When your due date is getting closer, you have to start paying attention to your body to detect signs of labour.
Considering what we see in TV shows and films, you might be expecting your water breaking in a sudden, rapid splash, followed by a one-way trip to the hospital. This is usually fiction, though! There are many signs of labour that may appear before your water breaking, and most hospitals won’t admit you if you haven’t dilated up to a certain point.
If you have a natural birth without issues, you will probably start labour at home, which makes even more important to take a comprehensive look at the early signs of labour.
Early signs of labour: The birth is getting close
Let’s start with some early labour signs that will give you a hint of what’s to come. A few days before the arrival of your baby, you could start feeling the following symptoms:
- Backache: This one may not be much of a clue, since backache is also a typical symptom of the third trimester of pregnancy. But if you feel pain in the lower part of your back, it can mean that the baby is rotating to be in the right position to be born.
- Distension of the abdomen: You are not the only one preparing for birth; your baby is doing it too! He’s moving towards the pelvis and the birth canal, which will relieve the pressure in your ribs and your stomach. This is one of the signs of labour that is visible from the outside, since it could translate in a lower belly.
- Less heartburn: Another consequence of your baby moving towards the birth canal. Since the pressure in your stomach will decrease, you will feel less heartburn, that happens when the acids in your stomach go up your oesophagus.
- Funny walks: Your pelvis is widening to make space for the baby that has to come out, so you may be walking a little bit like a duck. An amusing symptom among the signs of early labour!
- Leaking nipples: Yes, this is probably going to happen before you start breastfeeding! This substance is called colostrum, and it’s a very nutritive and rich type of breast milk that comes before the usual one.
If you’re leaking through your clothes, you can start using breast pads inside your bra. Buy some if you don’t have them yet, since they will be useful during breastfeeding as well.
- Swollen labia: This may come as a surprise, but it is not uncommon for your vagina and labia to be a bit swollen due to the increased blood flow, also caused by your baby moving down towards your pelvic area.
- Weirdly energetic: You may be taken aback by how easily you can suddenly get up from bed or the sofa, somewhat of a challenge during the third trimester of pregnancy. Some women experience a sudden rush of energy before birth, but this may not be your case. Some other can feel more emotional than normal as well.
- Even more frequent urination: You might be tired of it at this point! Understandably, your baby descending towards the birth canal is not going to relieve the pressure on your bladder. You may be tempted to drink less water to do fewer trips to the toilet, but don’t surrender: you need to be very hydrated for the huge effort you’re going to be making!
Keep in mind that every woman’s different, and even if this signs of early labour can start many days before the baby finally comes, they could start later on too, so be ready! The opposite is also important: try to relax and be calm (but also prepared) if you start feeling this early labour signs, since you could still have to wait a while.
Signs of labour: In between
Signs of labour such as distension of the abdomen or swollen labia can start days or even weeks before labour. Others, like contractions or the fiction-loved water breaking, usually mean that labour is really close. Passing your mucus plug (something called bloody show), on the other hand, doesn’t tell you anything! Some women can pass it weeks before birth, while some others could pass it hours prior.
The mucus plug is a jelly-like discharge that can be brownish or pink, formed by the different secretions that have been held up in your cervix during pregnancy. If it’s bright red or looks very heavy, or if it comes together with contractions, go to the hospital. It’s useful to talk to your midwife even if it looks normal, just in case.
Signs of labour: The baby’s coming
And here come the most well-known signs of labour, and also the ones that commonly indicate that the birth is very close:
- Diarrhoea: In the hours prior to birth, the same hormones that help contracting your uterus could cause diarrhoea. Another reason to stay hydrated, even if you feel you need to pee every minute.
- Dilating: Your cervix needs to dilate 10 cm for your baby to finally come into the world! It becomes ‘softer’ when the birth is close, and even if dilating typically marks the beginning of labour, it could also start days before, especially in women who have been through it before.
- Your waters breaking: It means that the sac that contains the amniotic fluid has broken, so the fluid starts leaking out. You may have the ‘film’ experience and see how they break suddenly and at once, but it usually happen after you’ve started feeling contractions, and the leakage can happen little by little. Sometimes they don’t break themselves and the doctor or midwife has to do it. Keep in mind that if your waters break early, you have a risk of infection, so you should call your doctor or midwife or directly go to the hospital: They are likely to admit you then.
- Contractions: You will distinguish real contractions from Braxton Hicks contractions because the latter usually happen by the end of the day or after making an effort. Real contractions will start weak and in an irregular way, and will start to progressively intensify and to happen closer to each other. They will also start lasting more, between 30 and 70 seconds. They feel like strong period pain or cramps in the lower part of your back. When you have three contractions around a minute long in 10 minutes, you’re officially in labour!
Early signs of labour don’t necessarily mean that childbirth is imminent – and you could have to wait a while even after feeling the most forthcoming ones. You sure have had your hospital bag ready for a few weeks, so if you start feeling funny, try to relax. Going to the hospital too soon could mean having to go back home and still wait there, and you sure are too nervous and uncomfortable to be doing gratuitous trips! However, make sure to call your doctor or midwife, or to go to the hospital, if you’ve had a complicated pregnancy or have had problems in previous births. Save up your strength, because you’re going to need it! Labour is a hard experience, but it is also the most rewarding: you’re going to have a baby, and to become a mum!