10 Signs Of Labor And What To Do When You Are In It

10 Signs Of Labor And What To Do When You Are In It

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The unpredictability of labor leaves us anxious. Are those cramps contractions, or just an upset tummy? Would the waters break, and if yes, when would they? And then the biggest fear – what if I get into labor at the wrong place and the wrong time?

Your fears are understandable. Hence, MomJunction is here to enumerate all the signs of labor pain so that you can be prepared for the D-day. They will help you know if you are nearing your labor, or still have some time.

When Does Labor Start?

You know your baby’s estimated due date. Labor before the 37th week of pregnancy is a preterm or early term; labor between 37 and 40 weeks is full term; and labor beyond 40 weeks, is late term. Few women go into labor on the estimated due date (1).

If you go beyond 41 weeks, your practitioner may recommend induction (2).

Signs and Symptoms Of Labor Pain:

Labor comes only after giving you enough alerts about its arrival. Here are some signs before labor, which help you prepare for childbirth:

1. Baby drops:

When the body prepares for labor, the baby will settle deeper into the pelvis, making you feel lighter. There will be reduced pressure in the chest and abdomen, making you breathe easily and eat a full meal. (3).

However, it does not mean that labor is close. It will take a few more weeks. Moreover, first-time moms have baby dropping earlier than experienced moms.

[ Read: How To Induce Labor Naturally ]

2. Contractions get intense:

One of the major signs of true labor are contractions. They will become longer and stronger as you get closer to labor. It is hard to figure out if they are real or false (Braxton Hicks) contractions. Here is how you can understand the difference:

Real contractions (True labor)Braxton Hicks contractions (False labor)
They start after the 37th week of pregnancy, and if they come earlier, they are signs of preterm labor.They start in the second trimester, and become frequent in the third trimester.
They are regular and follow a pattern.They are irregular.
They progress with time, becoming stronger and longer.They do not progress over time.
They begin from the lower back and radiate towards the groin region.They are a generalized abdominal tightening.
Any activity or movement will not stop or lessen the contractions.They disappear with any activity or movement.
Your waters may break.Your waters do not break.
Bloody show happens.Bloody show will not take place.
Cervical changes occur.No cervical changes.

There is yet another kind of real contractions called prodromal labor. These contractions do not get longer, stronger, and closer but change your cervix. They are usually a sign that your baby is in a bad position, and your doctor will guide you accordingly (4).

3. Cervical changes during labor:

The cervix is the opening of uterus through which the baby is born. All through the pregnancy, this opening is thick (not effaced), closed (not dilated), pointed towards the back (posterior end of the mother), and has a layer of mucus (mucus plug) to protect the baby. The below changes to the cervix signal labor:

Thinning of the cervix (effacement): The cervix begins to thin and widen, indicating that the lower part of the uterus is ready for labor.

Opening of the cervix during labor (dilation): The cervix opens to about 10cm, but the maximum dilation occurs just before labor. Only the health practitioner can tell you the extent of dilation (5).

4. Bloody show:

Is bloody show a sign of labor? Yes. As your cervical changes occur, you will shed the mucus plug. It drops out in a lump or discharge for a few days. It is tinged with brown, pink, or red blood and therefore referred to as “bloody show”. This indicates that labor is close (6). If you notice bloody show between 32 and 34 weeks, you should call your doctor as it can be a sign of preterm labor.

[ Read: Symptoms Of False Labor ]

5. Water breaking:

Spontaneous rupture of the membranes or “breaking of the waters” is a strong symptom of labor. It happens when the amniotic sac ruptures and the fluid gushes out from the vagina. Once the waters break, you should immediately contact your doctor who would ask for the consistency and color of the fluid. If it is green, your baby might have emptied her bowel which is a serious indication (6).

Only around 10% women experience this sign before labor, while the rest experience it during labor. Sometimes if the waters do not break, the baby is likely to be born in the amniotic sac (7).

6. Nesting:

As the name suggests, nesting is the motherly instinct to build a haven for the baby. Amid those heavy days of breathlessness and weakness, you might suddenly feel energetic to get up and set the house in order, paint your yet-to-be-born baby’s room, or keep the things ready for them. It is scientifically proven that nesting not just happens in other mammal species but also in humans. (8)

In spite of your energy spurt, don’t give in to your urge. Take rest as labor might be just around the corner.

7. Diarrhea:

During the early stage of labor, the body releases prostaglandins, which soften the cervix and contract the uterus. They also stimulate bowel movement, naturally emptying the bowel to make way for the baby. This is a good sign as it helps clean out your tummy and avoid any discomfort during labor (4).

8. Back ache:

Back pain is normal throughout pregnancy, but if it gets severe then it could be a sign of “back labor”. Usually, a baby faces the mother’s spine while descending from the birth canal. However, in some cases, the baby’s skull may hit the mother’s spine while descending and cause excruciating lower back pain (6).

9. Loose joints:

During pregnancy, relaxin hormone helps soften and loosen the ligaments. This is why you will have episodes of clumsiness starting from 29 weeks. However, this is a natural way of opening the pelvis to make way for your baby (7).

10. Losing or gaining weight:

Towards the end of pregnancy, you will not gain weight. Some pregnant women may lose weight, instead. However, this will not affect your baby and it is quite normal. Your baby continues to gain weight but you will lose weight due to lower amniotic fluid levels, increasing bowel movements, and restlessness (9).

[ Read: Things To Do Before Giving Birth ]

What To Do When In Labor – When to Call the Doctor?

Your doctor would have told you about what’s to be done if you experience contractions. If you think that the contractions are consistent and you may be in labor, you should immediately check with your doctor or midwife.

Call your doctor if you notice the following:

  • Bright red bleeding or discharge that is not dark brown or pale pink
  • Water breaking, especially if it is green or brown or has a foul odor
  • Having a headache, changes in vision, tenderness in the upper abdomen, or sudden swelling (symptoms of pregnancy induced hypertension or preeclampsia)
  • Less active baby
  • Back pain
  • Contractions before 37 weeks or any other signs of preterm labor (10)

What To Do Before Labor?

Stay calm and focused when you are in labor. It is natural to be overwhelmed with apprehension or disbelief. Have your partner or family member along if you think labor is close. Here’s what you can do.

  • Lie down and relax: Find some quiet place, lie down and relax and try and breathe normally.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink enough water or have juices to ease labor symptoms and prevent cramps that may occur due to dehydration.
  • Rest and wait: Ensure that your partner or anyone else tracks the symptoms you are experiencing. If the pain turns worse or does not subside in an hour or two, call the doctor.

What Happens If Your Water Breaks Without Contractions?

If your water breaks but the contractions do not set in, your doctor may induce labor. This is to prevent the baby from an infection as the amniotic sac is no more present to protect the baby (11). Also, you and your baby are at the risk of developing group B streptococcus when the water breaks (12). The doctor must check you to ensure that everything is alright.

[ Read: Best Positions During Labor ]

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Is loss of appetite a sign of labor?

Yes, during early labor, the bodily changes will drain you of energy, suppressing hunger and you lose your appetite. Even if you eat, you may end up throwing up the food. So it is advisable to eat easily digestible foods during labor to keep up the energy levels (13).

2. Are headache and nausea signs of labor?

Headaches and nausea are common a day or two before labor begins. You may experience a splitting headache and nausea along with uneasiness. You must immediately see a doctor (14).

3. What are the signs that your cervix is opening?

While the cervix is opening, contractions tighten the uterine muscles pulling the closed and tight cervix to open up to 10cm. You can also check the dilation with your finger. It slips easily into the opening, and you can feel the shape of the baby’s head as velvety soft texture. Feeling the head signals the pushing phase of labor (15). But ensure that your hands are clean and infection-free.

4. What are the signs of premature labor at 35 weeks?

Premature labor can happen anytime between 20th and 37th weeks of pregnancy. It begins with frequent, uncomfortable, and regular contractions. The associated signs include:

  • Achy feeling or pressure in the pelvic region, groin or thighs
  • Occasional menstrual-like cramps above the pubic bone
  • Diarrhea and intestinal cramps
  • Lower back ache that is dull and occasional
  • Pinkish or brownish watery vaginal discharge before labor

You should immediately see your doctor if you experience these signs or more than four contractions in an hour (16).

5. Does the body temperature change before labor?

The body temperature may rise to a degree or more due to the contractions and hot flashes as the labor nears (17).

6. Is pelvic pressure a sign of labor?

Yes, pelvic pressure is a sign of labor and occurs when the baby drops into the pelvic (18). The pressure would be intense, giving a feeling of bowel movement before labor and a sensation of the baby falling off.

7. Is increased fetal movement a sign of labor?

Babies actually change the way they move as they near labor because they run out of room and try to match the mother’s movements (19).

You must believe that your body and baby will know the right time of birth.

Make sure the hospital bag is ready and has everything that you and your child might need. Do not dread the labor nor spend sleepless nights thinking about it. Instead, focus on the fact that the bliss of motherhood is round the corner for you.

[ Read: How To Speed Up Labor ]

Are you expecting a baby? Did we miss any signs that your gynecologist has discussed with you? Share them with us.

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Rebecca Malachi

"I believe words have power. They are a powerful tool for a creative soul. Being a 'word addict', I express my thoughts and contribute articles on health, wellness and beauty. Apart from writing, I love listening to gospel music and enjoy observing nature in silence."
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