Signs of Labor

Probably every woman who tells you about her labor experience, tells you a different story. Your delivery will be just as unique. However, the following information will prepare you for when “Labor Day” is just around the corner.

Six Signs that Labor is Within a Few Weeks or Days:

1. Lightening: You can breathe again! This is an indication that the baby has dropped, settling deeper into your pelvis and relieving some of the pressure on your diaphragm, so you are not so short of breath. You may feel increased pressure on your bladder, which means more trips to the bathroom. Others may comment on your changed appearance, although you might not be aware of it at all.

2. Bloody show: Loss of mucus plug. During pregnancy, a thick plug of mucus protects your cervical opening from bacteria entering the uterus. When your cervix begins to thin and relax, this plug is expelled. Some women think the plug will look solid like a cork, but it is actually stringy mucus or discharge. It can be clear, pink or blood tinged and can appear minutes, hours or even days before labor begins. Not all women notice this sign.

3. Rupture of membranes: Your water breaks! Only 1 in 10 woman experience a dramatic gush of the amniotic fluid and even then it usually happens at home, often in bed. Sometimes the amniotic sac breaks or leaks before labor begins. Your uterus is sitting directly on top of your bladder, which can cause you to leak urine. Sometimes it can be quite difficult to distinguish urine from amniotic fluid.

If your membranes have ruptured and you are leaking amniotic fluid, it will be an odorless fluid. This can occur with a sudden gush or a constant trickle. If you notice fluid leaking, you need to try to determine if it smells like urine or if it is odorless. If it does not seem to be urine, you would want to contact your health care provider.

Until you see your physician or midwife do not use tampons, have sexual intercourse or do anything that would introduce bacteria to your vagina. Let your health care provider know if the fluid is anything other than clear and odorless, particularly if it’s green or foul smelling, because this could be a sign of infection.

4. Nesting: Spurt of energy. For most of your pregnancy you have probably been fighting the urge to take a nap, so you’ll know when you experience this. One day you will wake up feeling full of energy! You’ll start making a long list of things to do, things to clean, things to buy and everything you’ve put off doing will become a high priority. In all your preparations, don’t forget that “Labor Day” may be just around the corner so save some energy.

5. Effacement: Thinning of the cervix. Usually in the last month the cervix begins to stretch and thin. This process means the lower segment of the uterus is getting ready for delivery. A thin cervix will also allow the cervix to dilate more easily.

Your health care provider may check for effacement in the final 2 months of pregnancy. Effacement is measured in percentages. You may hear your helath care provider say,“You are 25% effaced, 50% effaced, 75%…” The Braxton Hicks contractions or “practice contractions” you have been experiencing may play a part in the effacement process. You will not be able to determine your effacement process, this can only be done by a health care provider’s exam.

6. Dilation: Opening of the cervix. Dilation is the process of the cervix opening in preparation for childbirth. Dilation is measured in centimeters or, less accurately, in “fingers” during an internal (manual) pelvic exam. “Fully dilated” means you’re at 10 centimeters and are ready to give birth. In the same way that your health care provider may be checking for effacement in the last 2 months, your health care provider may also tell you how many centimeters your cervix has dilated.

One SURE Sign Labor is Really Happening:

Consistent Contractions: When you begin to experience regular uterine contractions, this is the strongest indication that you are in labor. This is a good time to get out your notebook to record the exact time each one begins and how long they last. These contractions may feel like menstrual cramps or a lower backache that comes and goes, and during early labor they may be as far apart as 20 to 30 minutes. Over the course of several hours your contractions will typically begin occurring at shorter intervals; and you may notice they start happening every 10-15 minutes or less. When your contractions are consistently 5 minutes apart, it is time to call your health care provider.

Labor Contractions Have the Following Characteristics:

  • They are regular
  • They follow a predictable pattern (such as every eight minutes)
  • They become progressively closer
  • They last progressively longer
  • They become progressively stronger
  • Each contraction is felt first in the lower back and then radiates around to the front or visa versa
  • A change in activity or position will not slow down or stop contractions
  • There may be bloody show
  • Membranes may rupture
  • Your health care provider will notice cervical changes, such as effacement (thinning), or dilation
Last Updated: 08/2008

Compiled using information from the following sources:

William’s Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 17.

eMedicine, http://www.emedicine.com/

American Pregnancy Association, http://www.americanpregnancy.org

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