In our last blog post, we discussed the ways in which your body prepares for labor. There’s usually a lot going on that we don’t even recognize as “progress.” For example, when you go into the office for a prenatal appointment and your doc says, “I’d say you’re about…one centimeter,” you might be thinking, “That’s nothing, and my due date’s in two days! This baby is never going to come out.” I’m here to tell you that there’s more to it than that. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and have faith in your body. It knows exactly what to do!
In this blog post, I will list the possible, probable, and positive signs of labor. Again, please remember that every woman is different. Some women experience lots of these symptoms, while others don’t even recognize when they’re experiencing pre-labor. It’s typically not until mamas look back, in hindsight, and think to themselves, “Oh…well I was awfully crampy that day, I visited the bathroom frequently, and I went to town cleaning our kitchen.” The symptoms listed below, of course, don’t promise a baby today or tomorrow. BUT the more symptoms that are present, the more likely it is that you are closer to entering the gates of Labor Land :)
Remember those cervical changes we talked about in the last blog post? Although they don’t promise labor to kick in tonight or next week, they are great signs of progress. Before your cervix can dilate, it needs to thin out. Your cervix will also need to soften and move forward in position, too.
You may experience some abdominal cramping, which could feel very similar to menstrual cramps. Sometimes this cramping will extend out to your thighs as well.
This nagging backache is different from the backache you may experience from long periods of being upright or standing. It can come and go, and it often feels like back pain associated with a menstrual period. You may feel like you need to change positions often to get comfortable. A warm rice sock or heating pad can do wonders for lower backache!
Loose, frequent stools
This sign can be tied in with backache and cramping (like I stated earlier, this could just feel like you’re about to start your period). And guess what? It’s also related to those cervical changes happening in your body. When the cervix thins out, or effaces, it releases prostaglandins. Increased levels of these hormone-like substances will also make you poop. Although not fun, it’s totally normal to experience an upset stomach and multiple trips to the bathroom before labor begins.
Non-progressing contractions (Braxton-Hicks or Pre-labor contractions)
Many people call these contractions “false labor,” but there is nothing false about it! These contractions may not dilate your cervix, but they help it to efface, soften, and get into an anterior, or forward-facing, position for labor and birth. These contractions are “non-progressing” because they are not longer, stronger, and/or closer together.” Often, they will begin when you’re up and moving and will slow down or completely stop when you change activity. Here’s a great example of a gal experiencing Braxton-Hicks:
“Today, I went out for a walk with my husband. I began to feel a tightening in my abdominal area, which I thought were contractions. We took note of how often they came and went, excitedly hoping this was the real thing. They lasted about 30-40 seconds and came every 10 minutes or so. By the time we got back to our house, I was exhausted. When I climbed into bed for a nap, I noticed that the contractions came less and less...and eventually stopped. I felt a bit disappointed, but after discussing with my doula, we decided I was experiencing Braxton-Hicks.”
Braxton-Hicks may occur on and off for hours or even days before labor really kicks in. Try not to stress too much, and carry on with normal, everyday activities. Distraction will be your best friend in pre-labor and early labor!
Losing your mucus plug/experiencing bloody show
This is exactly what it sounds like. The mucus plug’s purpose is to block the cervix and prevent bacteria from sneaking up into the uterus and causing an infection. When a mama loses her mucus plug, it’s because her body is trying to clear the birth canal and make way for baby’s awaited descent.
The mucus plug is typically clear and may be pink, brown, or blood-tinged in color. Because there is an increase in vaginal discharge in pregnancy, sometimes women don’t even realize that they have lost their mucus plug.
Losing your mucus plug does not necessarily mean you are going into labor right now. But when it does happen, take note and let your care provider know at your next appointment. If you are really excited and want to share the news with someone, call your doula. If she is anything at all like me, she will love this info and share in your happiness! If discharge is bright red in color or there is a great amount of discharge, call your care provider. This could be a sign of complications that need taken care of right away.
I think her water just broke...
Water breaking (leaking or gush)
Are you surprised by this “probable” sign of labor? In movies and television, we often see women go immediately into labor after their water breaks abruptly. They are rushed to the hospital and have a baby in their arms in the next scene or two. Obviously, this isn’t very realistic, although there are women out there that experience fast and intense labors. Actually, only 1 out of 10 women begin labor with their water breaking. This is known as a premature rupture of membranes, or PROM. Typically, a woman’s water won’t break until she’s in the active phase or pushing stage of labor. Sometimes the water won’t even break at all! When this happens, baby is born in the caul. Pretty amazing, right?
When your water breaks, you may experience a gushing or leaking of fluids. I’ve labeled “water breaking” as a probable and positive sign for this reason: Sometimes, labor may not begin spontaneously, or on its own, after mama’s water breaks. If this happens to you, your care provider will most likely want you to come in for a check-up. He/she may want to induce labor depending on how much time has passed since your water broke. Be sure to address this topic at prenatal appointments in order to better understand your care provider’s protocol regarding PROM.
Progressing = longer, stronger, and closer together. You will need to be experiencing at least 2 out of the 3 variables to label the contractions as “progressing.” As your contractions continue to progress, take notes. Where are you feeling them? How often are they coming? Are the contractions getting longer? These tidbits will help you better understand where you’re at in labor and when you decide to head to the hospital (if you are planning a hospital birth).
Water breaking (leaking or gush)
To add to the snippet above, if your water breaks and you begin to experience progressing contractions, you are in labor! Take note of when your water broke as well as the color and odor of the fluids. Amniotic fluid is usually colorless and odorless. If the water has an odor, it could be a sign of infection. If it is stained, it usually means baby has pooped in utero. This is not atypical for a mama who has gone past her estimated due date, but it could also be a sign of fetal distress. If your amniotic fluid contains a color or odor, it is best to contact your care provider to let him/her know.
If you have any questions regarding labor and birth, contact your care provider and/or doula. While your care provider can provide you with medical support, your doula will be there to offer emotional, physical, and informational assistance.
Stay tuned for the next part of the 'Labor Progress' series, as we will be discussing ways to keep labor moving once it's here!
Baby Born in Caul ~
Nesting Jessica Alba~