Last updated: June 16, 2021
Richard Honaker M.D.
Primary Care Physician
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Labor marks the end of pregnancy and start of motherhood. It’s what every mom-to-be is excited yet nervous about. It’s natural to worry about labor and look for signs that give you an idea of when it would start.
Though it is true that the exact timing of labor is difficult to predict, there are a few telltale signs that can tell if labor is 24-48 hours away or a few days or a week away. Some of these signs may even start appearing around 37 weeks or 38 weeks of pregnancy.
While some signs of labor are correct indicators of the approaching labor, other ‘signs’ are mere myths or old wives tales passed down generations. This article will help you identify the signs which indicate that labor is near as well as put your mind at ease when it comes to common myths.
Six telltale signs of labor
Baby drop or lightening
When you’re closer to your due date, the body starts to prepare for labor and the position of the baby changes. The baby moves downwards and the little one’s head settles in the pelvis. When this happens, the shape of your baby bumps also changes and it becomes visibly lower.
So what does it feel like when the baby drops? Usually it relieves the pressure on your chest and abdomen, making it easier to breathe, enjoy a larger meal and experience lesser heartburn. Though, you may have to deal with more frequent back aches, as pressure on the lower back increases.
Baby dropping is one of the early signs of labor, so when it happens, labor is likely to follow in the coming weeks or even days.
The cervix starts to open gradually during the ninth month of pregnancy. This process is called dilation. In fact, this can be considered a sure shot sign that labor is only hours or days away.
For some women, this process starts a few days before labor begins, and others only experience it a couple of hours before birth. The day before labor, usually you’d be 2-3 cm dilated. If your doctor confirms this, then there is a good chance that labor is about 24-48 hours away.
Change in vaginal discharge
Usually, vaginal discharge is white but if you’re in your ninth month of pregnancy, it can be of a different color and may also change in texture and consistency.
It’s normal to have pinkish or slightly blood tinged discharge. You may also notice the loss of your mucus plug (which is what protects the cervical opening). Once this happens, you can safely assume that labor is a few days away.
Diarrhea can also be a sign of labor. When you approach your due date, it is normal to experience loose stools. This is because your body produces a hormone called prostaglandin, as it gets ready for labor. This hormone not only makes the cervix softer but also affects bowel movements.
This is nature’s way of clearing out the lower bowel. Though, if you are experiencing diarrhea, just ensure that you stay hydrated. If there is any other symptoms like fever or intense stomach pain, do speak to a physician to ensure that everything is okay.
The fluid-filled amniotic sac usually breaks after you start having contractions, however, it can also happen before contractions start in some cases.
‘How do I know if my water broke?’
It’s different for everyone. It may feel like something is leaking, a sudden ‘pop’ or an all-out splash of water. If you’re unsure, it’s important to stay calm, speak to your physician or midwife and follow their guidance.
The sure-shot way of predicting the timing of labor is contractions. When real labor starts, contractions become progressively closer, last longer, and are more intense. One way to know if the contractions are real is that any movement or exercise won’t relieve the contractions.
Remember, when the contractions are regular and strong, and are 4-5 minutes apart, it’s important to call your midwife or doctor. These are some of the signs that help you in ascertaining if you’re about to go into labor.
While the signs mentioned above can indicate that labor is near, there are other signs which may not be true indicators of the timing of labor. So, if you are experiencing any of the following ‘signs’, you don’t need to be worried about on-set of labor because of these alone.
Nesting is the overwhelming urge to prepare your home and your surroundings for the arrival of your new baby. So does nesting mean that labor is near or it is a sign of labor? Well, not necessarily. It just means that your maternal instincts are kicking in and you want to ensure that the home is ready for the little one.
Though nesting instinct is the strongest towards the end of your pregnancy, it does not guarantee that labor is approaching.
Many first time mothers wonder if gas is a sign that labor is approaching. This is usually because gas can easily be confused with early contractions.
An easy way to differentiate gas from contractions is that it will not follow a regular pattern. If it comes and goes and is not accompanied by other true signs of labor, chances are that labor is not approaching soon. So when you experience gas, try to relax and think back to what you’ve eaten. It could just be the cauliflower rice you’ve eaten.
Still have questions?
Every pregnancy is unique, so it’s understandable that you may have more questions about signs of labor. This is why our doctors are available online 24/7 to help you understand and analyze your situation and provide a course of action.
Download our app today to speak to a real doctor and get genuine medical advice within the comfort of your home, that too for free.
Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.
About Richard Honaker M.D.
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