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Baby on the Way: Knowing the Signs of Labor

Wednesday, June 24, 2015 12:14 PM

The big “birth” day is almost here! You may be feeling excited, nervous and scared all at the same time. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if you knew exactly when this big day would come?

While no one can predict with any certainty when your baby will be born, some signs may indicate that labor is on the way. That said, it’s different for every woman. Some women experience many of the signs below, while others may not experience anything.

Edward Lee, MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology at NorthShore, outlines some of the key signs of labor:

  • Contractions. You may have had on and off contractions (Braxton Hicks contractions) throughout your pregnancy. These contractions are generally mild and irregular. Labor contractions, on the other hand, will be much stronger, very uncomfortable and occur more regularly. Some women have said that true labor contractions originate in the back while Braxton Hicks originate mostly in the uterus. However, this won’t be true for all patients in labor. Unlike Braxton Hicks contractions, these contractions will not let up when you change position or move around. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you’ve had consistent painful contractions every 3-5 minutes that last approximately one minute each for 1 -2 hours, you may be in labor. This is a good time to call your physician.
  • Water breaking. The breaking of the bag of water is a sign that labor is right around the corner.  However, only 10 percent of pregnant moms will rupture their bag of water before labor begins. Some patients who experience excessive vaginal moisture may be confused and may not know for sure whether the bag is broken.  When your water breaks, you may experience a big gush of fluid or a small trickle.  Amniotic fluid is often thin, clear and generally odorless. The best sign that you have broken your bag is persistent leaking of fluid that you cannot control, often enough to run down your thigh.  When your water breaks, you should call your physician.  You may not need to come to the hospital right away but your physician should be aware that you have broken your bag of water.
  • Lightening. As labor approaches you may feel or notice that your baby has dropped down further into your pelvis. This can be a relief if you’ve been experiencing heartburn or shortness of breath throughout your pregnancy. It can also add increased pressure to your bladder so you may be making more trips to the bathroom.
  • Nesting or exhaustion. Many women say that in the days leading up to their baby’s birth, they feel a sudden wave of energy. If this happens to you, try not to over exert yourself. It’s fine to do some light cleaning and organizing, but it’s probably not the best time to tackle a larger project. On the flip side, many women may feel increasingly tired toward the end. Between your large belly and nights of interrupted sleep it may be hard to feel well rested. In both cases, try as best you can to rest.
  • Bloody show or loss of mucous plug. While pregnant,  a thick mucus plug develops around the cervical opening to prevent infection and bacteria from entering your uterus. This plug may fall out as your cervix opens and thins out in preparation for labor. This plug may be streaked with blood. Loss of your plug does not mean labor is hours away, and this is not something you need to inform your physician about unless bleeding continues. Blood-streaked mucus is also common at this time.  Often, you will notice some mild blood after a vaginal exam by your obstetrician.  This is normal and should last a day or two.  However, if bleeding persists after that and/or is heavy like the blood that flows with nosebleed, let your doctor know right away.
  • Other signs. Not all patients will exhibit the same signs of impending labor. In my years of practice, I have had several patients experience the onset of facial swelling, and loose stools and diarrhea soon before labor.  The hormonal signals that mediate labor are likely involved with these symptoms but, again, always keep in mind that not all patients will experience this.

It’s important to note that this is not a complete list of signs of labor. It is also important to note that there is no “tried and tested” way to naturally bring on labor: Baby will come whenever he or she is ready. Use Caution: Prior to administering any home remedies or alternative methods to expedite labor, you should always first confer with your physician.

If at any point during your pregnancy you have questions about any of these above signs, do not hesitate to reach out to your physician.

What signs did you have of labor? Did they vary from pregnancy to pregnancy?