Tommy's PregnancyHub

38 weeks pregnant - all you need to know

Your baby is about the length of a stalk of rhubarb.

What does my baby look like in week 38? 

Their soft lanugo fur has disappeared, fat is being laid down to give them energy for their first few days while the breastmilk is coming in and they're ready for the real world. Now it’s all about getting into position for the birth.

Your baby is still growing and filling the womb - but this doesn’t mean that their movements should slow down.

If baby is not moving as much as they were, or if you're worried about their movements for any reason, talk to your midwife or doctor immediately. A change in your baby's movements can be a sign that they need help.

Your pregnancy symptoms in week 38

Leaking nipples

Your breasts are producing colostrum - a very special milk rich in nutrients for the baby's first few days. Don’t be alarmed if you spot yellow marks in your bra, or any wetness.

If needs be, buy some absorbent breast pads - they may come in handy when your baby arrives too.

What to do in week 38

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.

I’m worried something is wrong

If you have any concerns get in touch with your midwife or labour ward. Don't hold back from reporting a concern. Here are some tips for speaking with midwives in pregnancy.

Do you have persistent stomach pains? Brown or pink discharge? A severe headache that won’t go away?  

Take a look at the list of symptoms you mustn’t ignore.

How will I know when labour has started?

This is a common question at this point of pregnancy. You might be feeling worried about going out, making plans or being alone in case you go in to labour.

However, in most cases labour starts slowly with contractions very widely spaced, leaving you plenty of time to get home. This is especially true if it’s your first child. So don’t feel like you have to stay in the house.

Babies can go up to two weeks overdue before induction (bringing on the birth) is recommended, so it may be better for your mental health to get out, meet friends for lunch, walk around, do the shopping and so on as normal.

You might also be worried about knowing when you should go into hospital, especially if it’s not close by. But it takes a while to go through the first phase of labour, the latent phase (especially if it is your first baby). 

When you are having a contraction every five minutes that lasts 30+ seconds), call your midwife, birth centre or hospital labour ward if you are giving birth there. If you have chosen a home birth, the midwife will come to you.

How will I know when I am in labour? 

What happens during labour?

Antenatal care

You’re likely to have an antenatal appointment at 38 weeks to check on you and your baby. The position of your baby will be checked to see if he is head-down.

If his legs or bottom are facing down, your baby is ‘breech’. Your doctor or midwife may arrange for you to have a procedure where the doctor tries to move the baby into a head-down position. This is called external cephalic version (ECV).

Stay active if you can

Get outside and go for a walk. You can carry on exercising as long as you feel well and comfortable, even up to the birth, but it’s important not to overdo it.

Walking and swimming are great ways to be active at this stage in pregnancy. If you feel any pain or discomfort, dizziness, tightening in your tummy or leaking waters, stop exercising straight away and contact your midwife, doctor or the hospital.

“Do lots of things that you won't be able to do for a while after the birth. I went to the cinema as much as I could (since having children I’ve made it about three times in the past five years!)” Anam, mum of three

After the birth

You may be wondering what you will be spending your days on after the birth if this is your first child. Minding a new baby is all-consuming. It may seem unlikely now, but keeping them fed and nappies changed is likely to take up all your time.

Newborn babies do not sleep through the night so staying in bed in the morning, after the time you would normally get up, to get an extra hour or two can make all the difference to your day. Keep the curtains closed and if your partner goes to work, see if they can get ready in another room.

Read more about after the birth.

Your body will be sore from the birth and you will also need to look after yourself. If you have a c-section planned, find out how to prepare your home here.

NHS Choices. You and your baby at 33–36 weeks pregnant. (Page last reviewed: 31/03/2017 Next review due: 31/03/2020).

Heazell AEP, Li M et al (2017) Association between maternal sleep practices and late stillbirth – findings from a stillbirth case-control study. BJOG 2017;

Stacey T, Thompson JM et al (2011) Association between maternal sleep practices and risk of late stillbirth: a case-control study. BMJ. 2011 Jun 14;342:d3403. doi: 10.1136/bmj.d3403.

Gordon A1, Raynes-Greenow C et al (2015) Sleep position, fetal growth restriction, and late-pregnancy stillbirth: the Sydney stillbirth study. Obstet Gynecol. 2015  Feb;125(2):347-55. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000000627.

NICE (2008) Antenatal care for uncomplicated pregnancies, NICE Clinical Guidelines 62. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

Review dates

Last reviewed: 29 June, 2018
Next review: 29 June, 2021