Your little one’s total length from the top of the head to the tip of the toes is over 17 inches this week. Your baby’s rapid weight gain has brought him or her to about 3 pounds. Your baby’s reproductive system is continuing to develop. If your baby were to be born now, you’d quickly notice that the sexual organs aren’t quite mature yet. Did you know that neonatologists can often estimate a preemie’s gestational age by looking at his or her genitalia? If your baby is a girl, her uterus and ovaries have been in place for quite a while now. Her vagina is completely developed, but if she were to be born this week, you’d notice that her outer labia (or vaginal tissues) are still small and spread widely open, leaving the inner organs (labia and clitoris) large-looking and fully exposed. But don’t worry, when the outer labia fill in with fat and come together, this will change. Your baby girl’s genitalia will look like a newborns’ in a few short months. Another interesting fact is breast nipples don’t usually appear for another few weeks, but both girls and boys may already have hints of their areola (the dark circles where the nipples will be).
If your baby is a boy, his testes have started their gradual decent from inside his body (the abdominal cavity), through a flexible tube called the inguinal canal; into his scrotum in response to his normal hormones, but may not have descended completely by this week. At this point, your baby boy’s scrotum may appear small and unusually smooth. Sometimes, baby boys have undescended testicles at birth (or just one undescended testicle), particularly if they are born prematurely. This occurs in up to 40% of baby boys born during this week, because they’re born before the descent process is completed. The majority of these babies’ testicles descend spontaneously during the first six months of life.
Your baby’s hair follicles are going through significant structural changes. Lanugo is the first type of hair that your baby’s hair follicles produce. Did you know that the word “lanugo” is Latin for “down”, like the small hairs on plants? This fine downy fuzz has covered your baby’s entire body up until now, except the palms of the hands, the lips, the soles of the feet, the sides of the fingers and toes, as well as the genitalia and nails. The lanugo hair typically grows at the same rate, therefore the hairs are the same length all over. Many premature babies are still covered with lanugo hair at birth, which usually disappears within a few weeks on its own (or about 4 weeks before their due date). Around this week, your baby starts shedding them; most being gone by 36 weeks. The soft lanugo is replaced by “vellus” hair. Vellus hairs are finer and shorter, contain little or no pigment and they don’t have oil glands. Your baby also has another kind of hair called, “terminal” hairs, which are growing on his or her scalp, eyelashes and eyebrows. The shed lanugo is actually swallowed by your baby and accumulates in his or her bowel (along with other substances) to become meconium. Another interesting fact that you may not be aware of: elephant babies, which are also considered a “hairless” mammal, go through very similar hair changes in utero and after delivery as human babies.
By the end of this week, the top of your uterus can be felt about 4 inches above your belly button. As your tummy grows larger, you may begin to feel like a lucky rabbit’s foot; as complete strangers want to rub your belly when you’re out and about. Running errands or shopping, people may come up to you out-of-the-blue and reach out to touch your belly with good intentions. Creating life is mysterious and magical; people want to share in the magic of it all. It seems inevitable. Along with the belly touching, you may experience some unwanted questions and comments by strangers. Some people you encounter may ask: “When are you due?” or “Is this your first?” Sometimes the questions are more personal, such as “ How long were you trying before you became pregnant?” or “Was your pregnancy planned?” Comments often include: “You look like you’re getting so uncomfortable.” or “You look like you’re ready to pop!” It seems like everyone has either an opinion to share or a question to ask. Keep in mind that people mean well and are usually just trying to be friendly. Comments and questions don’t go away after you deliver, though. In fact, this time may be good practice for staying calm and collected when the parenting advice comes along!
Have you made up your mind on whether you’ll breastfeed or formula-feed your baby? What about circumcision if your baby is a boy? If you work outside your home, have you decided whether you’ll return to work once your baby is born? Have you chosen a pediatrician for your son or daughter, yet? These are just some of the many important choices you’ll face as a new parent. Your final decisions should be based on your personal beliefs and also what is best for your baby. You have some time to think about all of these things and it may even be helpful to do a little research and reading up on some of them, particularly breastfeeding and circumcision. To know all of the pros and cons will assist you in making the most informed decision.
Detection of preterm labor early-on is critical to keep labor from progressing and to prevent you from giving birth to a premature baby. It’s very important that you’re familiar with the early warning signs which include: fairly regular abdominal uterine cramping and contracting (painless or not), lower back pain or pressure or achiness (particularly if this is a new discomfort for you), sudden leaking of fluid or increase in vaginal discharge (particularly if it’s watery, mucus-like or pinkish/brownish), vaginal bleeding or spotting and frequent diarrhea. The signs of preterm labor may be subtle and some women may pass them off as normal Braxton-Hicks contractions or typical third-trimester discomforts. If you experience any possible symptoms of preterm labor, call your doctor or midwife immediately to make sure your little one isn‘t trying to make his or her way into the world too soon.