Surprising Facts: Signs of labor
There's no way to predict when labor is going to start. Your body actually starts "preparing" for labor up to a month before you give birth. You may be blissfully unaware of what's going on or you may begin to notice new symptoms as your due date draws near.
Here are some things that may happen in the weeks or days before labor starts:
- Your baby drops. If this is your first pregnancy, you may feel what's known as "lightening" a few weeks before labor starts as your baby descends lower into your pelvis. You might detect a heaviness in your pelvis as this happens and notice less pressure just below your ribcage, making it easier to catch your breath.
- You note an uptick in Braxton Hicks contractions. More frequent and intense Braxton Hicks contractions can signal pre-labor, during which your cervix ripens and the stage is set for true labor. Some women experience a crampy, menstrual-like feeling during this time.
- You pass your mucus plug. The mucus plug is the small amount of thickened mucus that blocks the cervical canal leading to your uterus. The plug may come out all at once in a lump, or as increased vaginal discharge over the course of several days. The mucus may be tinged with blood (which may be brown, pink, or red), in which case it may be referred to as "bloody show."
- Your water breaks. Most women start having regular contractions sometime before their water breaks, but in some cases, the water breaks first. When this happens, labor usually follows soon. (If contractions don't start promptly on their own, you'll be induced.) Whether the amniotic fluid comes out in a large gush or a small trickle, call your doctor or midwife.
Sometimes it's very hard to tell false labor from the early stages of true labor. Here are some things that might help you sort it out:
- False labor contractions are unpredictable. They come at irregular intervals and vary in length and intensity. Although true labor contractions may be irregular at first, over time they start coming at regular and shorter intervals, become increasingly more intense, and last longer.
- With false labor, the pain from the contractions is more likely to be centered in your lower abdomen. With true labor, you may feel the pain start in your lower back and wrap around to your abdomen.
- False labor contractions may subside on their own, or when you start or stop an activity or change position. True labor contractions will persist and progress regardless of what you do.