You’re a bundle of nerves awaiting a bundle of joy. The 40-week mark is looming on the calendar and “labor day” will soon be here. Mired in the maternal mix of excitement, anticipation and anxiety is a whole lot of impatience. After all, you’ve practically been pregnant “forever.” While it seems as if the blessed event will never happen, your body may already be giving clues that delivery day is right around the corner.
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The Thin of It
A doctor's examination may reveal that your cervix is thinning, or effacing -- a sign that the uterine opening is preparing for your baby’s journey through the birth canal. The amount of effacement is expressed in percentages; if the doctor says you are 50 percent effaced, the thinning of your cervix is half complete. When active labor begins, effacement will reach 100 percent. Your cervix will typically open between 1 and 4 cm in the weeks before delivery. During labor, your cervix will dilate to a full 10 cm to allow for passage of the baby.
The Thick of It
Throughout pregnancy, the mouth of the cervix is filled with thick mucus. This “plug” prevents bacteria from entering the womb, protecting the fetus from infection. As the cervix ripens, the plug may dislodge. You may notice a thick or stringy discharge that is clear or tinged with pink or red. Typically, the loss of the plug indicates labor is imminent, though onset may still be days away. False labor, or Braxton-Hicks contractions, may increase in the final days of pregnancy and also cause loosening of the plug. Distinguish these from actual labor contractions by timing them; they will be irregular and eventually subside.
You awaken one morning breathing freely again, though you find yourself making more trips to the bathroom than usual. The pressure of the growing baby on your diaphragm has shifted to your bladder. While this doesn’t appear to be much of a trade-off, it’s a sign that your baby has settled into the pelvis more deeply in preparation for delivery. You may also notice that your belly looks a bit more “bottom heavy” than usual. Remembering what these changes mean will help you take it all in stride.
Report some signs of impending labor to your physician right away. These include leakage of amniotic fluid, which can happen with a slow trickle or a gush. Labor will usually begin soon after the amniotic sac ruptures, but if it doesn't, your doctor may wish to induce labor to protect the baby from infection. You might also notice less movement from your baby toward the end of your pregnancy. While this may simply mean your baby is resting up for the big day, it's advisable to let your doctor know just to make sure all is well.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine: Intraamniotic Inflammatory Response to Bacteria -- Analysis of Multiple Amniotic Fluid Proteins in Women With Preterm Prelabor Rupture of Membranes
- Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica; The Cervical Mucus Plug -- Structured Review of the Literature; 2009
- PLoS One; Cervical Remodeling/Ripening at Term and Preterm Delivery -- The Same Mechanism Initiated by Different Mediators and Different Effector Cells; 2011
- WomensHealth.gov: Pregnancy