In the days leading up to your pregnancy, you may experience a few tell tale signs that you will be going into labor soon. There are about seven regular events in this process; lightening, effacement, dilation, release of the cervical mucus plug, nesting, rupture of membranes, and Braxton Hicks contractions. This is not always true for all women and you should note that each individual has a unique experience in what occurs during and leading up to labor. No one knows for certain what triggers labor but understanding the signs can help you prepare for what will occur leading up to you going into labor.
Lightening is one of the first signs that you may be going into labor. This is when you feel the baby move toward the lower pelvic area. Most women find it easier to breathe when this occurs, but many suffer from pelvic and lower back pain or discomfort. There are certain women who don’t notice it at all. This usually occurs a week or two before going into labor for first time mothers and maybe a day or two before labor for women who have already have children.
Effacement is the ripening of the cervix, or when it is thinning out to prepare for childbirth. You will not feel this sign of coming labor; instead you will see your doctor and have regular vaginal examinations to determine the rate at which it is thinning and how thin it is. Effacement is usually expressed as a percentage, meaning when you are 50% effaced, your cervical lining is half as thick as it originally was. You must be 100% effaced, or have thinned all the way out, in order to give a vaginal birth.
Dilation is the opening of you cervix and is measured from zero to ten centimeters by your doctor. These cervical changes may be very slow at first. For example, many women will be dilated 2-3 centimeters for a week or two before the actual labor process. The progress you make isn’t really a sign that you’re about to immediately begin labor, but rather that you will begin labor in a short time. When labor does begin though, expect a more rapid dilation process.
The release of the cervical mucus, also called the bloody show, is not always an indicator that you will start labor right away, more that it is coming within a week or two. When you are pregnant, a thick mucus plug forms to keep bacteria from entering the uterus. It is released as a thick, stringy, generally brown discharge that is sometimes is tinged with blood (hints: the bloody show).
Nesting is a burst of energy that a woman has while she is pregnant where she sets up her baby’s room or color coordinates its clothes or does something like that to prepare for the delivery. This can occur a couple of months before labor and childbirth, but often there is a sudden reestablished interest in the setting up the baby’s things where the mother spends a day or two before going into labor worrying about having everything ready for the baby. This is a good and natural process that every kind of mother goes through, it is just important to not wear yourself out right before the really hard task of delivering the baby happens.
The rupture of membranes, commonly known as having your water break, occurs when the amniotic sac that is filled with fluids that cushions your baby, is broken or leaks. This generally means that you will start labor soon. If your water breaks before term (before 36 weeks), you should go and see your doctor immediately, because something could be wrong and you and your baby are more susceptible to getting infections.
Braxton Hicks contractions are also common before you start labor and have real contractions. During the last few months of your pregnancy, your body starts preparing itself for childbirth with these types of contractions. They are generally painless at first and may grow to become more painful when the time to give birth grows nearer. When you first feel these, it is a sensation of your cervix contracting and retracting and again, it is generally painless at first and is just your body’s warm up for the real thing. When they do start to hurt, they may feel like real contractions, some differences between these and the real ones include that they are irregular and the pain level fluctuates. You also might be able to stop the Braxton Hicks contractions by changing positions or going for a walk; you won’t be able to stop the real contractions. Where pain is concentrated is another way to possibly determine if these are false labor pains. During real labor the pain is concentrated in the upper abdomen and radiated through the abdomen and lower back, while the pain in false labor is in the lower abdomen.
False alarms occur often for women during the last weeks of pregnancy because of the Braxton Hicks contracts and other things that happen. You should not feel embarrassed or frustrated by this if it happens to you. Think of it as a practice run if you do have a false alarm. It is better to be safe then sorry in these types of situations.