As the day of her delivery approaches, many women become excited with anticipation about the birth of their child. While this is, of course, true of new moms, those that have been through it before tend to be just as excited. But, how do you recognize when the time has come? And what are the earliest signs of labor?
There are several signs that may indicate labor is about to begin. Here are some examples:
- Lightening. Late in your pregnancy, your baby will settle down deeper into your pelvis. This is called “lightening.” Once this has occurred, you will notice decreased pressure on your lungs and you are able to breathe better. For many women, lightening can occurs as much as a couple of weeks prior to labor; for others it may occur just before labor is about to start.
- Nesting. For most of the pregnancy you have probably been fighting the urge to take a nap, so you’ll know when you start “nesting.” One day you will wake up feeling full of energy! You’ll start making hundreds of list of things to do, things to clean, things to buy and everything you’ve put off doing will become a high priority. Your body and mind are preparing your home for your new family member.
- Dilation and effacement. Dilation and effacement refer to the preparation of the cervix for birth. The cervix will thin or “ripen” and it will open. This ripening is called effacement and the opening is called dilation. These can only be observed through a vaginal exam. This typically occurs just days or even hours before labor.
- Bloody show. A thick mucus plug blocks the cervical opening during pregnancy to hold back bacteria from entering the uterus. When your cervix begins to thin and open, this plug will likely be discharged. You may notice a thick vaginal discharge or stringy mucus, typically brown and sometimes tinged with blood. Losing the mucus plug is a sign that labor may begin soon, but it’s not a guarantee. Labor may still be a week or more away after you have a bloody show.
- Rupture of Membranes. Sometimes referred to as your “water breaking, this is often accompanied by a trickle or even a gush of fluid. This fluid comes from the amniotic sac. The amniotic sac is a membrane filled with fluid that cushions your baby in the uterus. When this membrane ruptures and leaks or breaks, labor is generally not far away. If this happens, you should check with your health care provider immediately. He or she will evaluate you and your baby to determine the next steps.
- Consistent Contractions. Finally, consistent regular contractions are a good sign you are going into labor. True labor contractions are regular, follow a predictable pattern (such as every eight minutes), become progressively closer, last progressively longer and become progressively stronger. Each contraction is felt starting in the lower back and then radiating around to the front or visa versa. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish these from “Braxton-Hicks” or “false labor.”
In addition to all of the above, many women have experienced other symptoms just before entering into labor, such as backache, menstrual-like cramps, indigestion, diarrhea, and a warm sensation in the abdomen.