As you approach the last weeks of pregnancy, you may wonder when labor will begin, whether symptoms you may be having could be the start of labor, and when you should call your doctor or head to the hospital.
There will be many signals that your body will give you to let you know you are preparing for labor. Below is a list of some of the most common signs of labor.
Signs of Labor
Dropping, also known as lightening, occurs when the baby descends into the pelvis. You may experience a subtle downward shift in the baby's position or you may notice an obvious "drop" of your belly. You may not notice anything at all. Second time moms will often not notice dropping until the onset of active labor.
Some women will experience an intense urge to clean, organize their home, or other efforts to prepare for baby. This may range from a sudden urge to cook a month's worth of freezer meals to sorting out all the socks for the baby in the nursery to scrubbing the floors on hands and knees. Not all women experience nesting, but it is a common sign of labor nonetheless.
Menstrual-like cramps are another symptom of labor. Backache and leg cramps may also occur. As the baby drops into the pelvic inlet, he or she will put pressure on your nerves, which can cause cramping in your legs.
You may notice an increase in pelvic pressure or a feeling like baby is going to "fall out". This pressure increases as your pregnancy nears the end.
Mucus Plug and Bloody Show
You may notice an increase in vaginal discharge, particularly mucous discharge. You may lose your mucus plug completely, or it may break off a little at a time. If you lose your mucus plug and it is tinged with blood, this is considered bloody show. Although not always, labor usually begins within 72 hours of bloody show.
Labor usually begins shortly after rupture of your amniotic membrane. Water breaking may feel like a gush of water or a small trickle. You may even think you have urinated on yourself. If you think you are leaking amniotic fluid or your water has broken, it is important that you call your doctor right away. Most doctors will induce labor if the water has broken and labor has not begun on its own within 24 hours to prevent possible infections or complications.
You may notice an increase in Braxton-Hicks contractions towards the end of pregnancy. As labor progresses, contractions will increase in strength, frequency, and duration. Some general guidelines are to call your doctor once you are experiencing contractions consistently five minutes apart. Consult your physician for specific instructions on when to call and when to head to the hospital. Physicians protocol may vary.
Dilation and Effacement
Your doctor may be monitoring your progress during the last few weeks of pregnancy. She may tell you that you have begun to dilate or efface. Dilation is the opening of the cervix, while effacement is the thinning out of the cervix. Both are a good sign that labor may start soon.
Other Signs of Labor
Some women will notice nausea, diarrhea, restlessness, or irritability.