If you’re reading this now, you’re probably well into your third trimester of pregnancy. The day that you have been anxiously anticipating may be just a few days or weeks away!
The next and last step of this whole process is childbirth. Becoming aware of the signs that you are actually going into labor is very important to get you prepared for labor and delivery.
Just like every woman’s pregnancy can be so different, their labor and childbirth can be, as well. Labor can begin differently for each baby you have. That’s why it’s important to know all the signs and not just the ones that you experienced the first time. The start of my labor was very different in both of my pregnancies.
For some women, the signs are very obvious, but for others, they may not be. Labor could come on very suddenly or you may have symptoms for a few days. This is why it is important to know what to look for.
The later that you get in pregnancy, the more signs and symptoms you will see and feel, letting you know that labor is imminent. However, a lot of the signs just mean that labor will be starting in the next couple of weeks, not necessarily that it will be happening today or the next.
If you’re approaching that 40th week, then you’re probably anxious about when that moment will happen. Here are some ways to tell if you’re truly going into labor within the next couple of weeks, days or hours.
Signs and Symptoms That You’re in Pre-labor
Pre-labor can begin within a few weeks or up to two months before labor begins. These are signs that your body is doing it’s job to prepare for childbirth and hopefully giving you the smoothest delivery as possible.
1. Your baby will drop – Lightening
The term baby dropping simply means that the baby will begin to push downward and settle into your pelvis, in most cases, head down. If you carried your baby pretty high for most of your pregnancy, you may see a big difference as your belly will now look a lot lower.
This will ease the pressure on your lungs and rib cage so you may feel a bit of lightening and have an easier time breathing. Lightening is when you no longer feel the baby pushing up into your ribs. This makes your center of gravity and majority of body weight much lower.
2. Pelvis and lower back aches and pains
Due to the baby dropping, you will also notice a lot more pressure in your pelvic and lower back regions because of the low positioning of your baby. Toward the end of my pregnancy, I could barely walk because of the pressure distributed to my pelvis.
I could actually feel my hips opening up and preparing for the baby to exit the birth canal. Just relaxing and laying down helped me with this because you’re eliminating gravity from pulling everything down.
3. Cervical change
Depending on your doctor, you’ll start getting internal exams around 36 weeks. This will help them to determine if your cervix is dilated and effaced.
The cervix is the small opening in your vagina that the baby will come out of. It’s the lower end of the uterus that opens up (or dilates) gradually as your body prepares to deliver your baby.
Many women believe that if they are dilating, they are in labor. However, that’s not the case at all and it doesn’t mean that it will happen immediately. Likewise, if you are not dilated, that doesn’t mean that labor will be much further out.
My sister-in-law was dilated at 5cm for almost 2 weeks before going into labor and I was not dilated at all when getting my exam but went into labor the next day. Therefore it is different for every woman. However, your cervix dilating and effacing is a good sign that your body is getting ready.
4. Joints feel looser
In order for your baby to come out quickly and easily, your pelvic bones need to open up wide. I know it doesn’t seem like it could spread open that much, but trust me, it happens! Nature has made our body’s know what to do and how to do it.
The way that your pelvis can spread so much is the hormone relaxin that is released from your brain and throughout your entire body. Relaxin causes the joints of the pelvis, as well as everything else, to loosen up a bit more. You will notice it throughout your whole pregnancy, but toward the end is when it really works it’s magic.
Therefore, you’ll notice that your body feels less tight and rigid and you can move those joints with ease.
5. Urge to Nest
Toward the end of pregnancy, your urge to nest (clean and organize for baby’s arrival) will become especially present. You’ll have a strong feeling to get your home ready and get everything neat and in it’s place for baby.
Although this doesn’t truly mean that you’re going into labor, it’s a common feeling that most women experience.
Related Post: 9 Symptoms of the Last Month of Pregnancy
Signs that you’re in early labor:
Early labor is not necessarily active labor, but it can predict if labor is coming within the next couple of days or hours. Here are some things that you may see or feel during this time.
6. Your water breaks
This is a sure sign that labor is starting because even if the rest of your body isn’t ready for the baby to come, you can’t keep your baby in much longer with a ruptured amniotic sac.
The water breaking could be a huge gush of fluid coming out (which is unmistakable) or a slow trickle. The slow flow may be harder to determine that it’s definitely your water breaking because you may often see discharge or fluid come out that is not amniotic fluid.
If you have any inclination that your water may have broken, call your doctor. You need to deliver within 24 hours of your water breaking to prevent infection or harm to the baby.
For most women, this is the last thing that happens and it may never happen until the doctor physical ruptures it himself during delivery. However, both of my labors begun with my water breaking and that is how I knew that I was in labor.
7. You begin feeling contractions
You can start experiencing contractions in your third trimester and they’re not always a true sign of labor. You may feel Braxton Hicks contractions earlier on, which can be almost like a practice round for you of what contractions will feel like.
Braxton Hicks contractions cause the muscles of your uterus to contract and release as your body’s signaling to push the baby out. You will know when you are experiencing false labor contractions (not actual labor, just preparation) when the cramps or contractions don’t get any stronger or closer together.
You may feel them 10 minutes apart in equal or unequal intervals, but if they don’t get any closer than that, it’s not true labor. You also may be able to move around or change positions and the contractions will ease up.
When you are experiencing true labor contractions, they will get closer together and more frequent as time goes on. They don’t go away with a change in position and they will continue to get more and more painful as they occur.
True labor contractions may start off feeling like menstrual cramps, abdominal pressure, or just an upset stomach. The pain could be felt anywhere from the lower back to the belly to the lower abdominal/pelvic region. However, you will typically feel the contractions right at your belly since it is the entire uterus contracting which has now expanded to your whole stomach.
In my experience, they started off feeling like a dull ache, typical of menstrual cramps. I thought nothing of it for the first hour of feeling them because they weren’t that painful yet. However, just as I was thinking ok, maybe this could be it, they started getting more intense and unbearable. It’s a good thing I reacted quickly and started our journey to the hospital before they were really bad because it intensified very quickly.
8. Diarrhea or Nausea
If you’re getting into the real stages of early labor and are feeling those contractions coming on stronger and stronger, it may cause your body to let loose. Just as the muscles in your uterus are contracting and relaxing to push the baby out, so are the muscles of your stomach, intestines, and rectum.
The intensity of the contractions of your uterus is what may make your body expel everything that is inside of it.
9. Losing your mucus plug or bloody discharge
A mucus plug is just what it sounds like: a clump of mucus that blocks off the cervix during pregnancy. It plugs up the entrance to the uterus from the vagina to prevent any foreign substances from getting in.
Once labor is to be starting soon, this mucus plug with fall out. You may see it in the toilet or your underpants as one big clump or it could break off in tiny pieces. If it breaks, it may be harder to notice it.
The mucus plug may be the greenish-yellowish color of the mucus in your nose or it could have a little bit of blood in it (still normal). Some women lose this a few days or hours before birth, but some may not see it come out at all under delivery.
. . . . . .
These are the most common signs that you will see, however, every woman experiences a different kind of labor.
Always trust your gut and call the doctor or midwife. If you notice any sudden changes to your body and you’re well into your third trimester, take it as a sign that labor could be approaching.