Delivery day is coming soon!
Even parents who’ve been through it before can’t always tell when labor is approaching. That’s because many of the early signs of labor are vague and easily misinterpreted: Do those dull cramps signal that your baby is moving into position, or are they a result of the grande burrito you ate last night? Is that little trickle of fluid your water breaking, or is it just urine leaking because a seven-pound baby is resting on your full bladder? To help you figure out when you’re really nearing your delivery date, check out these cues that signal the first signs of labor.
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9 Signs That Labor is Days Away
Just when you think you can’t possibly get any bigger, you may experience the following signs of going into labor. Note that these symptoms don’t occur in any particular order, and you may experience several within the same day or a few days of each other. They could indicate that labor is on the horizon, but not everyone will experience every sign either:
- An increase in vaginal discharge, possibly brownish or pinkish in color
- “Engagement,” or the sensation of the baby dropping lower into your pelvic cavity. The weight of your baby is no longer pressing on your diaphragm, and you may be able to breathe more freely as a result.
- Slight weight loss
- Dull pain low in your back that comes and goes
- Loose and frequent bowel movements with cramping. “That’s the body’s way of emptying the bowels so the uterus will contract well,” explains Rochel Lieberman, a Brooklyn, New York nurse-midwife. “Indigestion and vomiting prior to labor are also possible.”
- Sensation of building pressure or cramping in your pelvic/rectal area
- Softening, thinning, or dilation of the cervix (as shown by a doctor’s internal exam)
- An increase in Braxton Hicks contractions or “practice” contractions that feel like a tightening or hardening of the uterus with possible mild cramps.
- A feeling of restlessness/increased energy, also known as nesting. If you do feel a spike in the nesting instinct, don’t do anything too extreme. “Don’t knock yourself out,” advises Barbara Moran, a nurse-midwife in Dunn Loring, Virginia. “You’ll need your energy for labor.”
3 Signs You’re Going Into Labor Soon
While the above signs are a good indication your body is getting ready for birth very soon, if you experience any of these symptoms, labor will probably happen sooner rather than later.
Your Water Breaks
You’ve probably had nightmares about this sign of impending labor suddenly happening in the office elevator or at the movies, but not everyone’s amniotic fluid will break before they start having regular contractions. Even if your water does break, you’re likely to feel a small leak, not a big gush, because your baby’s head often prevents too much fluid from leaking out.
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If your sac does rupture on its own however, it usually means that labor is just around the corner, says Carol J. Grabowski, M.D., chief of staff of the women’s division at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in California. Around 90% of pregnant people who are full-term (37 weeks or more pregnant) spontaneously go into labor within 24 hours after their water breaks. And those who don’t are likely to be induced because the risk of infection increases once the amniotic sac has ruptured. If you’re concerned your water may have broken, be sure to call your doctor so they can guide you on the next steps.
You Notice a Discharge or “Bloody Show”
During pregnancy, the cervix stays closed and plugged up with mucus. It’s nature’s way of protecting your baby from infection. But as you progress toward labor, the cervix begins to dilate (open) and soften in preparation for delivery, causing the plug to dislodge. The mucus, which can measure up to 1-2 teaspoons and be as big as 2 inches, is dispelled as either a blob (called the “mucus plug”) or a runny smear.
The discharge may look brown (from old blood) or pink as the cervix continues to thin and open, causing tiny blood vessels to break along the surface of the cervix and tinge the mucus. After you notice the “bloody show,” labor could be hours, days, or even weeks away, Dr. Grabowski says.
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Your Back Really Hurts
If you’re like a lot of pregnant people, your back may have been aching for months. But when the pain becomes extremely harsh, this can be a sign that you’re experiencing “back labor,” which happens when the baby is facing upwards and occurs in up to 8% pregnancies, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
“Normally, a baby descends the birth canal with its face pressed against the your spine,” notes Kay Johnson, a certified nurse-midwife in Atlanta. “But in some cases, the baby descends with its skull hitting the spine.” The result? “Constant pain that may radiate to the abdomen but is mostly concentrated in the back.”
Some pregnant people will also experience contractions that feel like back pain, or have radiating pain to their back during contractions. But either way, whether you are experiencing true back labor or not, back pain may be a first sign of labor approaching.
Don’t forget: if you’re experiencing any signs of labor and you’re before 37 weeks pregnant, be sure to call your doctor right away. And if you’re unsure if you’re actually going into labor, don’t be afraid to call your doctor either; that’s what they are there for and your medical team would much rather you get checked out anytime you have a concern.