Pretty much as soon as the third trimester arrives, you are most likely starting to think more and more about your approaching labor and delivery. I know as soon as I reached 30 weeks, I was definitely starting to prepare for labor and research about signs that labor is near.
While every woman is different and your labor will certainly be unique to you, it is definitely a good idea to do some research and be prepared for when labor comes knocking, especially if you are a first-time mom.
Let me preface by saying, many women have lots of these signs while others have hardly any signs before labor just shows up out of nowhere (I was the latter). It’s good to be prepared, make sure your hospital bag is packed, you have some padscicles ready in the freezer, and that you are ready for labor as you approach 40 weeks.
Since you have no way of knowing when labor will be knocking or how it will show up, here are 10 signs that labor is near for you to keep an eye on. If you are quickly approaching 40 weeks with no signs that labor is near, don’t worry. My second labor came out of nowhere at 41 weeks, 3 days. Since I was past 40 weeks, I used an exercise ball to help naturally induce my labor, too.
*Remember, due dates are approximations and going past your due date by even up to two weeks is completely normal and occurs often!
10 Signs That Labor Is Near
1. Baby Drops
Your baby “drops”. This is awesome because guess what? You can breathe again. Hello, lungs! With first-time moms, this can happen up to 4 weeks before labor begins..so don’t get too excited. But, lots of times with subsequent pregnancies this won’t happen until just before labor or even once labor begins. When your baby “drops” this is him/her settling down against your cervix, ideally with head down, face down. However, your baby can “drop” facing the wrong way at times. Don’t worry too much, lots of babies will turn themselves the correct way during labor, too. You may feel a lot more pressure on your bladder and pelvic area once baby drops. It may even exaggerate that adorable pregnancy waddle you already got going on…but don’t worry mama, you’re almost there!
Approaching 40 weeks? Try these birthing ball exercises or check out Spinning Babies to help encourage baby to descend and get into proper birthing position!
2. Cramping/Back Pain
Many women experience cramping or lower back pain (period like pain) as a sign that labor is near. If you are experiencing cramping and back pain, these can also be mini contractions or Braxton Hicks (false contractions). Definitely will want to keep an eye on these as they can easily turn into actual labor (like they did with my last baby). In the meantime, take a warm shower or bath to relieve some of the pressure and pain or apply a heating pad on low to your lower back to help you relax.
3. Braxton Hicks
These can feel very different for everyone. Braxton Hicks can feel like cramps, stomach tightening, and can even be described a little like heartburn. Braxton Hicks are false contractions and are your body’s way of gearing up for labor without causing the cervix to dilate. These can happen even in the second trimester so they aren’t a guarantee that labor is near, however, for many women they ramp up closer to 40 weeks.
Fatigue like you had in the first trimester might be a sign that labor is near. If all of a sudden you are feeling exhausted, listen to your body and rest. It might be telling you to rest up for the labor to come! The last thing you want to do is enter labor already exhausted. It may be time to stop working or just rest some more while you are at home.
Nesting is also a sign, or even a burst of energy (I know…the exact opposite of above!). This can be your body’s way of allowing you to make some last minute preparations for your new little one. Listen to your body and get ready, your baby will be here before you know it!
5. Vaginal Discharge
As the cervix starts to ripen and even begin dilation prior to labor, this can cause an increase in vaginal discharge. If you see a change in your discharge, usually more, thicker discharge, this could be a sign that labor is near. If your discharge is super watery…take note, this could be amniotic fluid slowly leaking. While this isn’t a huge warning sign, it is definitely a good time to call your doctor and see if they want to check if your bag of waters is still intact. Also, any time you have bright red, bloody discharge, be sure to give your doctor a call. It’s better to play it safe and give the doc a call if you are ever unsure.
6. Bloody Show
Bloody show or loss of your mucus plug can be a sign that labor is near. However, (like lots of these signs) losing your mucus plug can happen weeks before labor begins. On the other hand, many women don’t lose their plug till they are actually in labor too. While it’s not a sign of labor, it can be a good indication that the cervix is starting to efface and dilate.
7. Water Breaks
While every dramatic movie shows a gush of fluid to portray the start of labor…this actually isn’t how it goes for the majority of women- so don’t count on that! However, it is the start of labor for about 15% of women according to What to Expect. For the rest of us, the waters don’t rupture until we are in full blown labor. Mine didn’t even break with my second until I was 10 cm and pushing!
This is the thinning of the cervix. While this is something you can’t feel happening, your OB or midwife can check for effacement while they check for dilation during an internal exam. Effacement can happen quickly or slowly over time and is a great indication your body knows what it’s doing and is getting ready for delivery.
Dilation is when the cervix starts to open in preparation for labor and delivery. The way to check for dilation is during an internal exam by your health care provider. Women can dilate at all sorts of rates so it may not give you an exact timeline but it is definitely a sign that labor is approaching soon.
This may not be your favorite symptom to show up prior to birth but this can be your body’s way of clearing the body and preparing you for your labor. As your muscles and ligaments start to relax, diarrhea can be an unwanted side effect…just remember, it could mean labor is close so…that’s a bonus. Make sure to stay hydrated, especially through any bouts of diarrhea. Staying hydrated is healthy for you and baby, can keep unwanted Braxton Hicks away, and will keep you ready for labor, whenever it decides to show up!
Sure Signs That You Are Actually In Labor
Think you might be in labor? Labor is specifically contractions that don’t go away and get stronger and closer together. While you may be in labor but aren’t for sure yet, that is ok. It’s good to labor at home at the beginning, rest and labor will keep progressing if it’s the real deal. You won’t always know it’s for sure labor right when it starts possibly but you’ll know eventually 😉
Braxton Hicks or Labor Contractions?
If you are wanting to see if your contractions are the real deal, rest for a while, drink some water, go to the bathroom and/or take a warm bath. If your contractions keep coming…it could be a good sign that labor has started.
Labor Contractions Are:
- Consistent- meaning, they don’t go away. Even if they aren’t perfectly spaced, for example, some are 5 minutes apart while others are 7, it could definitely still be labor.
- Get Stronger- If they are returning frequently and growing in strength, they are real contractions.
- Grow Closer Together- First, they were about 10 minutes apart and now they are 7 minutes apart for example. You can time contractions by starting a timer at the start of a contraction and then stopping the timer at the start of the following contraction
- Don’t Go Away- Try resting, drinking lots of water, using the restroom and taking a warm shower or bath. Still having consistent contractions? It’s probably baby time, mama!
Whenever in question, always contact your health care provider to make sure everything is good and you and baby are healthy. They are there for you.
Lastly, remember every woman’s body is different. Your labor and delivery will be unique, special and only yours. Some women go into labor 2 weeks early while others are close to knocking on 42 weeks (hello, me.), whatever ends up happening, a safe mom and baby is the most important thing. Hang in there, it’s almost time. Congrats on your perfect little one!
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