Whether it's mama's first pregnancy or third, it all gets a bit more exciting as the end of the pregnancy approaches. After more than nine months of nurturing a baby inside, it's tough to wait just a bit longer to meet the baby. By the third trimester, it can be very difficult to sort out all of the aches and pains that come along with the last stage of pregnancy versus signs that the mysterious switch that begins the labor process has been flipped.
Whether mom is focusing on the due date or not, it's a sure bet she's watching for all the signs and symptoms that might give her a clue that it's almost showtime. There are some key symptoms that alone or in combination can give a woman a little heads up that the main event is right around the corner. There are other symptoms that are easily confused or totally unreliable indicators. Sorting out all the symptoms in an attempt to peer into the labor crystal ball can be tough, but there really are some key signs moms can look for to help them know it's time. There are some indications that only a medical exam can identify, but others are symptoms that the pregnant mama can observe herself.
Read on to find out which signs actually mean labor is right around the corner—and which signs should be ignored.
22 A One Woman Show
While not every woman actually sees any red colouring, the mucus plug at the cervix entrance is often called her show. They're not actually the same thing and are often confused even by doctors, according to Mama Natural. Both, however, are early signs that labor is coming soon—but that can mean anywhere between 24 hours and several days. Each woman is different, and even individual pregnancies are different. Some women never see the mucus plug until labor is already underway. The show is when some spotting may occur due to the changes in the cervix as it effaces and dilates.
21 Dial Up The Dilation
As some women reach the last few weeks of pregnancy, they may find that their cervix begins to dilate even before labor begins. Throughout most of the pregnancy, the cervix is tightly closed. Doctors will often note dilation of the cervix up to three centimeters, but if the mother isn't experiencing any contractions, she is not considered in active labor, as per Healthline.
Dilation is determined by a healthcare provider through an exam that involves looking to see how many fingers can be inserted into the cervix in order to estimate dilation—and ten centimeters is considered fully dilated.
20 Feathering The Nest
There are some pregnant women who feel the urge to nest for nearly the whole pregnancy, while others only get the urge suddenly towards the end, only to find themselves going into labor just days later. Nesting is so common that it's recognized as one of the signs that labor is coming soon, according to Mother Rising Birth.
Women may find themselves suddenly restless or with an uncontrollable urge to organize or clean something. If a pregnant woman has been feeling exhausted but then suddenly jumps up to sew brand new living room curtains, she may be nesting.
19 Feeling Shook
One symptom that many women experience even on warm days is involuntary shivering. It can take pregnant moms by surprise, but it often occurs at the onset of early labor, according to Belly Belly.
Because this is a lesser-known symptom and many doctors don't mention it, women can be taken by surprise and even feel anxious about the uncontrolled shivering, which can last several minutes. It's not related to feeling cold and isn't like getting a chill. Doctors think it's the body's attempt to release some tension. It can also happen just before or directly after birth.
18 Timely Contractions
Braxton-Hicks—“practice” contractions—are a common occurrence as the end of the pregnancy draws near, but especially for first-time moms, they can be very confusing and even lead to unnecessary hospital trips. Real contractions may start out with wide gaps of time in-between but occur regularly at standard intervals of time, as per Today's Parent.
Although they may begin far apart, real contractions will continue to progress over time and continue to stay regular even when the woman changes position or eats or drinks. As time goes on, it can get difficult to talk or breathe through the contractions.
17 Cervical Movin' On Up
One sign of impending labor that many women don't know about unless a doctor does a cervical exam is the ripening of the cervix. Before labor begins, the cervix is long and pointed toward the posterior—or the back—of the body. When the cervix ripens, it moves forward and points toward the anterior—or front—of the body, according to BabyCentre UK. This cervical movement happens with effacement and dilation and can begin several days before labor begins in first-time mamas. Some women report feeling mild contractions, while others have no idea until the doctor examines them.
16 Less Kicking Room
Towards the end of the pregnancy, many mothers note that the baby seems to kick and move less and less. As labor and delivery time approaches, many babies move into position with their head pointing down, as per Verywell Family. In the last weeks or days, the baby's head often drops down into the pelvis.
While this dropping in and of itself isn't an accurate predictor of impending labor, this reduction of fetal movement along with other symptoms can be a sign that the baby is nearly ready to come. Keeping a kick-count can help track movement.
15 Bring On The Waterworks
One obvious sign that labor may be coming soon is when the membranes rupture. Movies would have us believe that this clear sign happens like an announcement just before the first painful contraction, but many women don't actually have their waters break until after labor has begun, according to What to Expect.
It can still be confusing, because it's usually not a huge gush of water that floods everyone's shoes, but may feel more like a trickle. Some women feel like they've wet themselves, but if the fluid keeps leaking out, that's a sign the amniotic sac has broken.
14 Something's Off
One common symptom that many women don't realize they're experiencing until after their baby's been born is a feeling of being “off” or feeling “weird” just before labor begins. Pregnant women often have vague feelings of something not being quite right—they can't put their finger on it, but something is different—and within a day or two, labor has begun, as per Essential Baby.
This “off feeling” may be accompanied by sudden or strong emotion or a vague, mild discomfort with either exhaustion or restlessness. Many women don't see the difference until they look back afterward.
13 Plumbing Issues
After many expecting mamas experience months of a sluggish digestive system, a sudden onset of diarrhea can be confusing or uncomfortable but is often a sign that labor is going to happen soon, according to What to Expect.
Experts aren't totally sure why this common symptom happens but theorize that it may be the body's way of clearing out and making more space for the baby's passage down through the birth canal. The muscles in the bowel and rectum loosen up, causing fecal matter to pass much more quickly through the bowels.
12 The Pace Of Effacement
During most of the pregnancy, the cervix remains long, thin and hard. It can be up to four centimeters long! As the time for labor approaches, the cervix begins to soften and thins out, which is referred to as effacement, as per Mayo Clinic. Doctors will often measure effacement as a percentage, based on the thickness and length of the cervix.
Some moms notice mild cramping or uncomfortable light contractions that coincide with the effacement of the cervix, while others don't feel a thing. Once the cervix is 100% effaced, a v-birth delivery can happen.
11 A Size Reversal
Going up in size is normal throughout pregnancy, but many women notice just before labor begins that their gain slows or stops, or they may even lose a pound or two. It's thought that as the hormones begin to change in readiness for the onset of labor, women may lose some of the water retention that is a normal part of the pregnancy, according to Saint Francis Healthcare.
This usually occurs during the last few days leading up to the onset of labor, although many women don't notice until they head into the doctor for one of their last pre-baby checkups.
10 The Timing's Off
When a first-time mama is nervous and excited about the baby coming, it can be difficult to tell the difference between real labor and Braxton-Hicks contractions. Although Braxton-Hicks contractions can begin as early on as the fourth month of pregnancy, most women don't experience them until within a few weeks of the real event.
There are important differences between Braxton-Hicks and real contractions, as per Cleveland Clinic. If the contractions are irregular, with differing time intervals or change when mom changes position or drinks water, chances are she's not ready to go just yet.
9 Just Plain Irritable
Irritability is tough to avoid during the last month of pregnancy. There are a lot of things that cause discomfort, sleep may be elusive, and those Braxton-Hicks contractions are often annoying, to say the least. Extra irritability could be a sign that labor is fast approaching—or it could just be a sign that mom is exhausted, in pain and running out of patience, as per Mother Rising Birth.
While some women breeze through pregnancy feeling lovely right up until the end, many others find the discomfort and emotional upheaval wreaks havoc on their mood.
8 Drop Top Baby
Lightning is when the baby's head drops down into the pelvis, and can even be visible to family and friends who notice that the baby bump doesn't appear to be riding as high as before. It's often cited as a sign of impending labor, but the fact is that lightning can occur several weeks before labor begins, or not until labor has already started, according to Healthline. Babies can even fluctuate in how far down they've dropped into the pelvis in the days leading up to labor. Lightning is usually easy to detect and can lessen breathing difficulties.
7 One-Sided Contractions
It's not always easy to tell the difference between real labor and prodromal, or false, labor. Braxton-Hicks contractions might be “practice” contractions, but that doesn't mean they aren't accompanied by some discomfort, as per My Parenting Journey. One sign that the contractions aren't the kind that causes labor to progress is if they're only felt on one side of the abdomen, or if they're felt mostly on the top of the abdomen. Real contractions are usually described as an all-over tightening that increases in intensity. Braxton-Hicks contractions are often localized.
6 Pubic Bone Discomfort
As the pregnancy progresses, many women find that they experience pubic bone pain. The pelvis softens during pregnancy as a result of the hormone relaxin, but this can mean increased discomfort when there is a lot of separation in the pubic area, according to Verywell Family.
This pain can increase once the baby has dropped in the process called lightening, but the pain alone is not a good, clear indication that labor is imminent. Some women can experiences this pubic pain well before the onset of labor, while others never experience this pain at all.
5 Insomnia Interrupts Things
Unfortunately for many pregnant women, intermittent insomnia is an unhappy side effect of pregnancy. Insomnia may be linked to general discomfort, trouble finding a comfortable position or difficulty breathing with an ever-swelling belly.
Insomnia can increase right before labor starts as a result of elevated levels of oxytocin, which promotes wakefulness, but because there are other factors that can steal sleep, it's not a reliable indicator or imminent labor, as per WebMD. Insomnia that lasts should be brought to the attention of the doctor but is bound to happen occasionally.
4 A Pain In The Back
Lower back pain is often cited as an indication that labor is happening soon—or already—but the fact is that many women experience lower back pain but don't actually go into labor until days or weeks later, according to The Bump. Some women even experience lower back pain throughout the pregnancy.
When a woman is full term—that is, at 37 weeks or more—it is actually very common to experience anywhere from mild to severe back pain. Most doctors don't consider this a reliable sign that baby is coming on its own and will look for other indicators.
3 Under Pressure
Some mamas feel pelvic pressure in the last several months of pregnancy, while others don't notice any pressure at all until lightening occurs. One reason why feeling pressure isn't always a reliable indicator is that many women can't tell the difference between pelvic pain and pelvic pressure, as per What to Expect.
Pelvic pressure is a far more reliable signal that labor may be starting soon in subsequent pregnancies, but not so much in the first pregnancy. Some women invest in belly bands that can help relieve some of the pressing feeling.
2 A Glass Of Water Cures It
Braxton-Hicks contractions can be uncomfortable or even slightly painful, and in the excitement of wondering if this is finally it, these contractions easily confused with regular contractions, according to BabyCenter. However, there are things that can be done to alleviate Braxton-Hicks contractions that won't work in the same way on regular labor contractions.
One thing that can trigger these false flag contractions is dehydration. Many women don't realize they're dehydrated—but often drinking a glass or two of water can calm Braxton-Hicks contractions down. A glass of water won't calm down real contractions, though.
1 Leg Cramps Her Style
There are different types of leg pain that women may experience toward the end of pregnancy. Some women feel shooting pain or pressure in their upper thighs related to an irritated sciatic nerve, as per The Bump. Others find that the third trimester brings on unexpected leg cramping.
Leg pain is always worth mentioning to the doctor, because occasionally it's a sign that something else is happening, like deep vein thrombosis or a clot. Many women in active labor do note having pain radiating down their thighs, but annoying cramps aren't a reliable indicator that labor is coming.