By the time a woman's due date finally begins to creep closer, she is ready to "have this baby born YESTERDAY!" If she's paying attention to her body's preparations, she may recognize a few signs that she is nearing the birth of her precious baby. This should help her feel just a little bit better as she contemplates her large abdomen and wonders if she'll ever see her feet again.
Some of those signs are physical and others are mental. When she feels the overwhelming urge to clean everything in the house, no matter that walking down one aisle of the discount store makes her breathless, that's nesting. Nesting is the instinctive behavior that most women experience, cleaning the house, preparing the baby's room, arranging and rearranging the baby's new clothing and belongings. Other signs can include "lightening," when the position of her baby drops down farther into the birth canal. The baby's activity within her slows down, but does not stop. He or she is getting just a weeeee bit too big for the small quarters in there.
When she goes to the doctor, she may learn that she's x percent effaced (the neck of the cervix is beginning to thin out, readying itself for delivery. She may get the bloody show (a tinge of blood on her panties or on toilet paper).
20 Ready: No More Room For The Baby
By the end of her pregnancy, mom may feel as though every organ in her body is squished into some pretty tiny spaces. Breathing? Fugiddaboutit! Eating? There's no room! Going to the bathroom? She may as well live in that little room.
What mom is feeling is pretty accurate. Her uterus has expanded so it holds a baby from 6 to 8 pounds (or more). This mean that stomach, lungs and even the bladder are pretty much shoved out of the way. Because her abdomen and uterus have gotten so large, this means she's gained weight. In a normal pregnancy, a woman will gain between 25 and 35 pounds. It's no wonder she wants her child to be born just as soon as possible! By the time she feels the lightening happen, she's going to feel relief when she tries to breathe. She may be able to eat a little more food. But. . . when it comes to her bladder, she's going to feel like she's running to the restroom every three minutes!
19 Ready: The Baby Drops
No, this isn't a misspelled "lightning." Mom truly "lightens" when the baby's head drops down closer to the birth canal. She'll know when it happens. She'll be able to breathe more easily; eating just a few bites more of that delectable salad or lasagna will actually be possible, though she'll pay later with heartburn. Even her abdomen will look like it's lowered a little bit. Where, yesterday, the bump was higher up, today, it's literally fallen down by a few inches.
There's a downside to this sign. Because the baby has dropped down, she or he is now pressing against. . . oh, wait, I need to run to the bathroom! That's right. Her bladder. She'll soon feel like she should take up residence in the bathroom because she's running there so often.
When mom realizes that she has "lightened," she will get lots of comments from co-workers, family, friends and even strangers. "Oh, you're getting there! It won't be long and you'll be rushing to the. . ." and there she goes, off to the bathroom yet again.
18 Not Ready: The Baby's Lungs Aren't Matured
Literally. The baby has to be at a certain point of maturity before he or she will be born. The lungs will release a protein known as a surfactant. This protein helps the lungs to fully mature so baby is able to breathe right after being born.
A prime example is the premature infant son born to John and Jackie Kennedy. His lungs hadn't released that protein. When he was born, he was unable to breathe and he passed away.
That surfactant also acts on mom's uterus, triggering the contractions that slowly ease the baby out into that big, wild, wonderful world. Once the baby is completely free of amniotic fluid, he or she will spontaneously take that first breath. Some babies have to be stimulated into crying. If mom is wondering why her baby is overdue, she should try to comfort herself by remembering that its lungs may not yet be ready for life outside the womb. It'll happen when it'll happen. Baby's body will know when.
17 Ready: The Red Show
This isn't the mucus plug, although the two are related. Mom may notice streaks of blood on toilet paper or on her undies. It's normal, so she should not freak out and scream for her partner. As her cervix begins to efface (thin out) and dilate, tiny blood vessels pop, which leads to the appearance of blood streaks. While losing the plug tells her she's getting close, the bloody show is actually a more accurate sign that she's getting closer to going into labor.
If mom notices bright red blood streaks, or if the bleeding is more obvious, this could be a sign of a problem—she should call her doctor or midwife immediately.
In any case, mom needs to keep her midwife's or gyno's number handy in her cellphone so she can call as soon as she suspects she's in labor. Ready, set, GO!
16 Ready: The Cervix Thins Out
Without even knowing it's happening, a mom getting closer to delivering her little one experiences one definite sign of readiness. This sign is the thinning or effacement of her cervix. As the baby drops down, the neck of her cervix, which is normally thick, begins to thin out.
Mom will find this out during one of her last few appointments with her gyno or midwife. She'll be told that her cervix is effaced by a specific percentage. She may also hear that she is so many centimeters dilated. (Unless she's in active labor, this number may be as low as 1 or 2 centimeters dilated. But mom shouldn't worry! Before too long, and after so many hours of labor, that little number will get bigger.
Speaking of contractions, mom will be 100 percent effaced when she goes into active labor. She has to be at this stage so it will be easier for her cervix to dilate to 10 cm, the point at which she begins to push so she can give birth to her baby.
15 Not Ready: Mom's First Baby
"40 + days and counting. Still no bambino." This might be the post on a mother-to-be's Facebook account or on Twitter. If she's a first-time mother, she's more likely to go past her projected 40-week due date estimate.
Is it science? Not really. It's more likely because mom and dad didn't really plan for this baby. So she may have had to guess at the first date of her last menstrual period. "Uh, well. . . I think I started my last period on. . . " as she frantically thumbs through her cellphone's calendar app. That 40-week estimate is generally reliable. But it's only reliable if the info that mom gives to her doctor is also accurate.
If that happens, then the doctor is forced to count out 40 weeks from that "I think" estimate. If he is wrong, then mom's eagerly anticipated Birth Day for her child may well come and go with no fast trip to the hospital.
It's interesting to see that second-time and beyond moms are more informed. They plan subsequent pregnancies, which means they know the date of their LMP (last menstrual period). Doc is better able to peg the potential due date for baby.
14 Ready: No Longer Plugged Up
This is one sign that almost every pregnant woman recognizes—the loss of her mucus plug. Yeah, this sounds kind of yucky, especially to anyone who's never been pregnant. But that little plug, made up of mucus, actually serves a purpose. It literally blocks the neck of the uterus so bacteria, viruses or other organisms can't enter and endanger either mom or baby.
When she loses the mucus plug, mom knows that she is one giant step closer to labor and giving birth. Braxton-Hicks contractions that help ready her uterus for labor, may help dislodge the plug, which may appear as a stringy discharge, with slight tinges of blood. (If she has a hard time distinguishing between B-H contractions and actual labor, timing these contractions should help her figure out what she's experiencing. Braxton-Hicks contractions are not regular, while true labor contractions will be regularly timed.
13 Ready: Intestinal Issues
As in diarrhea. Nasty! Mom's entire body, including her intestines and bowels, not to mention her rectum, are relaxing. Like she needs yet another reason to waddle fast to the bathroom.
It's normal, so mom shouldn't think she's come down with some deadly illness. This means that she should continue eating as normally as she can. Limiting her diet at this point isn't recommended, unless a food is just completely unappealing or makes her sick. She should make sure she stays hydrated with the right fluids: water, milk and juices. If she's been told not to drink coffee, but decaf is fine, she can add this one to her list. Alcohol is generally a no-no.
As unpleasant as those visits to the toilet are, mom should just keep reminding herself that this is a sign she's closer to giving birth. "This is good. This is good. It's nasty! No, this is good."
12 Not Ready: Longer Menstrual Cycles
Going back to the expected due date for an eagerly awaited baby, doctors rely heavily on the 28-day menstrual cycle. If mom's cycle differs, that estimate may be off by a few days. For instance, rather than having that 28-day cycle, mom has a 30 or 33-day cycle.
Conversely, some womens' cycles are shorter than 28 days. If so, she may give birth to a full-term baby a few days early, thinking her child is pre-term.
Remember, the projected due date is only an estimate. This allows doctors to plan ahead for their patients to be admitted to the hospital. It's the same for midwives who work in birthing centers. Mom-to-be shouldn't set herself up for probable disappointment, thinking that Day 1 of Week 40 will definitely be her child's birth date. Babies come when they are good and ready. If he or she hasn't finished baking, then mom won't go into the hospital until several days later.
11 Ready: Dilation
Mom doesn't have to be in active labor for her cervix to begin dilating. This begins to happen close to the end of her pregnancy, as her body prepares for the Big Event. This news may excite her, reassuring her that she's close to meeting her new child.
While one to three centimeters dilated is nothing for a mom in active labor to talk about, this small amount is a big psychological boost to someone who feels as though they've been carrying around a little passenger forever.
Dilation might progress slowly until she begins active labor. Or it may begin and move along rapidly. It all depends on the individual woman. If mom is wondering whether those pesky Braxton-Hicks contractions have anything to do with dilation, that's anyone's guess.
Once she begins active labor, dilation should progress more quickly. By now, she may already be in the hospital or birthing center, working to give birth to her child.
10 Ready: Nesting
Yes, this is that activity that all moms, including TV moms, have taken part in. Mom will get a nearly irresistible urge to clean everything! Not only will she vacuum and mop, she may try to clean light fixtures and rearrange closets.
She'll also go into baby's room, arranging and rearranging booties, onesies, diapers, sleepers, baby gowns, baby beanies and sweet little outfits. She'll try arranging clothing by the ages on the tags; by color; by type of clothing. And she'll never truly be satisfied.
Nesting activities also include frantically trying to finish that knitted, crocheted or quilted blanket mom has been working on for so many months. Or, she may decide that, if she goes into labor tonight, she wants everything ready for coming-home day. So, she'll try to decide which sheet to put on the crib mattress, then she'll try to match or contrast the perfect blanket. Whatever she thinks will bring her closer to that blessed day, she will do.
9 Not Ready: Cervix Hasn't Softened
This is for real. In the earliest, sometimes undetectable, early labor, mom's cervix begins to soften and dilate. If Week 40 comes and goes, and her cervix hasn't begun to open, she's going to go past her estimated due date.
Her midwife or gyno will tell her if she's starting effacement (thinning) and dilation. Mom will learn that she's so many centimeters dilated and x percent effaced. While she may not be feeling contractions, the early work has already started!
But, for the mom whose baby is still not ready, these two signs of labor won't happen. Yet. Mom should be on the lookout for the mucus plug. If it hasn't come out, it's still resting at the top of her cervix. All mom can do is wait and rejoice as other signs of impending labor happen.
8 Ready: Loosey-Goosey Joints
During pregnancy, mom's joints become looser and much more flexible. The hormone relaxin does this, helping to soften muscles and ligaments so her body is able to accommodate her baby and fully expanded uterus.
It's not only her hip joints that have become looser. Every joint does! So, if she wears that really cute, sexy pair of stilettos, she may step wrong one day and. . . sprain her ankle. She may also develop symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Low-heeled shoes or flat shoes are the safest thing for her to wear. She should also try not to aggravate the CTS with too many activities.
Walking feels different. Not only does she feel like she's Donald Duck, waddling through the hallway at work, she feels like her leg and hip joints are. . . moving more than usual. Again, this is normal.
As she toddles and lurches down the hall, again, mom should remind herself, "I'm closer to having this little one."
7 Ready: Ow, The Pressure
This is pelvic pressure, which develops at the same time that mom experiences the lightening. The pressure develops in mom's groin, telling her that the baby's head is engaged near her pelvis. She may also notice that her stride has changed. She may waddle rather than walk.
At this point of her pregnancy, her midwife or gyno may tell her, "Your baby is at station ___." Station? This simply refers to the baby's head's position within her pelvis. Starting at a positive 3, this means the head is still above the pelvis. Station 0 means baby's head is at the bottom of the pelvis (OWWW) and negative 3 (-3) means baby's head is crowning or showing "down there."
Yep. It hurts. It sure isn't comfortable. So please forgive mom if she becomes a bit snappish. Fortunately, she can relieve some of this pressure by sitting in a tub of warm (not hot) water. Make sure the water is fairly deep so you can become a little buoyant. Ahhh! Lying down and elevating your pelvis may also help. Buy a belly sling which helps to support the weight of your abdomen and moving some of that weight around.
6 Not Ready: Fear
Mom's mind and mental state have a huge impact on her body's physical processes, especially when it comes to labor. If she's afraid of some aspect of labor and delivery, her fear may actually be stopping her body from progressing into labor. It sounds crazy. She needs to remember "mind over matter," because this is how it really works.
If some aspect of labor and delivery is scaring mom, she's subconsciously delaying the onset of labor and the eventual birth of her little one. She can get help for this by speaking with her gyno or midwife, who can help her calm her fears. These professionals can explain everything her body will do and everything she'll feel during labor and delivery. Once her fears have been discussed, confronted and, hopefully, dispelled, her body can go about doing what it does best: completing an otherwise-successful pregnancy so that, soon, she'll be holding her child in her arms.
5 Ready: Pop Goes The Water!
Yes, mom has developed a leakage of her waters. Or, maybe she's doing a gusher. If this happens, mom has to alert her midwife or gyno, again, because of the risk of infection.
The amniotic sac holds the baby inside a self-contained environment. It protects the baby from bumps, accidents and even organisms that would harm him or her. Once the sac breaks, whether it's a slow leak or that gusher that's so popular in the movies—baby runs the risk of being exposed to some kind of opportunistic infection.
And that is potentially bad. The upside to this sign is that labor is imminent. Once mom calls her medical provider, she should make sure her go bag is packed with everything she'll need. Her partner should have a bag as well. Both of them will be spending hours in the labor and delivery suite and there won't be time to come home and get anything that got left behind.
4 Ready: An Upset Stomach
It's not a return of morning sickness. Instead, the nausea and vomiting are another "ready" sign. Labor may be imminent. It's not fun, but if it happens, all mom can do is just grit her teeth and get through it.
If she experienced morning sickness, the signs of nausea are unmistakable. Heat. Sweating. Chills, That icky feeling in her stomach. RUN! What's more, this may also happen while she's in labor.
Oh, joy. Labor's not supposed to be this horrible! But mom needs to remember that, if she ate, her body will divert blood flow from her gastrointestinal system to her uterus so she can give birth much more efficiently. If she opted for an epidural, the drop in blood pressure may also bring on a bout of nausea and vomiting. Maybe that liquid diet is starting to look a bit more attractive after all. . . .
3 Ready: Are These Real Contractions?
Yep. They are. After feeling so many B-H contractions, feeling the real thing may scare mom just a bit. These are those practice contractions that are helping to ready her body for giving birth to her little one.
"Real" contractions are regular, literally as clockwork. B-H contractions are all over the place. First, mom feels them five minutes apart. Next, they're twenty minutes apart. She can also "stop" the B-H contractions by changing the position of her body or even lying down.
Real contractions last longer and are more intense (read painful). They also start coming closer and closer together. Our mom has to get ready because she's in labor!
Sometimes, mom may feel her labor in her abdomen and uterus. Other times, she feels it square in her back and that is no fun. This mean baby may be born "sunny side up," or facing the ceiling of the birthing suite.
2 Ready: How Many Centimetres?
At one of her last appointments at the doctor's office, she may hear these welcome words. Usually, her provider will follow up with "and you're about __ centimeters." From 1 to about 3 centimeters, mom knows that her body is doing the work needed to help get this little one born.
She shouldn't try to ask her midwife or gyno to predict when she might go into active labor. This differs from mother to mother. She might linger at 3 cm for several days, then as she goes into labor, race straight for that magical 10 cm.
Past 3 cm, mom may already be in active labor. Her contractions are, at least, regular and moving her toward transition, then childbirth.
"Transition" is that stage in labor when contractions become more intense. These contractions do the work of helping to open the cervix fully so baby can be born. When she reaches 10 cm, mom may feel an intense (there's that word again!) urge to push, which feels like the need to bear down during a BM.
1 Ready: Time To Push
This happens when mom and partner have been in the birthing center or hospital for several hours or maybe a few days. By this point, she is fully dilated (10 cm) and her body is fully ready to push the baby out.
Bearing down feels exactly like needing to have a bowel movement. (Which may happen.) If this happens, mom shouldn't worry. Her doctors, the midwife and nurses have seen everything. They'll scoop the offending poop away and get on with business.
The need to bear down is mom's signal that her body is ready for her to push. This happens as a contraction hits.
Mom may ask, "How long will I be pushing?" Again, this is individual to each laboring mom. It may take about an hour. . . or it may take a few hours. It all depends on mom's body. If mom hasn't gotten an epidural, she may feel the Ring of Fire. When her baby's head enters her ladybits, they stretch. And it hurts! And burns! With every contraction and push, baby's head inches further and further down to her vulva. And, with even more pushing, she gives birth to baby's head, shoulders, torso, hips and legs. Finally! Baby is born!
Sources: babygaga.com, livestrong.com, mother&baby.com, maternitygallery.com, Child Development Institute, Romper, obatkencingnaranth.info, MOM, Mama Natural, babygaga.com, Child Birth WonderHowTo, Mothering, PopSugar, onlymyhealth.com, Healthline, Today's Parent, Parents Magazine, The Healthy Mummy, Pregnancy, Birth and Baby, babycentre.uk, Fit Pregnancy, What's Up Fagan?, What to Expect When You're Expecting