Most women become anxious for labor to start as they near the end of their pregnancy. Normal pregnancy discomforts, apprehension about labor and delivery, and the joy of holding your little one in your arms all are a part of this anxiety. Knowing the early signs of labor can help you to be observant of your body and know that your baby’s birthday is drawing near.
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Lightening or Dropping
The first sign of early labor is lightening or “dropping” of the baby. This occurs as the baby moves down into your pelvis and begins to put pressure on your cervix. This pressure releases hormones that cause labor to begin. Lightening may happen as early as two to four weeks before active labor.
You Lose the Mucus Plug
Losing the mucus plug is another early labor sign. This plug has formed a protective barrier to protect your baby from infection and outside debris. The mucus may be tinged with blood, which causes some people to refer to this as the “bloody show.” You can lose your mucus plug a few hours to a week before labor begins, either in small bits over time or in one large piece.
Change in Bowel Movements
Several soft bowel movements days to hours before active labor are nature's way of cleaning out your system to make way for the baby. This may or may not be accompanied by nausea or vomiting. Make sure to stay nourished and hydrated, as your body will need these nutrients for the hard work of labor.
Your Water Breaks
In a small percentage of women, active labor begins with a rupture of the membranes, otherwise known as "water breaking." Seldom is it a giant gush of fluid that splatters you and everyone near you. Instead, it is usually a small trickle of fluid that increases when you sit or lie down and stops when you stand. A large sanitary pad can be worn in late pregnancy, if you fear your water breaking in public.
Contractions from early labor often begin in the back as a series of simple muscle aches. If you are unsure if your backache is a simple pregnancy discomfort or the beginning of contractions, rest in a comfortable, reclined position and note the time. Labor in your back will intensify and release at regular intervals, if it is contractions. A simple backache will remain constant or slowly fade with no peaks or waves in intensity.
The intensification of contractions is usually the surest sign of impending labor. Throughout late pregnancy, your uterus has been painlessly contracting in preparation for delivery. Now, in labor, these contractions go from tightness to a cramping sensation to becoming stronger and rhythmic. In true labor, changing activity or position does not slow them down, and walking may intensify them. Some women experience contractions and backache on and off for weeks before entering active labor. These pre-labor contractions are important work for your body to soften and shorten your cervix in preparation for dilation and delivery. Should your contractions stop and start, try to relax, rest, and stay nourished while knowing that your baby’s birth is coming soon.
- "Prepared Childbirth the Family Way;" Debby Amis and Jeanne Green; 2008
- "The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth"; Sheila Kitzinger; 1997