Just like you, your baby is ready for their grand entry! Your baby is considered “early term” right now and is quickly approaching “full term” (a milestone they hit at 39 weeks…so you’re almost there). “Early term” babies have not quite finished growing yet, but they’re super close.

Your Baby at 38 Weeks

Your baby weighs between 6 and 9 pounds and is a bit more than 1½ feet tall. Their brain is now ready for the next big job, life outside the womb. It is perfectly set to help them handle the impending flood of new sensations: bright lights, smiling faces, new smells, sounds, and touch.

Your baby’s liver completes its final development this week too. We’re almost all-systems-go for birth! And, their lungs are gearing up for the big debut. That first breath is a huge life transition. Their lungs are filled with collapsed air sacs, but each tiny sac is coated with a special chemical that will keep them popped open after those first few lung-expanding breaths.

The drama of entering a new world—the cool air on their wet body and the light on their face—triggers their brain to jumpstart their breathing. Even at week 38, they’re set to do it all. Nevertheless, waiting 60 to 90 seconds to clamp the umbilical cord will give them a boost of extra blood, oxygen, iron, and stem cells.

Because of their skinny legs and arms and big heads, babies have much more exposed skin than adults, so they lose heat quickly. To help warm their little body, your baby has stored up some special brown fat that generates extra heat and will be used up over the first day or two. Another great way to keep your little one toasty—and to begin bonding and start the breastfeeding process—is to have skin-to-skin contact right away.

38 weeks pregnant is how many months?

38 weeks pregnant is approximately 8 months and 3 weeks. You have about 2 weeks to go!

How big is my baby at 38 weeks?

At 38 weeks, your baby is about the size of a volleyball!

38 Weeks Pregnant: What to Expect

Not only is your baby growing, but their “home” is expanding to accommodate them, too. When you began this journey, your uterus was a tiny 2 ounces, now it weighs close to 2-1/2 pounds! Between this and your growing bundle, chances are you’ve slowed down a lot recently. Walking might feel like it takes a Herculean effort, but resting may not provide much relief either. Another side effect: your growing uterus is also putting lots of pressure on your bladder these days…causing frequent bathroom runs. (But keep chugging water…staying hydrated is important for both you and Baby).

As you navigate physical challenges, it’s more crucial than ever that you rely on emotional and social supports. As folks around you offer to help, reply with a hearty YES. Hang in there, you’re so close to the finish line!

Speaking of the finish line, let’s talk about one of the biggest things on your mind these days: labor. Your body is preparing for labor at 38 weeks of pregnancy.

Signs of Labor at 38 Weeks:

  • Your baby “drops”
  • Your cervix dilates
  • You experience increased cramps and back pain
  • You have diarrhea
  • You stop gaining weight
  • You’re more tired than usual
  • You lose your mucus plug and/or your vaginal discharge changes color
  • You feel stronger more frequent contractions
  • Your water breaks

Is cramping at 38 weeks pregnant normal? 

Yes! At 38 weeks you will experience increased cramps and pain in your lower back and groin as you approach labor. Your muscles and joints are beginning to shift and stretch in preparation for birth. If the cramping is very painful or you’re noticing the cramping is becoming more regular and frequent, give your provider a call (it’s possible those cramps are actually contractions!).

38 Weeks Pregnant: To-Do List

  • Fill your pantry with food for labor: Labor is an athletic event. You’ll be thirsty and sweaty during…tired and sore afterward. The proper fuel can help: Eat a real meal or two in the early stages of labor (especially if your hospital has a policy against eating during active labor); sip on a drink with electrolytes, like coconut water; chomp on snacks that will boost your energy and keep your blood sugar up. If you have an induction scheduled, here’s some advice for what to eat before you’re induced. After delivery, you might want hydrating fruits like watermelon, or fuel like a banana.

  • Stock up on household basics: Toilet paper, laundry detergent, etc. Buy ‘em now, so you don’t have to run to the store for more in the busy first week with baby.

  • Don’t forget the nipple cream: A lanolin- or shea-butter-based nipple cream can be soothing in the early days of breastfeeding. Bring it along to the hospital.

  • Practice your labor affirmations: A little bit of positive thinking can go a long way to ease the stress and pain of labor. Consider coming prepared with a few mantras to motivate yourself…either have them in your head, or even write them and bring them to the hospital so you can see them as you labor. Don’t know where to start? Check out these pregnancy affirmations to help you prepare.

  • Brush up on what labor is really like. Another way to feel more confident during labor is knowing exactly what you’re in for. (Below is a quick overview of what to expect during each stage of labor!)

  • Consider putting a waterproof cover on your mattress. It is possible that your water could break as you snooze! A water-resistant sheet could make cleanup easier.

Preparing for Labor at 38 Weeks Pregnant

Feeling the above signs of labor at 38 weeks is a pretty good indication that your baby is on the way…however that could mean a matter of hours…or days…possibly even weeks. As your body gears up for the big day, it’s a good idea to get your head in the game too. Here’s what you need to know about the three stages of labor.

Stage 1: Early Labor, Active Labor and Transition

Labor is divided into three stages. The first stage is the longest and consists of contractions, contractions and…yep, more contractions!

Your uterus is a muscular sack. During labor, it alternates between tensing up (contracting) and relaxing. When it squeezes, the muscle pushes your baby downwards…pressing their head against your cervix. That thins the cervix (effacement) and starts to push the cervix open (dilatation). (Learn more about dilation and effacement!)

Stage 1 usually gets off to a slow, creeping start. (The breaking of the bag of waters may be dramatic, but even that is usually more of a dribble than a flood.) Some pregnant folks describe the start of stage 1 as period-like pain or a lower-back ache, but soon, the contractions strengthen, lengthen, and become more frequent. If you’re a first-time mom, this stage will likely last six to 12 hours, but might drag on for a day or longer. (For second-time moms, things can go a whole lot faster!)

If it’s your first pregnancy—and you are low-risk—your care providers may have you stay home during most of this stage. Try to relax, stay hydrated and eat light, carb-rich meals to keep your energy up. If you can sleep, catch some ZZZs (here are some tips on sleeping better during pregnancy)! Giving birth is a marathon, not a sprint, and you don’t want to tire yourself out early on.

Your doctor/midwife will have told you to time your contractions (from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next—not to the end) and advised when to call/head to the hospital. When you arrive, your cervix will be checked to see how far you’ve dilated. It’s possible you’ll be sent home or told to go out for a walk or a meal, if you need to dilate more.

Once you begin active labor, you’ll have strong contractions around a minute long and 3 to 5 minutes apart. It may be hard to talk or move easily. At this point, your cervix will be dilated 3 to 10 centimeters. (Dilating one centimeter an hour is textbook, but like in early labor, it’s different for everyone.) If you’re opting for an epidural, the time is…now! Epidurals can erase the pain of contractions. However, keep in mind that they may also weaken your contractions and prolong labor 40 to 90 minutes (it’s possible this could lead to more drugs—like Pitocin, which is given to amp up contractions).

Transition is the most intense stage. Luckily, it’s also the shortest! You'll be dilating those last few centimeters and your contractions will be coming quicker. Stage 1 ends when your cervix has stretched to 10 centimeters (fully dilated).

Labor Stage 2: Delivering Your Baby

When you’re fully dilated, you’ll move on to pushing…which is an overwhelming muscular impulse, that might feel like a bowel movement is on the way. Some expecting parents can control the pushing process, but if you’re numb from an epidural, your doctor/midwife will likely coach you on when to push hard and when to slow down to allow your body to relax and open.

At some point, your baby’s head will emerge (some birthing parents ask for a mirror to be able to see the baby’s head coming out). Next, they’ll ask you to push hard—again—to deliver the shoulders. Then, the rest of your tiny one’s body will slide out like a slippery, wet little fish. Unless there’s a need for immediate medical care, your baby will be placed on your chest and covered with a warm blanket.

YOU. DID. IT! Congrats…you’re a parent!

Labor Stage 3: Delivering the Placenta

But, wait. There’s more…You’re not 100% done yet…you need to deliver the placenta. Don’t worry, it’s the easiest stage and usually just slips right out after a few minutes.

If you want to breastfeed, start right away. (Bonus: Breastfeeding will cause your uterus to contract, helping it to shrink in size and expel the placenta.) You’ll also lose about a pint of blood. A nurse may come by periodically following birth to massage your belly which helps get this blood out and encourages your uterus to go back to it’s normal size. If you aren’t catheterized, you may be asked to pee because a full bladder can block the uterus from emptying all the way.

Your doctor or midwife will stitch up any tears or episiotomy cuts. If you’ve had an epidural, you won’t feel this, but if you haven’t, you’ll be given a shot or two of local anesthesia. (That rarely hurts because the whole process usually makes the labia a bit numb.)

After all this labor, you may find yourself shaking uncontrollably for minutes…or for over an hour. Postpartum shaking may feel strange, but trust us: You’re not dying! It’s believed the shaking is caused by rapid hormonal shifts or the adrenaline of birth.

38 Week Pregnancy Fun Fact: Why Your Water Breaks

Your bag of waters is held by two membranes, and both must break to release your waters. Like much of pregnancy and childbirth, the exact reason why the water breaks is a mystery. However, we do know that the hormones that help the uterus to contract—prostaglandins—are partially responsible. The contractions also work to thin these membranes.

In the movies and on TV, just about every pregnant person’s water breaks dramatically in a public place. In real life, for most, it doesn’t happen until you are in active labor. Some folks’ water breaks early (this is called PROM, or premature rupture of membranes) and very rarely a baby is born en-caul or within an intact amniotic fluid sack. It’s a sight to see!

Pregnancy Quote of the Week

There is a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong. — Laura Stavoe Harm

37 Weeks Pregnant | 39 Weeks Pregnant

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.