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Countdown to Baby

Weeks 29 to 40

Week 29 The fetus is not quite 12 inches long and weighs between 2 and 3 pounds -- but it will double or triple in weight between now and birth. As space gets tighter, less acrobatic tumbling takes place, though you'll still feel plenty of stretching and kicking.

Week 30 The fetus has eyelashes and any hair with which he'll be born. An overwhelming majority of babies born at 30 weeks survive -- over 90 percent -- and about 60 percent of these preemies will grow up without any long-term health problems or disabilities.

Week 31 Though the scenery in the womb sure isn't Paris, the fetus can discern light and dark and blink its eyes. Now is the time to interview pediatricians, preregister at the hospital, and write your birth plan. This outlines what you would ideally like to take place during your delivery, including whether or not you'll receive an epidural, which birthing positions you'd like to try, and whether you'd like a son to be circumcised.

Week 32 A layer of fat is forming beneath the thin, wrinkly fetal skin. Review your childbirth-class notes and practice your breathing and relaxation. Your doctor may do another glucose screen in the next couple of weeks.

Week 33 The fetus is exercising its lungs by practicing breathing -- inhaling amniotic fluid. You're gaining a pound a week now; roughly half of that goes right to the fetus. In fact, your baby-to-be gains 50 percent of its birth weight during the next seven weeks.

Week 34 Most babies settle into the head-down position, although it may not be final. The skull bones are still quite pliable and not completely joined to ease the exit through the birth canal. Pack your hospital bag now -- better to be early than sorry you forgot something.

Week 35 Your obstetrician will probably check your cervix weekly until you deliver. You'll be tested for Group B streptococcus bacteria between weeks 35 and 37; if you test positive, you will most likely be given an antibiotic during childbirth to protect your baby from infection. Be sure to tell your doctor if you are allergic to penicillin. Ninety-nine percent of babies born at this point survive, most with no major problems. Not only are the lungs more developed, but, thanks to advances in neonatal care, respiratory difficulties -- once a leading killer of preemies born before 35 weeks -- are much more readily overcome.

Week 36 Your uterus has expanded to a thousand times its original volume and now reaches up to the base of your rib cage. The baby may drop lower in your abdomen, the head engaging within the pelvic bones at the birth canal.

Week 37 By the end of this week, your pregnancy has come full term; the baby could be born any day. More good news: Your weight gain has probably hit its peak.

Week 38 Most of the fetus's downy lanugo and waxy vernix have disappeared, although some may remain at birth. They get swallowed by the fetus along with other secretions in the amniotic fluid and lodge in the baby's bowels. They'll become the child's first bowel movement, a dark-green, tar-like waste called meconium.

Week 39 The average full-term newborn is 20 inches long and weighs 7 to 7½ pounds. Boys tend to be slightly heavier than girls. Take it easy; if you aren't inclined to do much, don't.

Week 40 Don't fret if your baby isn't born by your due date -- just 5 percent hit the mark exactly. Most doctors wait two weeks before considering a pregnancy overdue. But it won't be long before the miracle that nature started so many weeks ago is finally nestled in your arms.

From the PARENTING Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth, by Paula Spencer with the editors of PARENTING magazine.

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