You’ve spent your entire pregnancy preparing for your little one to enter the world. But as you reach the end of your pregnancy, are you ready for the actual onset of labor? While most women cannot plan their labor and delivery, there are certain things you can pay attention to that can help clue you in as to when your baby may arrive. Even moms planning to be induced or who have scheduled their C-section can still go into labor before that date. This is why all moms-to-be need to pay attention to signs of labor as they near the end. Knowing what to look for and what to expect can take away much of the stress associated with the spontaneity of labor.
Signs of Labor (or at least that it’s coming soon!)
You can breathe easily.
You have probably had difficulty breathing for the past few weeks, or more, as your baby kicks your diaphragm and restricts your airways. Suppose you suddenly feel like breathing has become easier and you can take that deep, satisfying breath again. This is called lightening and is a sign that the baby has dropped into your pelvis, a position they get into when they are ready to enter the world.
In addition to breathing better, you may find yourself taking even more trips to the bathroom. (When a baby drops, their weight sits more on your bladder.) You may even notice that your baby bump appears to have shrunk. But just because you are sure the baby has dropped doesn’t mean it’s time to head to the hospital. Often, especially for first-time moms, a baby dropping is just a sign that labor is coming soon, which could mean days or even weeks.
Your water breaks.
This seldom happens as we see it in the movies. Many women may notice a trickle of excess water and have difficulty deciphering urine from amniotic fluid. Others will feel a gush or experience a large release of water from their body. Most pregnant moms’ waters don’t break until they’re pushing efforts at the very end of labor. However, for some, labor begins (or signals that it’s about to start) with the water breaking.
Contact your doctor or midwife if you feel your water may have broken or if you notice blood, mucus, or a brown or green tint to any leaked fluids. Try smelling your underwear to help determine if they are soaked with amniotic fluid or urine. Amniotic fluid is odorless, so if you smell nothing, it may be a sign that your waters have broken. You can also put on a clean pair of panties and walk around. If you continue to leak, it’s probably your water, not urine.
In addition to water breaking, you may also experience the loss of your mucus plug or some bloody mucus (bloody show). This comes in the form of mucus that may be tinged with blood or clear. This is a natural progression of labor, and all women will have their mucus plug expelled, but not all will notice it. Bloody mucus can signify that labor will begin in a few days.
Your cervix is dilated.
As you near the end, your provider may ask if you want a cervical exam to check on your dilation. These exams can be uncomfortable for some people, but cervical dilation can be a positive sign of labor. As you near the end, your cervix will thin out (efface) and open (dilate). Your midwife or doctor can feel this progress during an internal exam. However, it’s important to note that many women will not dilate before labor, and others will dilate weeks before labor occurs—so it’s not a perfect indication. Talk to your doctor about these exams before you agree to one to ensure that it’s something you want.
Your body relaxes.
While your brain is probably not relaxed, and your stress levels may seem higher, the rest of your body will start to “chill out” as you get close to labor. Your bowels will relax, often causing diarrhea. Your joints will feel a bit looser, possibly causing added clumsiness to your list of symptoms. And your weight will begin to relax as you will most likely stop gaining (some women even lose a bit of weight towards the end). You will also feel a lot more tired and have sudden urges to sit down or doze off.
On the other hand, some women experience a surge of energy as their baby’s birth day beckons. They may have the urge to clean, nest, or get last-minute things done. While both are potential signs of labor, they are also common signs of pregnancy. Pay close attention to how your mood and body are changing to decipher what may be different from your recent symptoms.
You have a “feeling.”
This sign is hard to decipher. But as intuitive as we are, we can often feel when our baby is ready to go. You may have all of the above symptoms or none but suddenly feel that it is time. While this may lead to false hope and an unnecessary trip to the emergency room, sometimes listening to our intuition is the best thing we can do.
If you have this feeling at any point towards the end of your pregnancy, sit down and take a few deep breaths. Try to remember if you have experienced any of the signs mentioned above. Take a moment to take stock of your body and notice any changes you currently feel. No matter what, listen to yourself!
Labor can bring about many emotions in women—excitement, anxiety, and pure fear. Whatever you feel, know that you were meant to handle this big moment in your life. No matter what happens during your labor experience, or the moments leading up to it, the result will be your beautiful baby, and it will all be completely worth it.