Labor is not an easy thing to describe, so it’s no surprise that most pregnant women wonder how it will feel (or how much it will hurt) and when it’s real versus a false alarm. Because it’s so hard to describe, these are difficult questions to answer. Every woman is different and may feel different things, but here are the most common signs of labor that you can be on the lookout for.
#1: Your Baby Drops
Your baby dropping means they’re descending into your pelvis, usually with their head down and low. This means they’re getting into position to meet you! If it’s your first pregnancy, your baby will typically start to drop a few weeks before labor begins, but this timeline can vary. If this isn’t your first, your baby probably won’t drop until you’re truly in labor.
You’ll know if your baby has dropped if you’re waddling a little more, or taking more frequent bathroom breaks—your baby’s head is pushing on your bladder even more after they’ve dropped! The upside of this is that they’re moving away from your lungs at this point, so you might find that you have a little more breathing room. So, take some deep breaths.
#2: Your Cervix Dilates
Your cervix is starting to prepare for birth too, so it might start to dilate (open) and efface (thin out) in the days or weeks before you deliver. At your weekly check-ups leading up to it, your healthcare provider may measure and track your dilation and effacement via an external exam.
Every woman is different of course, so don’t get discouraged if you’re dilating slowly or not at all!
#3: More Cramps & Increased Back Pain
You might feel some crampy-ness and pain in your lower back or groin as your muscles and joints stretch and shift in preparation for birth. This will be especially true if this isn’t your first baby rodeo!
#4: Your Joints Feel Looser
Throughout your pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin has made your ligaments loosen up a little. You can also thank relaxin for any bouts of clumsiness you may have in your last trimester. Before labor starts, you might notice that the joints in your body feel even more relaxed—this is nature’s way of opening up your pelvis to make delivery easier. Hopefully.
Unfortunately, when relaxin loosens up your joints, it loosens up a lot of other stuff too—including your rectum. This, of course, can lead to diarrhea. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you didn’t experience it until now! Plenty of women experience it at different points all through their pregnancies. It’s completely normal, just remember to stay hydrated. It’s not fun, but it is a good sign.
#6: You Stop Gaining Weight, or Lose Weight
Pregnancy weight gain typically levels off at the very end of your pregnancy—some people even lose a couple of pounds. This is perfectly normal and won’t affect your baby’s birth weight at all. They’re still gaining weight, but you aren’t due to lower levels of amniotic fluid, more potty breaks, and maybe even increased activity.
#7: You’re Extra Tired, or Extra Productive
There are pregnant women at both ends of the spectrum when it comes to energy levels. It’s hard to get a good night’s rest at this stage in your pregnancy, which could leave you feeling extra exhausted. Try to take as many naps as you can throughout the day, and work to find (if you can) positions that are comfortable for you. You can ask your partner or your doula for help!
Some moms, on the other hand, get a burst of energy as delivery nears and simply can’t resist the urge to clean and organize their entire homes. This is normal, too, just don’t overdo it.
#8: You Lose Your Mucus Plug & Your Vaginal Discharge Changes Color or Consistency
There’s basically a little mucus cork sealing off your uterus from the rest of the world. It makes sense when you think about all the stuff you’re storing up there! You might lose this leading up to delivery, either in one big piece, or in little gradual pieces. You might not see it when you lose it, and some women don’t lose it at all before delivery.
It’s pretty common to see increased or thickened vaginal discharge around this time. If you have thickened, pinkish discharge, it’s called bloody show—it sounds like a horror movie, but it’s a good indication that labor is on its way! Without contractions or a dilation of 3-4 centimeters, though, labor could still be a few days away.
#9: Stronger & More Frequent Contractions
Braxton Hicks contractions, or “practice contractions” can happen for weeks, or even months before delivery. The muscles in your uterus are gearing up for its big job—pushing your baby out! It can be pretty difficult to tell the difference between real and false labor contractions, so look out for these contraction-specific signs of labor:
- Contractions get stronger instead of easing up when you’re active
- Contractions don’t go away if you change position
- Contractions progress, getting more frequent and more painful
- Contractions fall into a regular pattern
Real early labor contractions could feel like strong menstrual cramps, upset stomach, or lower abdominal pressure. Pain could occur in your lower abdomen, or in your lower back, and might radiate down the legs.
#10: Your Water Breaks
Why is this last, you ask? Movies give the impression that water breaking is the official start of labor—it’s always sudden and dramatic, and the woman knows for sure her baby is coming. The reality is, it’s usually one of the last signs of labor women experience, and only happens in around 15% of births or fewer. Even if someone’s water breaks, it can be such little fluid that they still can’t tell if it’s time.
When to Call Your Doctor
Your doctor should have already briefed you on what to do when your contractions become regular. A common set of instructions is to call when your contractions are coming about five minutes apart for at least an hour. Contractions aren’t usually spaced exactly, but if they’re becoming consistent, longer (30-70 seconds), and more painful, it’s time to call your doctor.
You should always call your doctor if:
- You experience any bleeding or bright-red discharge (brown or pinkish is okay)
- Your water breaks—especially if the fluid looks green or brown. This could be a sign that meconium is present (your baby’s first stool) and could be dangerous to your baby.
- You experience blurred or double vision, a severe headache, or sudden swelling. These can all be symptoms of preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure.
These are all serious and require medical attention.
Never feel embarrassed about calling your doctor! Labor is extremely varied and hard to nail down. If you think you might be in labor, it’s best to give your doctor a call just to be sure.
If you want more maternity tips, advice, and support, contact RMC today.