6 Early Signs of Labor
What do contractions feel like? How do you know when the big day is coming? Oh gosh, did I just pee myself? I have several first-time moms and even second-time moms who ask me these questions because they never experienced labor. The second-time moms were either induced the first time or they had C-sections, so they never felt contractions or experienced other signs of labor. Inspired by my conversations with these moms, I decided to put together a…rather graphic version of different signs of labor that a pregnant mom might experience. Don’t worry, I don’t mean “graphic” in a blood and gory way, but just some GIFs to help you picture what you may undergo prior to the ultimate sign of labor… consistent contractions!
If you think you are waddling like a chubby little penguin already, wait until your baby drops. All that means is that the baby has settled deeper into your maternal pelvis. If you are only in your first trimester and can’t imagine what this feels like, grab a 10 lb medicine ball and stick it in between your thighs near your crotch and try to walk without dropping it. Yeah, I never thought I would waddle either early on in the pregnancy, but boy did I waddle by the end of the third trimester. Good news? You can breathe again! No longer out of breath like you just ran the marathon after going up a couple of stairs! Bad news? The urge to pee is stronger than ever due to the increased pressure on your bladder. More bathroom trips in the middle of the night…fun!
2. Braxton Hicks Contractions
AHHHH is it really happening? Nope, just Braxton Hicks. Argh. While Braxton Hicks contractions can be uncomfortable (and a bit freaky, especially if they happen early on in the pregnancy), you can think of them as practice contractions that help rehearse your uterus for the big performance. Unlike real contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions do not occur at regular intervals and will slow down if you drink water or change position. You may feel your bump tightening during Braxton Hicks contractions but unlike real contractions where you feel pain in the pelvic area, Braxton Hicks contractions tend to be higher up in the belly. I never thought I had experienced Braxton Hicks contractions during my pregnancies, but now that I think about it, I remember poking at my bump from time to time because it felt rock hard. I thought that was just the baby pushing against my belly trying to stretch out…oops!
3. Effacement and Dilation
I remember when I went to triage a few days before I gave birth and the doctor told me that I was about 50% effaced and 4 cm dilated. I nodded like I understood everything that was going on, and then ran home and Googled what the doctor meant by “effaced.” I was also panicking because I thought dilation meant I should be giving birth soon, but the doctor sent me home saying that it could be a couple of days or it could be a couple of weeks. What was going on??? It turned out that effacement was simply thinning and softening of the cervix. As a result of effacement, your cervix begins to open or dilate, so your baby can pass through the vagina and enter the real world. Amazing what your body can do…huh?
4. Bloody Show
If you notice clear, pink, yellow, brown, or blood-tinged mucus or discharge (kind of like your booger when you are sick), you might have just lost your mucus plug. I know, ew, what is this mucus plug? During pregnancy, the mucus plug acts like a cork that lodges in the cervical opening to protect your uterus from bacteria and pathogens. When your cervix starts to thin and relax near the end of your pregnancy, the mucus plug naturally falls out. The loss of mucus plug may not mean immediate labor; personally, for both pregnancies, I lost mine a couple of days before onset of labor.
You know how for most of the third trimester you feel like you can hibernate for days? When nesting (the strong urge to prepare for the baby’s arrival) hits, you will all of a sudden feel like you have been injected with caffeine straight into your veins and you start going on an organizing and cleaning rampage. You will find yourself scrubbing the tile floor with a toothbrush or frantically running to the store to buy everything a baby needs even though the store will be closing in 10 minutes. You should warn your partner that he shouldn’t try and stop you – he may get hurt in the process.
6. Water Breaks!
Unlike what you see in the movies, rupturing of the amniotic sac (a.k.a. the water breaking) does not mean a flood of water all of a sudden hitting the floor in between your legs, shocking all your friends and family and maybe even splashing the shoes of random strangers. In reality, only about 10% of pregnant women experience their water breaking, and the amount of water that comes out is equivalent to about ¼ of a cup (I know right, that’s it?). A lot of women mistaken the amniotic fluid for pee since they feel more of a drizzle than a gush sensation when their water breaks. And come on, let’s admit it, with the baby sitting on our bladders so close to the due date, we were peeing all over the place anyway.
I never experienced my water breaking naturally prior to labor, and for both of my births, my midwife had to break my amniotic sac to move the labor along. I did feel like she just popped a balloon inside me, and I could feel warm liquid gushing out between my legs, but I was already contracting for hours. Then the contractions got a lot more painful and stronger afterward, and I remember each contraction made me push out tons of amniotic fluid. Let’s just say that the floor got quite messy and lots of towels were necessary. Yeah, not my prettiest moment.
After 9 long months, the baby is due any day now, how exciting! If you do experience any of these symptoms, remember to discuss them with your partner and mentally prepare him for the impending labor as well…though I guess nesting does not require as urgent of a discussion. And when in doubt, you can always contact your medical professional to check on your progress. Congratulations mama, you have made it to the final stage of the pregnancy!