If ever there was a time when the term "labor" was most appropriate then childbirth is it. Nobody does as much laboring as a mother during the birth of her child. Not only at the time of birth but also before and after it. As for labor, every expecting mother is nervous about that time and they also have numerous questions regarding signs of labor. "How will I know it's time?" is the question, the answer to which is most important to every pregnant woman.
Well, nobody can tell you the exact time when your baby will be going to make an entry into this world but there are certainly signs that you will notice as your due date approaches which, if you pay attention, will tell you about your approaching labor and your baby's imminent arrival.
These signs of labor may occur as early as a month before actual labor and childbirth. This is actually your body's way of preparing itself for the big event. So here are those signs of labor that you need to know about.
These are the signs which occur as early as a month before true labor and they can indicate that your body is getting ready for the birth of your child. These are:
Lightening or "Dropping" of the Baby
Lightening is the process when your baby lowers or descends into your pelvis as it prepares to exit the body of the mother and is a sure sign of labor especially for first time mothers as in subsequent births it doesn't happen until a few hours before true labor. When this occurs, you will feel a change in your shape and your breathing as you will no longer feel that shortness of breath. This happens because the baby is no longer pushing at your diaphragm. On the minus side though, you may experience the urge for urinating a lot if your baby is putting pressure on your urinary bladder.
Effacing of Cervix
Another sign of labor is dilation or opening of cervix and its effacing or thinning out. This happens because the cervix is preparing itself for baby to pass through it. But if you do not experience this sign of labor or if the effacing of cervix is happening very slowly, don't be disheartened as it is different for every women and this is not necessarily a problem. Your doctor may perform an exam to see how much your cervix has dilated at your regular check-ups at the end of your pregnancy.
Braxton-Hicks Contractions or False Labor
These are irregular uterine contractions which are very similar to true labor contractions except that these are less intense and irregular. This sign of labor usually occurs during the third trimester of pregnancy though it may happen during second trimester too. This is body's way of preparing itself for true labor.
Cramps and Back Pain
You may feel cramps and increased back pain as your due date comes near. This sign of labor happens due to fact that your muscles and joints are shifting and preparing themselves to open up your pelvis for the birth of your child.
This sign of labor happens due to the release of the hormone relaxin which loosens up your joints by softening and loosening ligaments. This helps in opening up your pelvis for the birth of the baby. This hormone relaxin is released during the third trimester of the pregnancy but especially during the last few weeks before true labor.
Another sign of labor is the occurrence of diarrhea which happens due to loose bowel movements. This occurs because along with the muscles of the uterus, muscles of the rectum relax as well and so do the muscles of the rest of the body. So if you get diarrhea, do not panic, just remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
Stopping of Weight Gain
Women tend to stop gaining weight and sometimes even lose weight at the end of the pregnancy which is also a sign of labor. This happens due to the loss of amniotic fluid and you do not need to worry as this is a perfectly normal occurrence and your baby will still keep on gaining weight.
Usually during the whole of pregnancy, women experience lethargy and sleepiness. Especially during the last trimester when you may have difficulty sleeping at night due to it being impossible to get into a comfortable position because of your size and shape and as a result experience tiredness and sluggishness. But a few weeks before the onset of labor, you may experience this sign of labor known as "nesting", in which you will experience bouts of energy and an urge to organize and clean etc. You may start cleaning your home or organizing your closet which is perfectly normal and it is just you welcoming your baby into this world. Just remember to conserve your energy for childbirth and not to overdo it.
Early Labor Signs
Apart from the signs of labor that occur a few weeks before birth, there are some other signs that usually occur immediately before true labor; a few days or even hours before it. They are called early labor signs. Some of these are:
Passing of Mucus Plug or "Bloody Show"
Mucus plug is a thick plug of mucus that is present at the opening of the cervix and protects it from bacterial infection. This plug is expelled when the cervix begins to thin out. This discharge of mucus plug is a sign of labor though labor may still be a few days away. Mucus plug may be discharged in one piece or it may come out as vaginal discharge with streaks of blood and that is why it is also called "bloody show".
Strong, Consistent and Frequent Contractions
True contractions are the surest sign of labor. They are usually stronger, come at regular intervals and the time period between them keeps on diminishing. They are very intense and keep on getting stronger as the time passes. These contractions help in pushing the baby out of the body.
Breaking of Water
Water breaking is normally the last sign of labor though it may sometimes occur before contractions. This is actually the release of the amniotic fluid from the body when the amniotic sac tears. It may be the most publicized and most dramatized sign of labor but the odds are that you will experience this one when you are already in the hospital and your baby is on its way. So you would do well not to count on this one!
Differences between True and False Labor
Sometimes women find it difficult to differentiate between true and false labor as they are very alike. So here are somethings that will help you in telling these two signs apart:
True labor contractions occur at regular intervals such as 10 minutes apart. This duration between the contractions keeps on diminishing that is from 10 minutes apart they will become 8 minutes, then 5 minutes apart and so on. They also start getting longer that is at the beginning they may be of a few seconds duration and as the time of birth comes near they will keep on lasting longer while false labor contractions are irregular and their duration does not increase and neither does the time interval between two contraction decreases.
As the time of birth comes near, true labor contractions keep on getting progressively stronger and more intense while false labor contractions do not get stronger, instead their intensity usually remains the same. True labor keeps getting more and more painful.
Change in Position
If you change your position, you feel relieved in false labor contractions but if what you are experiencing is true labor then no matter how many times you change your position, there will be no relief from the pain. Contractions usually start in the lower back and then move to the front of your abdomen, groin and sometimes to your legs as well during true labor while in false labor they are felt in the abdominal and pelvic area only.
Apart from these above mentioned signs, true labor usually results in breaking of your water or the rupturing of your amniotic membranes. It may also result in the appearance of mucus plug. Your doctor will also notice some changes in your cervix such as its dilation or thinning out during cervical exam, if what you are experiencing is true labor.
When to Contact Your Doctor?
Active labor starts when your contractions are of the 45 seconds to 1 minute duration and the interval between them is about five minutes and that is when you should go to the hospital. So the first thing you should do after your labor starts; is time your contractions. Your doctor will most probably tell you when to report to the hospital like "Come to the hospital when your contractions are 5 minutes or so apart".
Here are some guidelines for you to follow:
- Follow your doctor's advice as they are the ones who know your medical history and your current condition, so they will give the most accurate advice.
- If you have any problem regarding the signs of labor or labor itself, do not hesitate to contact them.
- Contact your doctor if you experience bleeding, not the pinkish or brown streaks but the blood red color bleeding.
- If your water breaks, you should report to your doctor. You should also immediately go to the hospital if its dirty green or brown colored as it means it has meconium which is first poop of the baby. Presence of a large amount of meconium usually means your baby is distressed.
- You should also contact you doctor if you experience increased blood pressure, headache, swelling or vision changes as these may indicate preeclampsia- a serious complication related to hypertension induced by pregnancy.
Tricks to Speed-Up Your Labor
So these are the signs that will tell you about your oncoming labor. If you want to speed them up you should try walking, making love and eating spicy food. These things have been known to speed up the process. Acupuncture is also thought to be quite beneficial in inducing labor. But you should definitely solicit your doctor's advice before you try any of these methods.