Starting a few weeks leading up to birth, right up until it's time to push, the female body and the tiny human inside provide many clues that they're preparing for the new little one's arrival. There's a natural progression that the body automatically takes to get the body and the baby ready for the big day.
Not every woman experiences every one of these signs, but she will typically experience several subtle and not-so-subtle indicators that the body is preparing for baby eviction.
Even if a woman does experience these signs, there's still no knowing exactly when her little one will make an appearance. A mucous plug could detach and labor could still be a week away. Braxton Hicks contractions might start well in advance of labor, but they might also mask when real contractions start.
Only a few of these signals indicate impending labor, and a few pass the point of no return, such as the water breaking.
There's no telling what order any of the signs leading up to labor will happen in either. However, once a woman has reached the part where her water breaks, she's having real contractions and she feels a bearing down sensation, she's obviously in full-on "this baby is coming now" mode. However, the water could break before or after active labor. There is no standard for labor progression.
Even though these signs of labor are unpredictable, here are some of the signs that the body uses to tell momma bear the baby bear is ready to come out:
15Sudden Overwhelming Urge To Nest
Your last trimester is typically full of plans and little energy to carry them out. Your urge to nest might be so strong that you wonder who you've become, because you've certainly never worried so much about the cleanliness of every square inch of carpet in the house before.
You'll want to take advantage of this instinct while you can before baby arrives and leaves you depleted. It's best to recruit someone to help with more vigorous tasks or fume-inducing tasks like painting. Ask family members to build the crib, scrub the carpets and do any heavy lifting. It will be such a relief to have these things complete before your little one arrives.
Your urge to prepare your home for a newborn is primal. It even happens to animals! Like birds. Hence, the term "nesting." Anyhow, the urge is actually caused by an increase in the hormone estradiol and tends to peak in the weeks leading up to delivery.
14The Movement Inside Slows Down
During the final two weeks of pregnancy, it's typical for your baby's movements to slow down. At this point, there really isn't much room for them to move around in. You'll still feel kicks and movement, but it won't be quite as acrobatic as the baby takes up more space. The movements will be more like slight adjustments, stretching, nudging and hiccups.
Your OBGYN will likely have you keep daily track of kick counts in the third trimester to make sure your baby is active. It's easy to get distracted, and between distractions and the reduced movement, it can be quite nerve-wracking when you don't notice the baby moving. So, make sure you take time each day to observe and relish in your little one's movements inside of you.
Just know that toward the end of pregnancy, the movements will be different and slowed.
13Losing The Mucous Plug
When the little plug at the end of the uterus is dislodged, it is definitely a signal that your body is preparing for birth. The mucous plug, also called bloody show, looks like a gob of gooey snot and might even be tinged with blood. When the body's prostaglandin hormones start kicking in, your cervix begins ripening in preparation for birth.
The cervix will soften and shorten, which often loosens the mucous plug enough for it to be expelled. You may or may not even notice when it comes out.
The mucous plug is not necessarily a sign of imminent labor. You may still have several days left before labor will start. But bloody show could also be a sign that the early stages labor are approaching. It might be unnerving to try and discern whether or not it means anything, but the discharge will not tell you when it's go time.
You'll need a few more signs, such as contractions, along with the bloody show to possibly signal that labor is imminent.
Bloody show is closely related to the mucous plug and the two often appear in unison. You might notice a tinge of blood in your mucous plug, on your panties, or on your toilet paper. The bloody show is the result of blood vessels in the cervix rupturing as it dilates and effaces. This is the only time during pregnancy where it's normal to see blood.
If you see blood any other time or if the blood becomes bright red and more pronounced, call your doctor.
Whereas the loss of the mucous plug isn't a very good predictor of imminent labor, bloody show is actually a better sign that labor is getting closer. Make sure you have your hospital bags packed and your doctor's number on speed dial, because you're getting close!
11Beginning To Dilate
Dilation is the measure of the opening of your cervix. Your doctor will tell you how many centimeter you're dilated. Although 1 to 3 cm don't typically mean much in terms of when labor will happen, but they do mean that your body is making preparations for labor. Some women dilate slowly over the course of weeks while others will dilate overnight.
Your doctor might take a guess as to when you might be ready, but her guess is as good as anyone's.
Once dilation reaches over 3 cm and is accompanied by regular contractions, you've likely begun active labor. Once you hit 7 cm, you're considered to have entered the transitional phase, which can last several hours and brings on more intense contractions. Once you're dilated to 10 cm, it will be time to push! The progression of the cervix's dilation is pretty much out of your control. Your body will progress in its own time.
The thinning of the cervix is referred to as effacement, and it's usually measured in a percentage. Your doctor will start checking you toward the end of your pregnancy and tell you whether you're anywhere from 0% to 100% effaced. At 100% effacement, your cervix has fully ripened, the skin around the cervix becomes paper-thin, and the cervix has shortened.
All of these factors will allow the baby to travel more easily from the cervix to the vaginal canal.
It may still be days before labor begins after effacement is complete, but it is still a sure sign that your body is making preparations for birth. It won't be long! It's amazing what your body knows to do all by itself.
9No More Room
Your lungs feel like they are tiny little pockets inside your neck at this point and you might as well not have a bladder at all, it's so squished and responsive. Earlier in pregnancy, you probably wondered how the baby could possibly take up any more room in your body, but by 38 weeks, you're laughing at yourself for ever thinking that.
Every time you sneeze or burp, you feel like you might explode! And you're hungry, but after a few bites, your body tells you there's absolutely no more room left.
In the third trimester, the uterus gets so large that it really doesn't leave any room for much else. Your organs, including your stomach, are sort of squished and displaced, leaving little breathing or eating room. By the end of pregnancy, a woman of normal weight should have gained between 25-35 lbs.
At this point, there really isn't any more room for the baby and all that's left for it to do is come out!
8The Baby Drops
Even if you don't notice it yourself, other people will point out to you if your baby has dropped. What's really happening is that your baby's head lowers into the pelvis, and it usually has a pretty noticeable effect on the shape of your belly. This process is also called "lightning," and for good reason.
You might notice that your breathing gets a little easier because the pressure on your lungs lets up. On the flip side, you might also need to make more frequent trips to the lady's room because now the pressure is on the bladder. The baby is engaged.
For first-time moms, baby will typically drop 2-4 weeks before delivery. For subsequent babies, the baby likely won't drop until labor begins. Because of this, lightning is not a very good indicator of "when" labor will begin, but it is a good indication that your body is in full preparation mode.
7Pressure Down There
Pelvic pressure tends to coincide with lightning. Once the baby drops, you will probably feel added pressure in your groin. It only makes sense that the lower the baby drops in the pelvis, the more pressure you would feel. And the pressure is likely the worst when you're on your feet, proven by your pronounced waddling.
To relieve the pressure that gravity is placing on your pelvis, it helps to be able to lie down with the hips elevated when possible in between tasks. Taking a warm bath is another way to create a buoyant anti-gravity effect that relieves some of the heaviness. When you need to be on your feet, it may help to get a belly sling to redistribute the weight over your pelvis.
At this point in your pregnancy, your doctor might tell you what "station" your baby is at. Station refers to how far your baby's head has moved inside the pelvis. The stations run from 3 to -3 with 3 being above the pelvis, 0 being the bottom of the pelvis, and -3 being when the baby crowns. As your station changes, it's a sure sign that your body is preparing for your baby to come out.
So you might already know that the hormone relaxin loosens and softens the ligaments and muscles in your body, starting in the early stages of pregnancy. But in the days leading up to labor, an extra spurt of relaxin may be released to help open up your pelvis for delivery.
In the process, all your other joints gets loosened up too. You might notice that your walk gets a little more wobbly (with a side of waddle) because relaxin has relaxed the joints and ligaments in your hips and knees. You might feel like a drunken sailor when you walk. Don't worry, you're not getting clumsier, you're just getting looser.
Maybe you've always dreamed of having limber joints, but now's not the time to be getting deeper into your stretches. Your loose joints are just reminding you that you're getting closer to having a baby!
Just as relaxin is busy relaxing other joints in your body, it is simultaneously relaxing your rectum and stool. Lovely, I know. It is perfectly normal to have diarrhea in the days leading up to labor as your body starts preparing for birth. It's your body's way of "clearing out" and making way for the baby. It's not fun, but it is a good sign!
What you can do is ensure that you're eating enough and you're drinking enough water to prevent dehydration. Stay away from anything that's acidic, fatty, or full of fiber as these can cause further irritation.
Try to keep yourself comfortable and near to a restroom. Also start to prepare yourself mentally because can be a good sign that labor is nearing.
4Nausea And Vomiting
Just when you thought morning sickness had nothing on you, you get hit with a late-pregnancy wave of nausea. You might not be expecting to feel this way again, like you have the flu or food poisoning, but nausea right before labor is a common occurrence with pregnant women and a sign that labor could be around the corner.
Nausea and vomiting can also happen during labor. As your body hits the transition stage, you may encounter a wave of nausea accompanied by hot flashes and/or the chills and shakes. This can either be caused by a drop in blood pressure from an epidural or from leftover food sitting in the stomach.
For some women, it can also be a bodily reaction to the intense pain of labor. When labor begins, digestion is thwarted. Throwing up is the body's way of focusing all its attention on the arrival of your little one, not digesting breakfast. Most of the time, you'll be put on an all-liquid diet once you're in the delivery room anyhow.
3Starting Some Contractions
Braxton Hicks contractions may start as early as the second trimester, but are usually more prominent in the third trimester. They don't usually indicate that labor is imminent, in fact, they are often the culprit of false labor. But they are your body's way of "practicing" during dress rehearsal before the main performance.
Once real contractions start coming on, then you can be assured that labor is real. So how do you tell the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and real labor contractions?
First, real contractions will typically have a regular, predictable pattern. When you actually time them, they come at pretty regular intervals. Over time, they also become closer together, last longer, and create more intense pain. On the other hand, Braxton Hicks contractions are usually irregular and you can usually slow them down by lying down or changing body positions.
Real contractions are one of the clearest signs that labor is really happening and the baby is getting ready to come out.
When your membranes rupture, it is like the ultimate sign that baby is getting ready to come out. He just bursts right through his bubble like the Kool-Aid man. Once the water breaks, there's no turning back. At this point, you should contact your healthcare provider and make arrangements to get to the hospital because it's "go" time.
For some women, it can be difficult to differentiate between their water breaking and bladder leaks because it can feel like a gradual trickle. One easy way to tell is by the odor since amniotic fluid is odorless and urine is not. For the majority of women, their water will leak gradually.
Only 1 in 10 women will experience an intense gush of water, like in the movies, which is helpful to understand. Many women's membranes won't rupture until well into the labor process either, and some will need to have their water manually broken by the doctor.
Every other sign your body gives you that the baby being ready to come out has led up to this point. Bearing down is the final sign. This is the body's surefire way of telling you that baby is coming out, and now! Once your cervix is 10 cm dilated and it's time to push, you'll feel the most intense primal instinct to push. It's so intense that you just can't help but push!
Bearing down is your body's way of telling you when to push. It usually occurs during contractions. Your labor and delivery staff may guide you to take a deep breath when you feel a contraction coming on and push with everything you have during a contraction, when the urge to bear down is the most intense.
This pushing stage could last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, but there's no denying: This is the final eviction. This is the ultimate signal that it's time for the baby to come out! It's time to meet your little one, momma.
Sources: Babycenter, What to Expect, What to Expect, American Pregnancy
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