Signs that You May Be in Labor
Nine months—40 weeks—can seem like a really long time, especially if you’re pregnant. You’re tracking your pregnancy week by week, even daily, as that tiny little human grows inside of you. It’s really an exciting time, and I know I was on pins and needles in those final days and weeks, looking for signs that labor had begun.
The following are signs that labor may be near, or that you are in labor:
Your baby “drops.” As you near the end of your pregnancy, the baby will shift lower in your body to prepare for delivery. You can often tell a baby has dropped because you feel increased pelvic pressure—this is because the baby is sitting lower and his or her head is pushing down on that area of your body. You may find that you need to use the bathroom more often and that you have now started to “waddle” when you walk. It’s happened to many of us women in our pregnancy, so don’t let it get you down. It’s a good thing—baby is coming!
Cramps and increased back pain. Menstrual-like cramps are a common sign of early labor. Intense back pain is also a sign. This is often called “back labor,” as your muscles and joints are loosening and stretching. Back labor can be painful and uncomfortable, especially when coupled with contractions. To ease the pain, try taking a warm bath or shower or applying a hot or cold compress.
Diarrhea. Diarrhea can be a sign of labor, as your body is preparing for the baby to arrive, making room and clearing out for child birth. If you have diarrhea, remember to stay hydrated (and, stay near a bathroom to make it easier on yourself).
Passing your mucus plug. During your pregnancy, clumps of mucus build up on your cervix, “plugging” its opening and sealing the uterus, and the baby, off. This seal protects your baby from infection and bacteria. When labor starts and your cervix begins to dilate, the mucus plug, as the accumulation of mucus is referred to, is discharged. This may also be referred to as “bloody show” because of the color of the discharge, which can contain blood or be pink in color (it can also be clear mucus). The passing of your mucus plug can discharge all at once or gradually.
Your water breaks. Your water breaking won’t necessarily happen the way it does in the movies—like a giant bucket of water spilling all over. For some women, yes, that is the way it happens, but it can also be a slow, trickling leak. You may not have contractions if your water breaks. If you think your membranes have ruptured, contact your doctor immediately.
Contractions start. Contractions can be a tricky sign of labor because of Braxton Hicks contractions, which are essentially “fake” contractions. Many women experience Braxton Hicks contractions for many weeks or months during their pregnancy, but they are not a sign of labor. Here’s how you can distinguish Braxton Hicks (or false labor) contractions from “real” early labor contractions:
- Your contractions get stronger.
- You contractions increase in frequency, becoming progressively stronger. Time your contractions, including how long they last and how far apart they are. Are they occurring more regularly, at regular intervals? Increasing contractions are a sign of labor.
- Changing your position doesn’t stop the contractions. If you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions and you stand up or lie down, or otherwise change your position, your contractions will stop. In true labor, the contractions won’t go away, regardless of changing your position.
Your cervix dilates. Cervix dilation is measured in centimeters, and when you reach 10 centimeters, you’re fully dilated. As you reach the last weeks of your pregnancy and begin weekly checkups with your doctor, he or she may do an exam and check to see if there is any dilation. Dilation—or the opening of your cervix—is a sign of labor. As your cervix dilates and opens more, it’s at this point you lose your mucus plug, as discussed above.
Every labor is different, and every woman experiences different signs and symptoms of labor. It’s an exciting time, full of anticipation. Take note of signs as you progress through early labor, so you can share them with your healthcare provider. If you have any questions or concerns about any of these—or other—signs and symptoms, do not hesitate to contact your doctor’s office immediately.
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