Signs of Labor

Filed under: Week By Week, Delivery, Pregnancy Health, Expert Advice: Pregnancy

Knowing the signs of labor can help prepare for delivery. Credit: Getty Images


Knowing the signs of labor can help a pregnant woman feel more comfortable and confident as she approaches her due date. A woman's body begins preparing for delivery as much as a month before she will actually give birth. Even though she may not notice all of these symptoms, they are sure indications that her body is preparing for labor and delivery.

Lightening - This is when the baby "drops" into a lower position in the pelvis. This can happen quickly or gradually and may not even be obvious to the mother. However, some women will notice less discomfort under the ribs and more pressure on the bladder after lightening. All pregnancies are different, but in 65 percent of first-time moms, the onset of labor usually begins up to two weeks after lightening. In pregnant women who have given birth before, lightening often doesn't occur until immediately prior to going into labor.

Braxton Hicks contractions - Some women never notice Braxton Hicks contractions, which begin about six weeks into the pregnancy and continue throughout. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, some women experience more frequent and intense Braxton Hicks contractions. These are sometimes difficult to distinguish from true labor contractions.

Ripening Cervix - In the days and weeks prior to delivery, a woman's cervix will begin to thin and perhaps open a bit. This cannot be felt by the mother but can be determined by a practitioner through a vaginal exam.

Mucus Plug - The thickened mucus that is sealing the cervix will be discharged as the cervix begins to dilate. The mucus plug may come out all at once as a "bloody show" or over a period of weeks as increased vaginal discharge. It may be tinged brown, pink or red.

Breaking Water - The fluid that has been protecting the baby in the womb will discharge through the vagina when the amniotic sac ruptures. Whether a small trickle or a gush, this is a sign that birth is imminent and the doctor or midwife should be contacted.

Contractions - Some women experience contractions prior to the water breaking, while others do not. Contractions feel like a cramping or tightening in the lower abdomen or back and may radiate down the legs. Labor contractions may be as far apart as 10 minutes in the beginning and gradually become more painful and closer together. Every pregnancy is different, but in general when the contractions begin lasting about a minute each and come every five minutes for about an hour, it's time to contact the doctor or midwife.

Read more about Pregnancy and Birth at ParentDish.

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