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3:01 min| 1,816,691 views
Find out how your body lets you know when you're really going into labor.
Prepare for labor and delivery with our online birth class. See all 51 videos in this series.
Linda Murray: One sign that labor’s coming is your baby dropping or settling into your pelvis. If this is your first baby, you may feel it happen up to a month before labor begins. If you had a baby before, it probably won’t happen until labor’s underway.
The feeling is known as lightening because your baby moves away from your lungs and lets you breathe easier. But at the same time you’ll feel heaviness in your pelvis and added pressure on your bladder, which may have you peeing more often. You might even waddle a little bit when you walk. Your caregiver will be able to tell you for sure whether your baby has dropped and how far by doing a pelvic exam.
Another sign that labor is approaching is feeling more Braxton Hicks contractions, the practice contractions that your uterus has been making since early in pregnancy. They were probably painless back then, but this late in the game they can start to hurt. Don’t be fooled. They’re not the real thing unless they get longer, stronger, and closer together. But these so-called false labor contractions do serve a purpose. They may be helping to strengthen your uterus and get your cervix ready for the real deal. That said, Braxton Hicks contractions aren’t a necessary lead-in to labor. If you don’t have them there’s no reason to worry.
A third sign that labor’s around the corner is that your cervix begins to ripen, which means soften, thin, and open. You won’t notice it, but your caregiver can feel it during a pelvic exam. The way your cervix feels before ripening is kind of like the tip of your nose. Touch yours now to see how it feels. After ripening, your cervix feels more like your lip. Touch that to feel the difference. It’s a pretty big transformation.
A fourth sign is passing your mucus plug. It’s a bit of thickened mucus that has sealed your cervix shut all pregnancy long. And when your cervix starts to soften and open, the mucus plug can come out. It might look like a lump or like thick vaginal discharge. It can be tinged with blood and look slightly red or brown. Losing your mucus plug means labor could start in a few days or less, but it’s still no guarantee. Some women don’t notice losing it at all and others see it in the midst of labor.
The last sign is the one we see most often on TV, your water breaking. It’s not really water. It’s the fluid that fills the amniotic sack surrounding your baby. When the sack ruptures, the fluid leaks from your vagina. In most women, the sack doesn’t rupture until after regular contractions are underway. But sometimes your water breaks first and labor usually follows soon. It typically doesn’t come out in a sudden gush. You’re more likely to notice a trickle like urine that continues leaking out until your baby’s born.
If you suspect your water has broken, call your doctor or midwife right away. She may want your baby born within 12 to 24 hours to reduce the risk of infection since the amniotic sack was protecting your baby and now it’s ruptured.