-you notes for gifts received so far.)
Get birth gear ready. Whether you’re giving birth in a hospital, birthing center, or at home, be sure everything you need is close at hand. If you’re heading to the hospital, double check with them for what you should and should not bring, but tried and true items include any paperwork you need (ID, insurance card), a birth plan if you have one, nightgown/nursing gown, robe and slippers, clothes to wear home (something comfy!), personal toiletries, a pillow, your cellphone charger, and whatever you need to relax, such as music.
Make a birth plan. Creating a plan for how you envision your labor and birth to play out is not an exact blueprint, but it is a way to help you make decisions and share them with those around you, including your partner, birth coach, and doctor or midwife. Though what you plan may be upended by actual events, knowing what you want is empowering. And just the act of creating a plan requires you to research options and weigh possibilities. A plan can include things like what kind of pain relief you want (or if you want to avoid medication); if you want to have the option to stand or walk during labor, or use a birthing chair or stool; if you want to avoid an episiotomy or forceps; or if you want to breastfeed immediately (or not).
Give yourself a break. No to-do list is an absolute, and no one’s judging you if your bag isn't packed, your freezer isn't stocked, or you haven’t created mailing labels for birth announcements. Because here’s the thing about preparing for parenthood: No one really has a handle on it anyway. Happy New Year and happy soon-to-be new life!