36 weeks pregnant: baby's development, common symptoms and pain relief in labour

Your baby weighs an impressive 6 pounds (2.7kg) - give or take - and is about the size of a large cabbage.

Your baby’s development this week

Your baby is getting ready to take their first gasp of air when they're born – their lungs are now developed and ready to go. Until they take their first breath of air, their lungs stay deflated and they get oxygen through the placenta. 

If they were born now, your baby would be considered a moderate-to-late premature baby. Babies born this week are less likely to have any severe problems associated with being born prematurely. They may not need to go to the neonatal unit for specialist care, but they will need to be watched more carefully than full-term babies.

Your pregnancy symptoms in week 36

A change in your body shape

If your baby’s head has started to engage or settle into the pelvis, your bump will appear to be lying lower. This can sometimes cause a change in your body shape. Sometimes this is referred to as ‘started to drop’.

This does not mean that you are about to go into labour. You may still have a few weeks to go.

Read about 4 ways your body gets ready for labour.

Leaking urine

Don’t worry if you find yourself leaking a bit of pee when you cough or laugh. Don’t worry, this is normal. It can help to work on toning up your pelvic floor muscles.

If you think your waters have broken

Preterm prelabour rupture of membranes (PPROM) is when your waters break before 37 weeks of pregnancy. If this happens, you will need to get medical help straight away.

Your waters breaking may feel like a mild popping sensation, followed by a trickle or gush of fluid that you can’t stop, unlike when you wee.

The amount of fluid you lose may vary. 

What to do in week 36

Your antenatal care

Around this week, your midwife or doctor will measure your bump, check your blood pressure and check your urine. Find out more about your antenatal appointment schedule.

What to do if your baby is breech

If your baby is breech (bottom or feet first in the womb) at 36 weeks, you may be offered an external cephalic version (ECV). This is when a healthcare professional tries to turn the baby into a head-down position by putting pressure on your abdomen.

If this does not work (or you decide not to do an ECV), you may be offered a caesarean section. You may still be able to give birth vaginally, if you want to.

Go to sleep on your side if you're not already doing so

When you reach your third trimester, the advice is to go to sleep on your side because research has shown that going to sleep on your back is linked to an increased risk of stillbirth. This advice includes daytime napping and night sleeping. Read more about safe sleep positions in pregnancy.

“From my experience, this is the time to use a pregnancy pillow or any pillows! Sleeping on my side towards the end was very uncomfortable as all my body weight seemed to be felt on my hips when laying down. I used as many pillows as I could to keep me comfortable.”

Try massaging your perineum

The perineum is the area between the vagina and the anus. If you are planning a vaginal birth, massaging this area in the weeks coming up to the birth can reduce the chances of having an episiotomy (cutting the perineum) during birth or having a perineal tear.

To massage the perineum, put one or two fingers into the vagina and massage downwards towards the perineum.

Find out more about perineal tears and how to prevent them

Talk to your midwife about how you feel

Remember that it’s important to look after your emotional health as well as your physical health. Talk to your midwife if there is anything you’re worried about, for example, if you’re feeling nervous about giving birth.

They may be able to reassure you or help you get more support if you need it

Find out more about pain relief for labour and birth

If they are planning a vaginal birth, many people wonder how they will manage when labour gets going. It is understandable to worry, but when it happens, everyone deals with it in their own way. Some find inner calm, some swear and shout, and others want to have all the pain relief they can. All these reactions are fine and normal.

“I would recommend discussing your preferences with your birth partner. During labour I could not talk and all I could do was concentrate on getting through it. So I am glad my partner knew what I wanted and was able to communicate that for me.”

It's good to know your pain relief options before the birth. If you feel in control, this will help you stay calm, which can mean an easier birth. If you are stressed and tense, your contractions may feel more painful and become less effective.

You may find that you are in early labour (called the 'latent phase') for a long time before things really get going. Warm baths, back massages from your birth partner, paracetamol, a TENS machine and moving around may all help with early labour.

Find out about the pros and cons of different types of pain relief.

1. Regan, Lesley (2019) Your pregnancy week by week, Penguin Random House, London

2. BMJ Best Practice (2021) Premature newborn care. https://bestpractice.bmj.com/topics/en-gb/671/pdf/671/Premature%20newborn%20care.pdf

3. NHS. Urinary incontinence. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-incontinence/ (Page last reviewed: 7 November 2019 Next review due: 7 November 2022)

4. Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (2019) When your waters break prematurely https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/patients/patient-leaflets/when-your-waters-break-prematurely/

5. NHS. What happens if your baby is breech? https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/what-happens/if-your-baby-is-breech/ (Page last reviewed: 12 November 2020. Next review due: 12 November 2023) Accessed: September 2021

6. Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (2015) The Management of Third-and-Fourth-Degree Perineal Tears. https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/gtg-29.pdf

Review dates
Reviewed: 11 July 2022
Next review: 11 July 2025