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The Home Stretch: Signs that You’re Getting Closer to Going into Labor

January 25, 2013

iStock_000008381486XSmallLate in your third trimester, you’re likely experiencing a bit of swelling, a major jump in belly circumference, and some (OK, lots of) discomfort, especially when trying to sleep at night. The nursery is decorated and the car seat is installed. If you’re nearing your due date, you may be feeling a bit eager for things to really get rolling. While there is only one true sign of labor (Can you guess what it is? Keep reading!), there are many signs to let you know things are headed in the right direction. You can keep an eye out for these common signs that labor is getting near in order to monitor your progress.

You may be experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions, which are common in the third trimester. These contractions are a tightening of the uterus, and can sometimes last from 30 to 90 seconds. Some can be uncomfortable, while others go completely unnoticed. But either way, these contractions are not an indication that labor is imminent. Braxton-Hicks contractions can be differentiated from labor contractions by the fact that they:

DO NOT get closer together over time – These contractions do not increase with walking, do not last longer as time goes on, and do not feel stronger/more intense over time.

Are irregular & not painful – Unlike true labor, these contractions are usually not painful (may feel like a mild menstrual cramp) and do not happen at regular intervals.

But if you notice that you are experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions more often, then that may be a sign that your body is getting ready for labor.

Many women notice that their baby “drops” just a few weeks before labor begins. During your pregnancy, you may have been experiencing pressure and heaviness beneath your ribcage. When the baby drops, also called “lightening”, you’ll feel heaviness closer to your pelvis, causing more pressure on your bladder and more trips to the bathroom. But you will actually find that your baby is lower in your abdomen, allowing you take a deeper breaths, and your heartburn may even resolve.

Over the course of your pregnancy, a measurable amount of mucus has formed as a seal over your cervical canal. As you get closer to your due date, your cervix may efface or dilate, causing this mucus plug to loosen and pass out of your body. It may come out as an intact lump, or it may pass gradually in the form of increased discharge. It can be slightly tinged with pink, red, or brown blood. While it may have a certain “ick” factor, it is a normal part of late pregnancy.

And of course, the ultimate sign of labor is the moment when your water breaks! Only 12% of women will have their bag of water break as the first sign of labor, which is good news for those women who fear it may be in the elevator or in a meeting and cause severe embarrassment! Many women begin having regular, frequent contractions before their water breaks, and may even be in the hospital by that time. But some women’s water will break before their contractions begin. In that case, CALL YOUR DOCTOR or MIDWIFE first! Don’t rush  to the hospital without notifying anyone, as this is not an emergency situation. Once you touch base, your doctor or midwife may have you come to the hospital sooner rather than later to check on mom-to-be and baby.

As soon as a few weeks before your due date, the slightest twinge may have you wondering if it’s time to grab a bag and head to the hospital. Keep these signs in mind, to make it easier for you to determine how close you’re getting. If in doubt, give your doctor a call for advice on whether to stay put or head to the delivery room!

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