All women are different and this means the signs of labor vary between women too. Some are better known that others. If you’re 40 - 41 weeks pregnant or more you'll probably be thinking every new twinge or symptom is going to be it! This is the big day my baby will arrive! Many women, especially if you’re expecting your first baby, experience a long ‘Prodromal’ or ‘pre-labor’.
Have you found yourself madly Spring cleaning and rearranging the house? Do you need everything to feel and look sparkling clean? This often happens in the days leading up to labor and birth and is one of the strong early signs of labor.
Maybe it’s Nature’s way of reducing the chance of infection for you and your baby. Once the house is clean you don’t need to worry about cleaning for a while after the baby arrives. House-work is also a great way to encourage labor to start!
Being on all-fours on the floor really helps get your baby into the best position to instigate labor. Try to incorporate lots of leaning forward in all your activities.
Nesting can sometimes include starting a D-I-Y project in the last weeks of pregnancy, especially the room where your new baby will sleep. Be mindful of toxic fumes and paints if you are doing the decorating yourself. Try to go for natural, eco-friendly paints; there are lots to choose from now.
Lightening or Dropping:
When your baby drops down into the pelvis we call it “Lightening” because you feel much lighter! If it's your first baby this can happen from 34 weeks onwards. For 2nd or subsequent babies it might not happen until labor starts! There are pro’s and con’s to lightening!
After your baby has engaged or 'dropped', you may start feeling:
• Pressure on your pelvic floor. This sometimes causes discomfort and you may find it difficult moving around.
• People might comment that you “Waddle like a duck” instead of walking normally!
• You may also get some swelling of the legs (also called edema).
• Aching pubic bones and sharp twinges of pain (SPD)…this can be due to baby putting pressure on certain nerves.
• Increased frequency of urination (peeing).
• Your abdomen may look and feel lower .
On the positive side, lightening takes pressure off your diaphragm, easing your breathing. You may also notice that your heartburn is practically gone. This is because there’s more room between your womb and your ribcage. You’ll also be able to eat larger meals.
The signs of labor also includes low backache. This can be due to the position your baby is lying in, or just that the hormone levels are increasing ready for the movement and opening up of your pelvis in labor.
Try to avoid doing too much heavy lifting, including toddlers! Think of other ways to manage tending your young child if you can. This will be one of the main challenges if you already have toddlers. Read more about pregnancy back pain. Diarrhea
Many women experience loose stools or diarrhea as one of their first signs of labor. This is your body’s way of preparing you for labor. An empty bowel and rectum allows more space for the baby to ‘drop’ or engage deep down in your pelvis. If you suspect food poisoning or an infection see your doctor for a check–up. In early labor it’s likely to just be a one-off episode without stomach cramps.
Nausea & Vomiting
It’s quite common for women to feel nauseous and even vomit in the early stages of labor. One way to try and prevent this is making sure you eat regular small snacks. Don’t let your blood sugar drop below a normal level. If your stomach is empty there will be more acid that can cause nausea. Always keep some healthy snacks with you such as dried fruit (apricots, figs, dates), Almonds, cashew nuts and seeds or fresh fruit.
The mucus plug is the jelly-like substance that seals or plugs the cervix – neck of the womb - during pregnancy. It’s a natural protective barrier preventing bacteria from entering your uterus. One of the common signs of labor is loosing your mucus plug.
This can happen a few weeks or days before labor starts. Some women don’t notice loosing it at all, especially if they’ve experienced a heavy mucus discharge throughout pregnancy. Some women carry on loosing the mucus plug throughout labor; often there is increased mucous discharge just before the birth.
The color of your mucus plug can vary between clear, through white, gray, brownish or pink…or clear with pink stripes of blood. This is due to tiny blood vessels breaking where the amniotic membranes are being separated from the wall of the womb. All very normal.
Vaginal discharge throughout pregnancy is usually whitish and thick. One of the signs of labor can be that the discharge changes to become thin and watery. If this happens call your nurse-midwife or visit the doctor or hospital to check if your ‘Waters’ have gone. A watery vaginal discharge in early labor might indicate a leak of your Amniotic fluid (bag of water surrounding the baby). Through which bacteria may enter and cause infection to the baby and the womb.
Even more urgent is if you find you have a ‘bloody show’….that is a discharge which is pink or red and mucousy or liquid in nature. For some women this can be normal, but always check with your health care provider as it can also indicate problems.
A green, yellow or brownish discharge can indicate that your baby has had his/her bowels opened (a poop). This is called Meconium and is one of the signs of fetal distress. However, the more overdue you are the more likely it is that this will happen. It doesn’t always mean there has been distress, so go straight into hospital to see the Obstetrician or midwives.
Increasing Braxton Hicks Contractions
Have you been having Braxton Hicks contractions? Some women don’t notice them at all. ‘Braxton Hicks’ are your body’s way of preparing for labor a bit like doing daily exercises! The many large and strong muscle layers of your uterus or womb are contracting and relaxing for short periods of time each day. Practicing for real labor. They can last for several hours and be accompanied with premenstrual ‘dragging’ feeling and low abdominal cramps. Try a warm ‘hot water bottle’ to give some relief if you need it.
Braxton Hicks contractions vary from person to person but usually feel like a tight band around your middle. Some women don’t feel them and think it’s just the baby kicking.
If you’ve been taking Raspberry Leaf Tea for several months this will definitely help your Uterus to contract and relax efficiently. Hopefully making labor shorter, less intense and more manageable.
In true Labor your labor contractions will usually increase in length, strength and frequency. They may start by lasting 10-20 seconds every half an hour or so. Then increase gradually until they come each 2 minutes and can last for 120 seconds or longer at the end of labor.
"False labor" is another of the early signs of labor but has negative associations so I prefer to call if "practice labor" which is more accurate. Practice labor is just that. Your body is getting in practice for labor. How do you tell if it’s practice labor or the real thing? Your contractions will come in waves but, will not increase in regularity, length or strength. They may feel strong and be a bit painful (like menstrual cramps) but if you take a nice warm bath or go to sleep, the contractions will usually disappear completely.
As one of the early signs of labor, practice labor can start a few weeks before your due date and last between one and a few hours. It often will come in the evening once you’ve sat down and relaxed and will often stop once you go to bed. Call your midwife or hospital and talk to a professional to find out if it’s the real thing or practice labor if you're in any doubt.
The more 'practice labors' you have before the real thing the shorter your actual labor should be.....great news! What's happening is that your cervix is being gradually and gently thinned out or effaced by the practice contractions, ready for dilating (opening up). Often second time moms (or anyone who's given birth before) will find that they are already 4 - 5cms dilated by the time their midwife examines them. This is much more unusual with a first baby.
This video tells you more about how to recognize the early signs of labor. Whatever your first signs of labor are remember to "go with the flow". Don't stress and try to
keep active, well nourished and well hydrated. Sip plenty of water, fruit tea, fruit juice or herb teas such as Raspberry Leaf Tea. Even go for a walk, go shopping, do some vigorous housework....the more you keep occupied the better.
Also remember to keep your bladder empty; go for a pee whenever you feel the urge. An empty bladder gives more space for your baby to adopt the optimum position for natural child-birth. It also helps protect your pelvic floor from damage and ultimately can help prevent Uterine Prolapse in later life.
When To Call The Midwife:
* Any time that you are unsure of what's happening
* If you haven't felt any movements from your baby for a longer than normal period
* If you feel the urge to push - anytime!
* When your 'waters break'
* If you feel something unusual coming down between your legs (eg. cord prolapse)
* if your labor contractions are closer than 4-5 minutes apart
If in doubt about any signs of labor that you're experiencing, call her up and have a chat and let her know what's happening.
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