Understanding Third Trimester Baby Dropping

As your due date approaches, you may be looking for any little sign that the time is near. Some women experience a burst of energy and a need to nest — nature’s little way of giving you the stamina needed to put the finishing touches on the nursery.

Near the end of the third trimester, many women notice a shift in the position of the baby. For some moms, the feeling of the baby ‘dropping’ into position is more than a little unsettling, but it’s perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. Here’s what you need to know about dropping in the last days of your pregnancy.

How does dropping work?

Dropping occurs when your baby settles lower down into the pelvis, getting closer to the birth canal. First time mothers are the most likely to actually feel the sensation of their baby falling into place.

Dropping is also known as “lightening,” and once the baby’s head drops into the birth canal, they’re “engaged” — not every baby will engage early on. Babies in the wrong position, with plenty of room to wiggle, or those larger than average, may wait to scoot into place. Furthermore, mom’s placenta or pelvis can both influence when the baby will drop and engage. 

How can I tell if my baby is engaged?

Over the last month of prenatal visits, your obstetrician or midwife will check the extent your baby has engaged, using “stations” as a measurement, from -5 (above the pelvis) to +5 (into the birth canal). Station 0 is the initial drop, when the baby’s head has just barely entered the birth canal, while +5 generally refers to crowning. Understand that not every doctor follows the exact same standards of measurements — for example, some healthcare professionals use a fraction to describe the station, so 5/5 is not engaged and 2/5 is engaged. 

What side effects should I expect from dropping? 

As a result of your baby being lower down in your abdomen, you may notice increased pressure on your bladder, leading to even more frequent urination. This extra, lower weight may also create some discomfort or pain.

Earlier in the pregnancy, ligaments and joints in your body begin stretching or loosening in response to hormonal signals preparing the pelvic area for delivery. Once the baby drops and engages, many women notice the embarrassing sensation of waddling, an unfortunate consequence of loosened ligaments and spreading hips. Other pregnancy symptoms may also become more uncomfortable. If these issues become unbearable, talk to your healthcare team. 

However, dropping isn’t all bad. Shortness of breath is common to pregnancy — a result of the growing baby taking up room in the abdomen, making a full expansion of the lungs difficult. When the baby moves into position for birth, the pressure on your upper abdomen decreases with the increase on the lower abdomen. Your lungs have more room, making breathing easier than it has been for months. Additionally, this decrease of pressure tends to bring an end to most pregnancy-related heartburn.

Does dropping mean I am going into labor soon?

Dropping is a sign that body and baby are getting ready for delivery, but not every mother experiences it the same. Babies in women who have given birth previously may not drop until mom is already in labor, while first-time moms generally experience dropping about two to four weeks before delivery. With such a wide berth, dropping isn’t a good means of judging when your baby is going to arrive. 

Dropping is, however, a good indicator it’s time to give up strenuous activities — since they might induce labor. This doesn’t mean you have to give up your exercise regimen all together, but do check with your obstetrician for appropriate activity instructions. This is also a good time to give some thought to how you would like the birthing process to progress and find answers to any unasked questions you have about labor. 

When should I worry?

Although dropping is normal, if you notice it occurs more than a month before your due date, this could be a potential sign of preterm labor. If you’re concerned your baby is dropping too early, or you see any of the other signs of preterm labor, give your obstetrician or midwife a call immediately. 

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