The process of giving birth is unique. Some women get no clues that their labor is about to start, and then - wham - here it is! Others have signs for weeks, maybe even a false start or two, before the real thing begins.
There's no way to predict exactly when you'll start your labor. No one even knows for sure what really starts the big event. But here are six clues that your baby is getting ready for the big day:
Lightening is the term for the point when your baby drops lower in your belly and settles deep in your pelvis. For first-time moms, lightening can happen a few weeks before the baby's birth.
- You may feel the baby drop.
- You might notice that there is now space between your breasts and belly.
- You feel like you can breathe again.
- Effacement or "ripening" is when your cervix softens as it's preparing for your labor.
- It most often begins during the last month
- It is measured in percentages:
- 0% means no effacement
- 100% means you're fully effaced
- As your baby's birthday gets close, your cervix begins to dilate, or open up.
- Dilation is checked during a pelvic exam.
- It is measured in centimeters, from 0 (no dilation) to 10 (full dilation)
- Typically, if you're four centimeters dilated, you're in the active stage of labor.
- If you're fully dilated, you're ready to start pushing.
This is when your mucus plug dislodges, which is not as gross as it sounds, nor as bloody. This is a sure sign that labor is starting.
- The thick plug of mucus that stops germs from entering your womb while you are pregnant gives way.
- The "mucus plug" doesn't look like a cork and is more like thick or stringy discharge that you may pass in a clump into the toilet or your underwear.
- It can appear as pink, brownish or slightly bloody in color
- Most often happens a few days before or at the very beginning of your labor
- Many women go into labor before it appears
Your water breaks
When the sac of amniotic fluid surrounding and protecting your baby breaks:
- It's more likely to leak in a gentle trickle than it is to break the floodgates
- Your doctor or midwife should check you and your baby right away after your water breaks to prevent infection
- Be sure to tell your health-care team if your "water" isn't clear
This is when your labor really gets going! Contractions are strong, rhythmic cramps that feel like a bad backache or bad menstrual pain. These pains:
- Happen when your womb tightens and then relaxes
- Most often start in the back of your body and move toward the front
- Open the cervix and help push the baby into the birth canal
- Come quicker and quicker in a pattern and last about 30 to 70 seconds each
- Get steadily stronger and keep coming, no matter what you do
Call your doctor if:
- You are less than 37 weeks pregnant and are showing any signs of early labor
- Your water breaks or you think you're leaking amniotic fluid
- You have vaginal bleeding, fever or very bad or nonstop pain
- Your baby stops moving or begins to move less
When in doubt, call your doctor. Even if you're not sure if your signs add up to the beginning of your labor, it doesn't hurt to check in.
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