While most women are excited to be having a baby, some may feel apprehensive about the birth. Being prepared and knowing the signs of labor are a great way to know what to watch for and prepare. Pregnancy is a bumpy ride indeed. Whether it’s your first time or even if you have been through it before you may have a plethora of different experiences during the time you are pregnant.
It is important to know that signs of labor, like the rest of the period of pregnancy is an individual and unique experience and can differ for each woman. Thus, while the following symptoms are the usual signs experienced, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t fit yours. The important thing is to have a close relationship with your doctor and report anything abnormal, especially any vaginal bleeding or abdominal pain.
Common Signs of Labor
Since a normal gestation is 40 weeks, signs of pre-labor may be apparent at 38 or 39 weeks’ gestation. In most cases, labor begins between 37 and 42 weeks after the last menstrual period. Sometimes, you may have Braxton Hicks Contractions or false labor, so it might be a confusing time. The following are signs that labor is coming or starting soon.
Breathing More Easily: This is the sign that your baby has dropped down and is settling into the pelvis releasing pressure from your diaphragm. On the flip side, you might feel increased pressure on your bladder and you might find yourself running to the bathroom.
Discharge of viscous mucus: During pregnancy, the cervical opening is plugged by mucus to prevent bacteria from entering the uterus. When your cervix begins to relax, this mucus plug is expelled. Many women believe that the plug will be solid. In fact, it is in the form of a thick discharge of viscous mucus. It is either clear in color, pink or tinged with blood. The mucus plug can be expelled minutes, hours or days before labor begins.
Water Breaking: Just 1 in 10 women experience a gush of amniotic fluid when the membranes rupture. Most often, the amniotic fluid will just leak in the form of small trickle. However, many women are unsure whether it is amniotic fluid or urine because many pregnant women leak urine during the later stages of pregnancy. If your water breaks and you don’t have contractions, you should go to the hospital. As time passes the risk for infection can grow, and your doctor will want to limit this way ahead of time. A doctor may want to induce your labor in as little as six hours, although anywhere from 6 to 24 hours is typical.
Sudden spurt of energy: Just before you go into labor, you may have a sudden spurt of energy. You will realize that you can do things like cleaning, buying groceries or cooking without feeling tired. This is called nesting. While you may have the urge to run around, you are about to go into a particularly stressful time so probably best if you conserve your energy.
Effacement of cervix: Effacement of the cervix starts in the last month of pregnancy. Your cervix will become thin and it will start to stretch to make it easy for the cervix to dilate when you deliver your baby. Your doctor will start checking for effacement in the last 2 months of pregnancy and he or she will tell about the progress.
Dilation of the cervix opening: Means your body is preparing for labor. Dilation is usually measured in centimeters and at times during internal examination, the doctor might measure it in fingers. If you are fully dilated, your dilation measures 10 centimeters and you are ready to give birth. Doctors start checking for dilation in the last 2 months of pregnancy and will keep you informed about this.
Contractions: The difference between false and real contractions is their strength, intensity and whether they continue when you move about. Many women experience false labor before true labor starts. So how to know which is which? The best way is to take note of your contractions. False labor consists of contractions can be painful and may come every 10 or 20 minutes. With false labor, your cervix will not have started to dilate yet. Your mid-wife or doctor will be able to tell by carrying out an examination.
Do not just ignore any single sign. Whether or not you are in labor, by noting each sign and their duration, you will be able to give your doctor a better picture of exactly what is happening to your body.
Premature Signs of Labor
A premature labor or a preterm labor begins any time before 37 weeks gestation. This is a very serious impediment during pregnancy. Many women do not recognize the signs of premature labor. If detected early, it can help in preventing premature birth and will offer the baby a better chance of survival. About a quarter of preterm births are planned. If you or your baby have a complication and are not doing well, your medical team might decide to induce labor early or perform a cesarean section before 37 weeks.
Premature Labor and its signs and symptoms:
- Contractions that occur at more than 4 per hour
- Bleeding from the vagina
- Back pain, especially if its dull and rhythmic
- Flow of sudden clear, watery fluid from the vagina
- Pelvic pressure that feels like the baby is pushing down
- Abdominal pain, and menstrual like cramping
- Loose stools. These can be caused by the release of prostaglandins in early which causes cervical effacement, softening, etc. Prostaglandins also can cause soft stools or diarrhea. Time until labor? Usually only a matter of a day or hours.
Signs That Your Labor Is In Danger
Complications of labor are relatively rare, but it is important to know the basics before labor so that you have a working knowledge should anything happen during your labor and birth. Here are some of things to be aware of:
Rising or Falling Blood Pressure: BP of the mother normally rises slightly in the second stage of labor due to the pushing efforts. A decrease in BP is also a danger sign for it may indicate an occult intrauterine hemorrhage.
Abnormal Pulse: Normal average pulse rate is 70-80 bpm. It normally increases slightly during the second stage of labor. Tachycardia usually indicates impending shock.
Inadequate Prolonged Contractions: When contractions become less frequent, less intense and shorter in duration, this may indicate uterine exhaustion or uterine inertia. It must be corrected or else a CS must be performed.
Pathologic Retraction Ring: A ridge that may for around the uterus during the prolonged second stage of an obstructed labor. It is a warning of impending uterine rupture.
Abnormal Lower Abdominal Contour: Distended bladder, which can displace uterus and cause uterine atony. It may also be injured due to the pressure of the fetal head and vice versa.
Watch out for any signs of labor and know how to distinguish between real labor and Braxton Hicks contractions. If your water breaks and you don’t have accompanying contractions, go to the hospital to prevent any infection. Call your doctor or go to the hospital if you think you might be in labor. Pregnancy is a crucial time, and it is important to adhere to a good diet and take good care of yourself. If you are in the best possible health, you will more likely to have a complication free pregnancy and lower your chance of premature labor.