I recently told you all about the 4 stages of labor and how the first signs of labor approaching you may or may not clue you in. I mean, it is different for all of us. No wonder doctors really can’t predict it.
But the good news is you can keep an eye out for the first signs of labor approaching. When you see any of these, that means you are getting close to the real deal, but real labor hasn’t yet started.
And just to be clear, these first signs of impending labor can start a full month or even more before you go into official labor. Or they could start just an hour before. It’s nuts, truly, but here’s what to know!
- The baby has dropped
For first-time mamas, your baby should drop into your pelvis several weeks before active labor. Usually, that’s about 2 to 4 weeks before. The technical term for this is lightening.
When lightening happens, your doctor will likely mention this at one of your appointments as you head in weekly toward the end of your pregnancy.
And should you have more children after this one, lightening usually won’t happen until you’re in real labor. If you’re unsure between real and false labor, read the differences here.
You should feel like you’re more waddly at this point. You’ll also feel like you have to pee even more frequently than before because your baby’s head is right on your bladder.
- Cervix dilation
As your body prepares to have this baby, your cervix will start to open and thin out. This can happen just days before you deliver or may begin weeks before. Your doctor will check these things with an internal exam.
As mentioned, some women will start this process weeks before, so if you’re one of them, your doctor will let you know. But if you go to those weekly appointments and you’re dilating slowly or haven’t even dilated, don’t worry. That doesn’t mean you’ll need a c-section.
- More pain
Another of the first signs of labor approaching is that you’ll feel more pain in the form of cramps and back pain. You may struggle to find a comfortable position for first-timers, even when sitting or lying down.
- Loosened joints
Aptly named, the pregnancy hormone of relaxin has been working the whole time to get your ligaments to loosen up for the process of birthing. Your joints may feel more relaxed and less tight overall, so your pelvis can open up more easily. But if you’re perceptive, you’ll feel this in other joints, which can signal that you’re getting closer to your active labor.
- Diarrhea (cha cha cha)
As everything else relaxes to accommodate the baby’s exit into the real world, so will your rectum. And that could mean diarrhea for you. If you had diarrhea during your pregnancy, I know this isn’t exactly the news you want to hear. But it’s normal and may even make you think something you ate is causing it.
Any time you have diarrhea – pregnant or not – you should make sure you have lots of water to stay hydrated!
- No more weight
If you’ve been wincing every time you’ve stepped onto the scale and now notice you’ve lost a couple of pounds or the scale is holding steady, this is one of the first signs of labor approaching. The baby is still gaining weight, and you shouldn’t worry because your doctor monitors all of this at your weekly checkups.
Traditionally, the fatigue you feel in the first trimester goes away. But that changes once you get close to the end of your pregnancy. You’ll be exhausted.
Well, some of you will be. Some moms report feeling more energetic as they close in on the end of pregnancy. They call this nesting. It might explain why I had the urge to scrub every part of our house weeks before my water broke.
Signs of True and Official Labor
Now, those early signs may tip you off that you’re getting close. But these first signs of labor approaching men sweet Lord above that you better have that hospital bag ready to grab and be prepared to go at any time.
We can all get thrown off by Braxton Hicks. But the key here is to assess the situation by timing the contractions. Are they evenly spaced at regular intervals? Are they becoming more frequent?
And if they are, how long do they last?
When you’re in actual labor, your contractions will last for 30 to 70 seconds at a time.
They will also be strong and get stronger over time, no matter what position you change to. It’s a good idea to pull up your stopwatch on your phone or watch the clock with your hands to get the answers to these questions.
- Thick, pink discharge
Your mucus plug is like a cork that seals your uterus up. Sometimes, it comes out in one large piece, which would look like mucus you’d blow out your nose though it’s more pinkish. Other times, it can come out in bits. You may not get to see all of it or even notice it.
And you may not even lose it before delivery. But right before you go into real labor, you will usually notice an increase in vaginal discharge that will be thicker. If you see that, get ready for the main event, which could happen very soon!
- Cramps and backache
Before real labor begins, you may have cramps that remind you of your worst period or perhaps an upset stomach. You may also have pain in your lower back. And yes, it can radiate into your legs and won’t stop regardless of position you take up.
- Breaking of the water
So few of you will have the movie scene-like experience where your water erupts suddenly. I was one of those with my eldest. But most of you may experience more of a slow trickle when your water breaks.
So, How Do I Know I’m in Labor?
Well, since the last month of your pregnancy, you’ll be at your doctor’s office weekly; your doctor will likely notice them. But if something new happens between visits, be sure to let them know.
Also, are you having any of these weird labor signs?
Even if you get contractions and can time them to 5 minutes apart for at least an hour, it can’t hurt to give the doctor a call. Please don’t be afraid to call late at night or early in the morning. Your doctor wants to help you, which is why they do what they do.
And, if you have any of the following things happen, you need to call your doctor immediately, no matter what hour of the day it is:
- Bright red discharge or bleeding
- Your water breaks
- Fluid that appears green or brown (this is an emergency)
- Preeclampsia symptoms (blurred or double vision, severe headache, and sudden swelling, which is also an emergency)
The bottom line is this…trust yourself. Your doctor isn’t going to laugh if you call up freaking out, and it’s Braxton Hicks. They’re not going to be angry, either. Take a deep breath, try to relax for this last bit of your pregnancy, and watch for the first signs of labor approaching. Everything will be fine!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.