If you’re nearing your due date based on a pregnancy due date calculator, you may be wondering when labor will finally start. (You could check out these 10 signs your baby is coming video.)
In this post, we’ll look at the signs of labor to help you sort out whether you are nearing your baby’s birth day, or whether you may still have some time to wait.
Signs of labor: Maybe soon
These signs of labor may or may not signal impending labor.
Ask almost any mother and you’ll probably discover some crazy nesting stories! Nesting is an actual instinct in pregnant mammals (humans included!) to prepare a safe home for the upcoming newborn(s).
Whether than means washing and ironing every item of clothing or cleaning the floors with a toothbrush, pregnant mamas can go to extreme lengths as the nesting instinct takes over.
Studies show that nesting is very real and may serve a protective function. Maybe the instinct to create a safe, clean environment for the baby helps mom bond with baby too (less to worry about after baby arrives).
But just because nesting is real doesn’t mean it’s signaling labor. Some women experience nesting among other early symptoms of being pregnant. Others begin nesting days before labors, and still others fall somewhere in between.
When your body is preparing for labor, baby will begin to drop down into the pelvis. This can relieve the squished feeling in your chest and abdomen and may make eating a full meal and simply breathing easier. It’s called “lightening,” and most moms breathe a sigh of relief when this happens!
Though baby dropping is a good sign, it doesn’t mean that labor is going to happen today, tomorrow, or even this week.
For first time moms, baby is likely to drop earlier, even several weeks before labor, while experienced moms are more likely to not notice any dropping until labor begins.
You’ve started dilating or effacing
Some women start dilating and effacing weeks before labor begins, while others don’t do either until a couple hours before birth.
Most first moms don’t dilate or efface much until labor starts. This means that getting pelvic exams to check dilation and effacement are typically useless in predicting labor onset and may cause problems such as infection or anxiety over not having any cervical changes yet.
However, if you are in a situation where knowing your bishop score is helpful, like if you are ill and need induction or are post-term and may need induction, then a pelvic exam may be a good choice for you.
You get a burst of energy
Similar to nesting, many women agree that they get a burst of energy before labor begins.
Though it’s not a great predictor of labor, use your new found energy to get some exercise, have fun with older children, or finish a project before baby arrives. Just don’t overdo it in case you do go into labor!
Resist the urge to use up all of this precious energy. Save it for birth!
Signs of labor: Soon!
Labor may be imminent, but whether that means two hours or two days is anybody’s guess.
Prostaglandins are a hormone that the body releases to help the cervix soften (efface) and the uterus contract. Prostaglandins also help the bowels contract, which mean some women experience diarrhea or frequent bowel movements in the days leading up to labor or during labor itself.
This is actually a wonderful thing, as it can help clear out your insides so you don’t have the discomfort of constipation during labor.
Another bonus: it lessens your odds of pooping in the delivery room. (But don’t worry if you do as it’s very common!)
This “clearing out of the bowels” was actually the first sign of labor I had with my first birth. My labor began 24 hours later.
Bloody show or losing the mucus plug
When your cervix begins to change in preparation for labor, the mucus plug that protected the cervical opening will be expelled.
The mucus plug looks like clear, pink, or blood tinged mucus or discharge. (If it’s reddish in color, it’s often called bloody show.)
Click here for mucus plug photos and more info.
Some women don’t notice losing their mucus plug at all. Loss of the mucus plug is a good sign that labor is coming soon, but it could still be a few days away.
Signs of labor: It’s time!
Your water breaks
Water breaking is a pretty sure sign that labor has begun.
Only about 10%-20% of women lose their water before contractions begin. Usually the water breaks sometime after contractions begin.
For some women, the bag of waters stay intact right up until the pushing phase. In very rare (but perfectly safe) cases, babies are even born with the sac still intact! It’s called en-caul.
There is no reason to be concerned if you’re in labor and your water hasn’t broken yet. In fact, keeping the water intact for as long as possible is beneficial because the sac acts as a cushion against the cervix, reducing the sensations of pain.
It’s important to realize that many women don’t experience a big dramatic gush of amniotic fluid, but instead notice a slow leak or a few small gushes with contractions.
If you are unsure whether your water has broken or if what you’re experiencing is urine leaking (a common occurrence in the last weeks of pregnancy), talk to your doctor or midwife right away.
Contractions get more intense and closer together
It’s hard for many first-time moms, and even experienced moms, to know for sure if what she is experiencing is true labor. Here are some tips to help you decide if you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, prodromal labor, or the real thing.
- Braxton hicks contractions are usually painless contractions that go away with movement, water, rest, etc. Real labor contractions won’t go away when you are active, change positions, or drink water. One way to find out if your contractions are a sign of labor is to do all of these things; if the contractions don’t ease up, you may be in labor!
- Prodromal labor is real contractions that don’t get stronger, longer, or closer together (but may be changing your cervix). Prodromal labor is often a sign of baby being in a bad position, so try these exercises to get him in the best labor position.
- Real labor contractions become progressively closer, last progressively longer, and become progressively stronger. Movement, water, and changing positions won’t relieve the contractions either. If this is what you’re experiencing, you may be in labor!
Your baby will come at the perfect time
Sometimes it’s hard to wait for baby to make her appearance… especially if you’re getting uncomfortable with your full belly.
Trust that your body and baby know the perfect time for birth to begin.
In the meantime, breathe deeply, listen to some birthing affirmations, and try to rest as much as possible. Enjoy the last moments of pregnancy and remember, there are some perks to being with child 🙂
How about you?
How did you know that you were in labor for sure? Share with us in the comments below!