Early Signs of Labor

From the moment you first suspect that you are pregnant until the moment when the baby is in your arms, it can seem like you’re on an emotional roller coaster. Pregnancy can be overwhelming, and every pregnant woman enjoys this time in their life. It comes with many changes in how a mom-to-be looks and feels. During pregnancy, experiencing a wide range of emotions is normal. 

Pregnancy is coming to an end, and you may wonder when and how labor will start. As the due date gets closer, you start looking for signs or symptoms of the big moment approaching. It’s normal for a first-time mom-to-be to have countless questions about labor. 

What is labor?

Labor is the process of childbirth or the delivery of the baby from the uterus to the outside world. Labor is a slow, multistep process that’s unique for every woman. It varies from pregnancy to pregnancy in every woman and tends to follow a general pattern for most women. 

The symptoms of normal labor can begin three weeks before the anticipated due date. As you get closer to your due date, you may notice some subtle physical signs. Many moms-to-be have wondered how labor will feel and how long it will last. Every birth is different, and labor is a different experience for each woman and each pregnancy, so it’s hard to predict the answers to all those questions. Listed below are some most common signs of labor in most women:

1. Baby drops

This usually happens before 32 weeks when the baby is getting into position to make his exit. The baby’s head descends into the pelvis. As the due date approaches, the baby will, or should, turn its head down. The baby might have been putting pressure on the pregnant woman’s lungs and stomach for several months, causing mild shortness of breath and heartburn and as it descends, some of that pressure may ease. This baby drop is sometimes referred to as “lightning”. Most women master “waddle”, a type of pregnancy that walk toward their due date. Wear comfortable shoes at this time. The good news is that the mom-to-be has a bit more breathing room since the little one is moving away from her lungs.

2. Changes in the cervix

Dilation of the cervix is an early sign that labor is approaching. The uterus is preparing to squeeze a full-grown baby out through a little opening. This sign begins in the days and even weeks before the onset of labor. Changes will happen to the cervix: dilation and effacement. Dilation(opening) is a slow process and can also quickly change as the baby drops lower. Effacement(thinning) when the cervix dilates, it will also become soft and thin to make room for the baby.  Your provider may measure and track dilation and effacement via an internal exam, at the weekly check-ups of your pregnancy. Every woman has different progress, so don’t be nervous if you’re dilating slowly or not at all yet.

3. Cramps and increased back pain

Strong menstrual cramps or contractions of the uterus can make you feel discomfort. As labor approaches, pain in the lower back, especially dull pain that comes and goes, radiates down into the legs as the pressure on your back increases. Back pain may come with contractions felt in other locations. Pregnant women also notice loosening of the joints, particularly in the pelvic area, in preparation for delivery. 

4. Loss of mucus plug

Loss of the mucus plug is an early sign that labor is near. If labor is only a few days away, few changes in vaginal discharge are noticed. Thick mucus produced by the cervical glands is sealed during pregnancy. This mucus plug must be expelled several days before labor begins. For some women, the mucus plug is not expelled until after labor begins while others have discharge in the days before the onset of labor. The mucus plug usually falls out before the water breaks or maybe sometimes both occur within a very short time frame.

5. Weight gain has stopped

Pregnancy weight gain often levels off as the labor approaches. Some moms-to-be even lose a couple of pounds but this is normal. This won’t affect the baby’s birth weight and the baby is still gaining. A slight decrease in amniotic fluid which is common toward the end of pregnancy contributes to weight loss. As the baby constantly presses on the bladder, you’ll have frequent bathroom breaks, which may cause weight loss. Maybe even increased activity or burning a few extra calories while preparing for your baby’s arrival, can be the reason you are losing pounds.

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