If you’re expecting your first baby, it’s not uncommon to wonder how and if you will know when labor is coming. We’ve all seen the images of women in movies whose water breaks right in the middle of a very important and public moment, followed by a mad dash to the hospital to beat the baby’s arrival. In reality though, the start of labor is a much more progressive and likely less dramatic event. Here are a few signs to watch for that may indicate your body is gearing up for labor.
- Your baby drops: The technical term for baby dropping lower into the pelvis in preparation for birth is lightening. Lightening may occur several weeks before your baby arrives or may not happen until you are in active labor. For some women, they can see a noticeable difference in the location of their bump when they look in the mirror while for others it may be more subtle. When lightening occurs, you will likely feel some added pressure on your bladder and pubic area and you may notice you are using the bathroom as frequently as you did in the first trimester. The good news is, your diaphragm will get some relief and you may be able to breathe a bit easier as the drop will free up some space around your chest.
- Nesting: Something about the impending arrival of baby tends to send moms into an organizational frenzy. You may think it’s just your Type A personality but there is actually a very powerful instinct that takes over in those final weeks before baby arrives. If you’re on your knees cleaning the baseboards and organizing baby’s socks by color according to the rainbow, don’t worry, this is completely normal. Just be careful not to overdo it as your body needs rest before the big day.
- Exhaustion: When you’re not experiencing a surge of energy for alphabetizing your spice rack, you may be feeling extra exhausted in those final weeks before labor begins. The final stage of pregnancy can be uncomfortable making it difficult to sleep, tougher to move around and leaving you feeling like you’ve run a marathon when you’ve only climbed a flight of stairs.
- Increasing Cramping and Back Pain: You may notice in the final weeks of pregnancy that you are having more cramping and lower backaches than usual. As baby is preparing to make his debut, your body is getting into gear and a lot is happening in that general region to help position baby for birth. Muscles are stretching and joints are loosening due to the release of the hormone relaxin which allows your pelvis to expand for childbirth. Don’t be alarmed by these aches and pains and instead take it as a sign to get off your feet and rest for a bit. If the cramping or pain is severe or is accompanied by bleeding, call your doctor or midwife to be seen.
- Your weight plateaus: Up until this point, you’ve been consistently gaining as your baby grows to his or her birth weight. In the weeks before labor begins, you might find that you stop gaining weight and may even lose a pound of two due to decreasing levels of amniotic fluid. This is nothing to be alarmed by and is actually quite normal in the home stretch.
- Dilation and Effacement: Dilation refers to the opening of your cervix while effacement is the measurement of how thinned out it is. As baby puts pressure on your pelvic region and your uterus contacts in preparation for delivery, your cervix will become dilated and effaced. Dilation and effacement can be measured by your midwife or doctor if you choose to have internal exams leading up to your delivery. The tricky part is that you can be a few centimeters dilated and a percentage effaced for weeks before your delivery. The good news is that it does indicate that labor is coming in the near future and your body is working hard to prepare. Conversely, don’t be discourage if you are not dilated or effaced at your visit as this process can happen at a different point for every woman.
- Feeling loose: Unfortunately, your pelvic muscles and ligaments aren’t the only area of your body affected by the hormone relaxin. Consequently, you may experience other side effects of the release of this hormone into your body such as diarrhea and clumsiness. The good news is that these not so desireable side effects of the increased relaxin levels in your system are a good indication that your body is getting ready for baby!
- More frequent Braxton Hicks contractions: Braxton Hicks contractions or prodromal labor, are practice contractions that are usually felt from mid-pregnancy on. In the final weeks of pregnancy, you may notice that you are having more frequent Braxton Hicks contractions that feel more intense than usual. If the contractions are happening closer together, increasing in intensity, lasting a minute or more or seem to fall into a rhythmic pattern, it is likely labor has begun. Call your midwife or doctor to find out what the next steps are and when you should come in.
- Mucus plug loss: As your cervix begins to soften in preparation for birth, you may experience some mucus discharge. The mucus will be thick and white and may be streaked with blood and dispel gradually or in one clump. This is considered the loss of your mucus plug. The mucus plug is considered the seal to the uterus and its dislodging indicates labor is near.
- Your water breaks: The rupture of the amniotic sac is actually much rarer than Hollywood would lead you to believe. Approximately only 15 percent of women experience their water breaking before they are in active labor. Your water breaking may feel like a slow trickle or one gush of fluid but is not usually as dramatic as we see in the movies. If your amniotic sac ruptures, it’s go time. Call your midwife or doctor and get ready to head to wherever you plan to deliver.
The last month of pregnancy can often feel like an eternity with your big bump, aching back, tired feet and lack of sleep. Try as best you can to use these weeks to rest up for the big task ahead of childbirth. Your baby and body are hard at work preparing for the big day that will be here before you know it.
Remember also that all women experience the above symptoms at different times and to different degrees, so try not to compare yourself to other pregnant mamas or feel concerned if you don’t match up. Your baby will come when she’s good and ready and it will be one of the greatest moments of your life!
Excerpt: Ten telltale signs labor is on it’s way!