During this week your baby's fingernails have become fully developed and now approach the tips of the fingers. Bathed in amniotic fluid, the nails are kept very soft: it's only after birth that your baby might tend to scratch and need to wear mittens.
Your baby is swallowing and recycling almost half a liter of amniotic fluid each day. In addition to providing him with nutrients, especially proteins, this fluid is important for the healthy development of the gut. Your baby's sense of taste is thought to have developed to such an extent now that if you have eaten spiced food he can distinguish this in the fluid he drinks.
Amniotic fluid does not enter the lungs but travels down the esophagus into the stomach where it is stored for a short time. At this stage, the stomach fills every 40 minutes, but, from 35 weeks, as the stomach enlarges, this rate slows down to every 80 minutes. Muscle contractions move the fluid in waves into the small and then large bowel. As it travels along the bowel, water is reabsorbed so that only waste material or "meconium," enters the colon, the final section of the large bowel. This meconium accumulates in the large bowel, which is completely full by the time your baby is born. Babies don't usually pass meconium before the birth but do so soon after. Meconium consists mainly of skin cells, lanugo hairs, and vernix. It has a greenish color due to the presence of bilirubin, a breakdown product from red blood cells.
In the next few weeks, as you and your partner await your baby's arrival, you may experience one or two false alarms, especially if it's your first baby. A false alarm can come at any time of the day or night and it won't respect important meetings or deadlines.
It can help if you-as well as your partner-familiarize yourself with all the signs that indicate labor may be starting (see Approaching Labor). If, however, you're ever in doubt, do contact your doctor to ascertain that labor has not started, rather than assuming that this is the case. She will be very experienced in dealing with false alarms and won't mind you contacting her.
Having itchy skin on your belly is common: as the skin there stretches and thins, it can become dry. You could try using a moisturizing lotion to soothe this.
If, however, you have severe itching on your abdomen, or on the palms of your hands or soles of your feet, see your doctor. This itching can be a sign of obstetric cholestasis, a rare pregnancy condition involving the liver, which causes bile salts to enter the bloodstream, making the skin (especially on the hands and feet) itchy, although there is no rash. The condition may also cause a vitamin K deficiency. Vitamin K helps the blood to clot, so a deficiency increases the risk of bleeding for both mother and baby. Medication to bind the bile salts and vitamin K supplements are effective treatments. Some studies suggest early induction of labor (at around 37 weeks) helps avoid complications. The condition resolves after delivery, usually without any long-term liver damage.
Excerpted from Pregnancy Day by Day.
Copyright ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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