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The Home Stretch

I'm nine months pregnant with my first baby. And I'm thirsty. A glass of ice water rests on the table in front of me. All I need to do, really, is reach over and get it. But I can't. Fatigue has crept into my every pore. I am big. I am slow. No, I'm worse than slow, especially late in the day. I'm inert. I eye the water and can almost taste it, but it's as if the mind that wants the glass and the body that would have to lean forward to pick it up belong to two different people.

The very next night, I suddenly become obsessed with cleaning out our linen closet. It takes hours, but I don't care. As if possessed, I reach, bend, scour, and tirelessly refold every single sheet and washcloth -- for, oh, the first time in the five years I've lived in the house.

Pregnancy's last trimester is a study in contrasts. You're driven to rest, yet compelled to nest. Revved up and worn-out. It's truly a home stretch: In these final weeks, you're almost home, but every last day sure can stretch. How to make the waiting game as easy and comfortable as possible? Treat your body -- and soul -- to the right kind of self-care.

Baby Yourself

Fatigue is perhaps the number one complaint now. Not only are you lugging around an extra 20 to 30 pounds, but your expanding uterus rearranges other organs. A compressed bladder means more frequent urination -- so much for a solid eight hours of sleep. A squeezed diaphragm and lungs can cause shortness of breath. Backaches occur when the growing baby throws off your posture. Exacerbating the strain is the hormone relaxin, which loosens joints in anticipation of delivery. "I noticed that my ankles, knees, and hips started to click a little when I walked," says Mary Niepokuj, of West Point, Indiana, whose first child was born 13 months ago. "I felt like the Tin Man in need of some oil."

Most of these physical changes disappear right after you deliver. For now, rest and pamper yourself. "Try not to be a supermom even before you're a mom," says LouAnne Case, a certified nurse-midwife at Oakland/Macomb Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Shelby Township, Michigan. It's okay to not do everything yourself. Ask your partner, family, and friends for help. If someone offers to lift something for you, let him. Lying down frequently, especially on your left side, also relieves swelling, another side effect of late pregnancy. Don't limit fluids to try to minimize puffiness; your body will respond by hanging on to them even more. You can also ease swollen ankles and legs by sitting with your feet elevated and not standing for long periods. There's another incentive to baby yourself now: You never know when you'll go into labor and really need your energy!

Slow Down and Get Comfy

Make Like a Turtle (But Not Like a Slug)

Slowing down is important -- maybe even inevitable -- but you'll feel better, physically and psychologically, if you keep moving, says James McGregor, M.D., visiting research scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles. Just make sure you listen to your body. If you're tiring sooner, slow down. If you're still tired, stop.

The pelvic tilt is a simple exercise that can help ease back pain and the tingling sensation (or sharp pains) of sciatica that many women feel from the buttocks down the thighs. To do the tilt: Rock your pelvis back and forth while standing or kneeling on all fours, keeping your back straight.

After exercising, indulge yourself. "I used to take a leisurely two- to three-mile walk, then reward myself with an escape to the movies and Junior Mints," says Kerry Madden-Lunsford, of Los Angeles, whose children are 11, 9, and 1. But if the thought of even rising from an armchair seems like a workout, just stay put. You're entitled.

Practice Creative Comfort

Do what you must to make yourself comfortable. By the eighth month of each of her three pregnancies, Jessica Smith, of Cincinnati, found it impossible to sleep on her water bed. "I couldn't lie right, I couldn't even sit right on it. I was so big, there was no comfort left," says Smith, whose daughters are 4, 3, and 3 months. So she slept on the firmer couch, using a pillow to cushion her stomach.

Some moms-to-be find both breathing and sleep more pleasant when there's extra padding and support at their back and abdomen and between their legs. So hoard your partner's pillows, or invest in the long body variety.

Get Some New Clothes and Last-Minute Alone Time

Wear Something New

Cherie Serota knew how to avoid that sick-of-my-clothes feeling even when she was well into her third trimester -- and it's not just because she's the cofounder of Belly Basics maternity wear. She dug in her closet and experimented. "When you've been wearing the same clothes for five or six months, you want a little pop," she says. "Mix and match things in new ways, or go through your husband's closet. If a sweater no longer fits, wrap it around your shoulders for a different look."

 

Many women talk themselves out of a new purchase at this stage by reasoning that they won't wear it much longer. Treat yourself anyway -- it doesn't have to be expensive. Accessories or shoes can be great pick-me-ups.

 

Savor The Solitude

When you're pregnant, you're the star. After you give birth, your baby will be. Take advantage of these final months to do things that will become much harder once you're a mom. Read the paper in bed. Take lavender-scented baths. Go shopping.

"The last trimester is a betwixt-and-between place. You're not your old self, but you're not a mom yet," says Jennifer Louden, author of The Pregnant Woman's Comfort Book. "If you allow no time to prepare mentally, motherhood can be a rude shock." Nurture yourself now to create a reserve you can call upon later.

Ditto for spending time alone with your partner. This is your last chance to slip away without feeling guilty or having to worry about babysitters. Eleven days before I was due with my first child, my husband and I took the day off from work to go out to lunch and take a walk. I cherish the memory of it -- that evening, I went into labor.

Even if this isn't your first baby, remember to set time aside purely to indulge yourself, whether it's going to a movie while your partner spends time with the kids or hiring a sitter so you can dine à deux. Though it involves some planning now, getting away will soon be much harder.

Let Your Mind Wander, But Reality Register

Let Daydreams Slide

You might be surprised to find your mind wandering from sweet thoughts about whom your baby will look like to acute panic about whether you're ready for so much change in your life. Your moods may shift faster than the weather. A confusing swirl of emotions takes over as D-day grows nearer.

Many moms-to-be report bizarre nighttime dreams about giving birth to frogs or puppies. While admittedly unsettling, these are simply another way your mind works through the immense shifts at hand. I once dreamed about putting my baby in the oven because he wasn't "done" yet.

Try not to get too weirded out by these strange new emotions. "We tend to focus only on how you're supposed to be happy when you're pregnant, but it's okay to sometimes be sad about all the changes too," says Louden. Recognize that all of your thoughts are perfectly normal.

Revel In Your Ripeness

While not always comfortable, it's undeniably fun to watch your baby bodysurfing beneath your skin. There are also practical reasons to be tuned in to your body in the final months, says Susanne Bathgate, M.D., an obstetrician at the George Washington University Hospital, in Washington, D.C. "If you haven't felt any fetal movement in five or six hours, stop and eat or drink something and lie down," she suggests. Sugary foods, especially, will perk up your baby. Alert your doctor if you go more than half a day without feeling anything, but don't panic prematurely. "Movement may change toward the end of the last trimester, from more or less continuous kicking to squirming," says Dr. Bathgate.

By month eight or nine, you'll probably feel Braxton-Hicks "practice" contractions. They prep your body for labor and can startle you into thinking birth is imminent. How to distinguish them from labor? Real contractions come regularly and continue even if you shift position.

Think Baby

Taking care of newborn business helps make parenthood seem more real -- and can work wonders in keeping your mind off discomforts and worries. If you've been putting off the fun stuff, now's the time to go all out. Finish decorating the nursery, settle baby-naming disputes, pack your overnight bag for the hospital. "Be careful not to exhaust yourself. Get as many things done ahead of time as you can so you don't have to juggle them all in the last two weeks," says midwife Case.

And find time to enjoy the hidden pleasures of being really great with child. After all, some last trimester realities just are. Roll with them. Can't see your toes anymore? It's a perfect excuse for a professional pedicure. Pull up to the full-service pump. Take a picture of yourself -- in profile, and naked -- as a memento you'll later find hard to believe. Best of all, don't miss this golden opportunity to clean out your stretched-wide-open navel.

Contributing editor Paula Spencer, the mother of four, is the author of the Parenting Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth.

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