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It is the question on the minds of most women who are pregnant. Carrying a child and giving birth are filled with aches and pains unique to each experience, but how do you know if labor has truly begun? When does that “back ache” actually mean “back labor”? The answer given to first-time mothers most often of “you’ll just know” may have truth to it; however, it offers little in the way of comforting reassurance. Here are 8 helpful ways to identify when labor has started, or is about to begin as your body is preparing.
Losing your mucus plug or having some bloody show is a good sign your body is preparing for labor. Some women loose this just a few hours before giving birth, others can go days after. Either way, it’s a positive sign that you are on your way to having your baby!
It's often not possible to pinpoint exactly when "true" labor begins because early labor contractions might start out feeling like the Braxton Hicks contractions you may have been noticing for weeks. A general rule of thumb is when your contractions become increasingly longer, stronger, and closer together. They may be as far apart as every ten minutes or so in the beginning, but they won't stop or ease up no matter what you do.
While this often panics first time mothers, forget the Hollywood-induced fears that your water is going to break somewhere suddenly and you won’t have time to get to the hospital. This happens too rarely to spend time worrying about. Whether your water breaks first or after labor has begun, it’s really not a big deal. If nothing else, it is a sure sign labor has started.
Sudden “bursts” of energy or unwavering desires to clean, arrange and “nest” are all extremely common ways for your body to make last minute preparations before your baby arrives. Some “overdue” mothers have been known to try everything from eating spicy foods to going for long walks to induce labor… only to have it start after they’ve cleaned behind the major appliances in their homes from an inexplicable desire to scrub and prep.
The process of your baby settling or lowering into your pelvis just before labor is called lightening. This can occur a few weeks or a few hours before labor. Because the uterus rests on the bladder more after lightening, you may feel the need to urinate more frequently.
One of the first signs of labor is your cervix softening and thinning, or effacing. Most of the effacing happens in the last weeks before delivery and you won't feel this preparation for labor happening, but your doctor or midwife can tell with an examination if your cervix is ripening or not.
The opening of your cervix is called dilation and is measured in centimeters, with complete dilation being at 10 centimeters. Both effacement and dilation are direct results of contractions and are the standard measurements of progress in labor. At first, these cervical changes can be very slow. In fact, some women are dilated 2 to 3 cm for days or even weeks before labor actually begins. Dilation in itself is not necessarily a good indicator of when labor will begin, but rather a general sign that you're getting ready for labor. Once you're in active labor, expect to dilate more quickly.
When you suspect you are in true labor, call your health care provider. Also call:
Your doctor or midwife will give you specific guidelines about when you should get ready to come to the hospital or prepare for the birth. But never let the fear of being sent home again deter you from getting checked if you suspect you may be in real labor or your instincts tell you something isn’t right. Trust your instincts and trust your body.
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