Baby Dropping: What’s Going On, When to Get Ready for Labor!

The term “baby dropping” is something that made me wince when I first heard it. I thought it applied to actually dropping your baby while holding it, a fear of mine I’ve had since, well, since my friends started having babies.

In fact, I’ll never forget the first time I held a real, live baby. I was at my friend Billy’s house and his sister-in-law was visiting. She held out a wiggly-jiggly 6-month-old baby girl and asked me if I wanted to hold her. I said, “Oh, noooo. But thanks! I don’t want to break her.” They all laughed at me and insisted I hold her anyway. “But what if I drop her?!?” I remember protesting. Again, they all laughed.

It wasn’t until I had my own children that I realized how silly I sounded. But that encounter was one that resulted in a baby smiling at me, and that smile made me realize that I’d like to be a mom, someday. I certainly wasn’t ready at the time though. Incidentally, that baby is now in high school!

Anyway, baby dropping has nothing to do with having total butterfingers and dropping your baby onto the ground. It has everything to do with your baby making his or her way down into your pelvis to get ready for labor.

Baby Dropping – What Is It?

Baby dropping happens when that little baby head starts its journey down into your pelvis. It’s also called lightening because it results in a lighter feeling for you, Mom. It happens at the end of the third trimester and is a sign that labor is getting closer.

Woman laboring in delivery room with nurse and husband before birth.

But just wait! There’s no need to run off to the hospital yet. A smart move instead would be to make sure you’ve got your hospital bags ready to go so that when the time comes, you won’t be running about like a chicken with your head cut off. If you’ve already got your bags ready, double-checking them is a good idea. And just remember, should you forget something, someone can always bring it so please try to stay calm.

Prior to your baby dropping, he or she may rotate, putting the back of the head toward the front of your belly with the head facing down. Then, down into the pelvis, your baby goes! Whether you feel it or not, your doctor will tell you it has engaged once it has settled into your pelvis.

When Can I Expect My Baby To Drop?

Unfortunately, there is no set time for your baby’s head to drop. This is why toward the end of your pregnancy, you’ll be visiting your doctor weekly. He or she will be able to tell you whether your baby has dropped or not if you didn’t feel it. The timing is different for every one of us.

When your baby drops, it’s a sign that you’re getting closer to labor, but there’s no clear timeline from there how long it will take before you go into labor. In other words, it’s not a good predictor. For first-time moms, you can expect that your baby will drop somewhere between 2 and 4 weeks prior to delivery, but it can also happen earlier.

For women that have already given birth before, your baby may not even drop down into the pelvis until your labor begins. This is because your body has been through this process before and your pelvis will require less time to get ready to birth your baby.

If it’s your first rodeo, keeping a lookout during your last month of pregnancy is wise. Again, your weekly doctor’s appointments will shed some light on what’s going on.

For my first pregnancy, I remember my baby dropping in week 36. I remember feeling so much lighter at that time, though the feeling shifts a bit and starts getting uncomfortable the further down your baby drops.

I gave birth to a healthy daughter at week 38, though I had friends who dropped in week 36 and didn’t pop theirs out until week 40. I’ve also had friends with their first baby who didn’t drop until week 38 and then popped in the week 39. My best friend dropped in week 38 and was still pregnant at week 41. Her labor had to be induced.

I could list all my mom friends here and tell you our tales but I think you get a general idea: it’s different for all of us and just because one thing happens to your friend doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to you.

My advice: just be prepared. Not worried…prepared. Because when it does happen, you’ll know you’ve got to get ready to expect that labor will come any time after this, though if your baby just dropped, chances are you’ve still got a bit of time before it’s go-time.

What Does Baby Dropping Feel Like?

When your baby drops, you may not even feel it happening. You may, however, notice that the shape of your abdomen has changed. For others, you may feel a very distinct and noticeable movement very suddenly. Again, like the timeframe for your baby dropping and it’s relativity to labor, it’s all a great big surprise what you’re going to get.

Do you like surprises? If not, get ready!

Giving birth and parenthood both are full of surprises. Some of them are wonderful, and others, like a disgusting diaper mess at 3 am, are not.

If you feel anything at all, you may notice your abdomen feels lighter after your baby has dropped. With baby down in your pelvis, it makes more room in your middle which is why it gets the name lightening.

For me, I didn’t feel my first daughter drop suddenly. I just noticed one day that I felt lighter in the middle. My checkup was the following day and my doctor confirmed that she’d dropped down. Again, for me, that was week 36, but for you, it could be totally different.

I felt fine until maybe 3 or 4 days before she was born. Looking back, I felt very uncomfortable between my legs, like I had a bowling ball there. Many other women describe this feeling too, but some of them do not at all feel lighter like I did when the drop first happened. They just felt that bowling-ball-sensation between their legs.

Our experiences are all different, so let me just say this: in the last few weeks of your pregnancy, you should really focus on just finding a way to be comfortable. You’ll thank me for that later!

Signs Your Baby Is Dropping

So, as I said, not every woman can feel their baby dropping. The question burning in your mind then must be, “What are the signs my baby is dropping?” Of course, your doctor will confirm it at your next checkup, but if you experience any of these, it’s likely you have a baby down in the pelvis getting ready to push the labor alarm button to come on out in the next week to a month!

  • Lower belly

Even if you carried high during your whole pregnancy, your bump will look lowered once your baby drops. If you don’t feel anything unusual toward the end, take a look in the mirror and see if your baby bump looks different.

  • Pain from pelvis pressure

When your baby drops into the pelvis, depending on the station (which I’ll explain shortly), you may feel lighter from the dropping. At least initially. Once your baby settles in more, getting closer to the big day, the pressure in your pelvic area increases. If you waddle when you walk, your baby has dropped.

  • Surges of pelvic pain

This won’t happen to every mom-to-be, but some of you will get these intense surges of pelvic pain. Doctors say it’s because your baby’s head is pushing on the ligaments in your pelvis. It’s very uncomfortable, which is why you should make sure to take it easy during this time to ease your pain.

  • Ease of breathing

Let’s not focus on the pain, shall we? Let’s talk about something good that will happen when your baby drops. Like the fact that there is less pressure on your diaphragm. You’ll be able to breathe easier which is such a relief!

  • Hemorrhoids

Perhaps the last point isn’t going to make up for the next ones, but it’s important you know about them. With pressure put on your pelvic nerves and rectum, you may get hemorrhoids. I’m so sorry! I know! It’s horrible, believe me. I was very lucky and I never had them during my pregnancies, but I got them after. I STILL get them. You can ask your doctor to recommend a safe cream to use to relieve the pain.

  • Increased discharge

This one didn’t happen to me because my birth was in the 15% of women whose water burst forth like a dam, just like in the movies. But for the rest of you, that increased pressure on your cervix is going to loosen that mucus plug which will gradually release in the form of a jelly-like or yolk-like discharge. It’s there to protect your uterus from harmful bacterial intruders, which is why if what happened to me happens to you, you must get to the hospital quickly to prevent any problems.

  • Urgent, frequent need to pee

I can’t say this happened to me because, for both of my pregnancies, I felt like I constantly had to pee. In fact, I couldn’t even get to the bus stop down the end of our street without having to run into the bathroom in the restaurant at the bottom of the hill there. So my need to pee often didn’t change at all once my babies had dropped. It may, of course, be very different for you.

  • Back pain

During your pregnancy, you’ve likely gotten used to many aches and pains. Once the baby drops, get ready for more intense back pain. Again, I urge you to take it easy and if you find a way to get into a comfortable position in your day, consider it a success.

  • Reduces heartburn and increased hunger

Some women are lucky. When your baby drops, you may experience fewer heartburn woes and feel hungrier. For me, I still suffered from heartburn until the very end. That old wives’ tale about heartburn being related to how much hair your child is born with very well may be true (okay, so it’s not, but both my daughters had gobs of hair when they were born).

Fetal Stations In Labor

medical illustration of a human fetus month 6

If you think your baby has dropped, you should make sure you’ve got an appointment with your doctor. He or she will be able to use a fetal stations scale to determine the position of your baby.

Most commonly used is a five-point scale.

This system divides the pelvis by using ischial spine markers on your pelvis as indicators. The ischial spines are divided into fifths. When your baby drops and prepares for labor, the head becomes level with these ischial spines. The scale goes from -5 to +5 and the further down your baby goes on the scale, the closer it is to being born.

Essentially, what this means is that before your baby drops, the station will likely be at -5. Once it does drop and your doctor announces it is engaged, you may be at station zero. At the crowning, when your baby is making its way through your vagina during delivery, that’s station +5. Most women are at a station of zero or lower when they are fully dilated.

Unless you are me. Then you will spend 24 hours in labor and not dilate nearly enough. My daughter also turned around inside of me, a very painful experience, but not to worry! What happened to me is much rarer. We couldn’t get her to turn and she was nowhere near the right station, so I wound up with an emergency c-section.

Don’t panic. Not yet anyway. It won’t do you a bit of good. Just go in for your exam and your doctor will examine you down there to feel for the baby’s head and check out all those other things. This is not the time to be embarrassed. You’ll have tons of medical professionals looking at your lady bits, so try to relax and let them help you.

How Can I Encourage My Baby To Drop?

Full length view of a young pregnant mother exercising and doing squats at home
Doing squat helps, but be careful.

If your due date is fast approaching but your baby hasn’t dropped yet, you can do a few things to facilitate that descent. Try walking around your neighborhood or local park. That fresh air will also do you some good.

Or at home, you can try squats, pelvic tilts, or sitting on a birthing ball. Just a word of caution with the squats…keep a hand on a steady surface so you don’t wobble over. Your balance is severely compromised toward the end of your pregnancy.

By doing these things, you open up your hips and stretch those pelvic muscles which encourage your baby to drop down.

When Should I Worry About My Baby Dropping?

If your baby hasn’t dropped yet and you’re toward the end of your pregnancy, your doctor will be able to help. But if it has, you may be wondering what’s normal and what’s not. Some pelvic pain is very normal once your baby has dropped.

What’s not normal is a constant pain in the pelvis during this time. Random surges of pain are what usually happens but if you feel you’re in continuous pain, call your doctor immediately. Additionally, if that pain comes with bleeding, fluid loss, or a fever, you should make sure to tell your doctor straight away to help take care of you and your baby properly.

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