Common Signs and Symptoms of Labor

The indications of labor is something that you both cheerfully and fearfully expecting for months.

Many first time mothers are wondering how it feels, when it will happen, and how long will it take, and how can you tell if it is time to grab your hospital bag and submit yourself into the delivery room.

The geniuses do not fully comprehend what detonates the start of labor and they simply cannot find out when it will exactly start. But it is demonstrated that your body really begins the preparation for labor as early as one month ahead of your due date.

Some are subtle changes and some are clear symptoms. The signs of labor will definitely be very distinct as your due date draw nigh. Knowing what to expect will help you ready physically and emotionally and avoid too much stress.

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Image source : Flickr by author Kala Bernier shared under CC BY 2.0

Most Common Signs of Labor

Note that the full term pregnancy period takes 38 up to 42 weeks and these signs will take place between the 36th and 42nd week of your pregnancy and if it is not happening on your 42nd week make sure to contact your doctor.

Pregnancy week by week
  1. The baby drops. This is called as “lightening” and it happens as your baby’s head is moving down and settling into your womb. First time mothers can experience this sign two to four weeks before delivery date. Mother who have already experienced giving birth before may find their baby going down just a few hours before their labor starts it is because second timers pelvic muscles has been already stretched and warm-up is not necessary. It is the process where the baby prepares its position for exit. While the baby is descending, moving afar from your lungs, it relieves several pressures upon your diaphragm and makes you breathe easier than previously. However you may frequently need to have pee breaks because the pressure is now on your bladder.
  1. The effacement and the dilation of the cervix. Effacement is the process of thinning and shortening the cervix it is measured in percentages and it transpires during the last week of pregnancy. You will not be able to feel this but your doctor can check this cervical change through vaginal exam. When 0% effacement, it means that your cervix is still thick typically around three to four centimeters long. The cervix must be 100% effaced before delivery. It is a clue that your uterus’ lower portion is set for delivery.


The dilation is the process of opening of the cervix in preparation of coming out of the baby. Initially, this process can happen slowly but it progress more quickly once you are in active labor. Dilation is being measured by centimeters or sometimes by “fingers” through internal manual pelvic exam. Once you are fully dilated, it means you are at 10 centimeters and are prepared to deliver the baby. Dilation is not the same for each mother, do not be dishearten if in case you are dilating laggardly because you will surely dilate quickly once you are in your active labor stage.

  1. Lower backaches and cramps. When the baby is getting heavier and dropping low in your pelvis, anticipate to experience backache and cramps because the ligaments of your pelvic is being stretched more fully. It means the baby is spinning into a good place preparatory for labor. Try to elevate your feet for comfort or have a warm bath. Seek your doctor’s recommendation of paracetamol if you think the pain is too much.
  1. Diarrhea. It is not just the muscles in the uterus that is relaxing when labor is approaching but also the other muscles including the muscles in your rectum. Prostaglandins are being released by your body throughout the early stage of labor that causes the contraction of the uterus. The prostaglandins has the ability to amp the bowel movement, it can even bring about a discomfort and annoying diarrhea. Do not panic, this is normal and actually a good sign. Make sure that you remain well hydrated. Drink more liquids but make sure to avoid drinking coffee.
  1. An urge to nest. There is no scientific explanation to this but a huge percentage of women feel the abrupt eagerness to “nest” prior to their labor. This is mother’s instinct and can manifest months before your labor date but this instinct is typically powerful right before the delivery. Do not be surprised if after plenty of months of tiredness and heaviness, you will just get up one morning full of energy, feeling the need of doing all necessary things to prepare what is needed for the upcoming bundle of joy of yours. From vacuuming the house, arranging the nursery room, filling the freezer with prepared foods, setting up the crib, and arranging the baby’s clothes. Do what you think what is more important to do but remember to save up your energy and do not engage in exhausting physical activities.
  1. Loss of mucus plug and bloody show. When you are pregnant there is a chunky mucus plug that protects the cervix from bacteria penetrating the uterus and protect the baby from infection. This plug is kicked out when the cervix begins to relax. This plug does not look like a cork but it is mucus that is stringy, watery, or like a jelly. It can happen minutes or hours or days before the labor. It can be discharged all at once or little by little as if a thick discharge, it can be pink, slightly bloody, brown, or white. Some have characterized it as sized as 50 cents or a bit bigger. Vaginal test and sexual intercourse can disrupt the mucus plug even if is still days prior to labor. Others do not even notice the show and other have their show once their water bag breaks. You have to be aware that massive bloody discharge is sometimes a sign of problem and I strongly suggest that you contact your doctor immediately.
  1. Contractions. Contractions stronger rendition of menstrual cramps, it is when the muscles of your uterus are tightening and also relaxing. These aid your cervix to process the changes it needs to commence to dilate.
    What do contractions feel like

 

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Image source : Flickr by author Remus Perenl shared under CC BY 2.0

There are two kinds of contractions and will be discussed below:

A) The Braxton Hicks contractions. It can be experience weeks or months prior to delivery. These contractions do not linger very long and the interval is not close or regular. It is sometimes called as “practice contractions” or “false labor”.

Make sure to know the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and the real deal contractions to avoid unnecessary hospital rush. Braxton Hicks contractions are usually short, not so painful, and it has irregular intervals. It does not concurred by bleeding, decreased in fetal activity, and leaking of fluids.

B) Labor contractions. Your contraction will become longer, rhythmic, and more frequent as you are entering the early labor stage. The intensity will also increase.

When such occur, make sure you have your pen and notebook to keep a record of the details of contractions such as when it begins and how many minutes they last if you feel you cannot write anymore, have someone do it for you. Below are the marks of labor contractions:

  • Regular pattern (like every ten minutes or every nine minutes)
  • The interval is getting closer. The period between the duration and the length of your contraction is called interval.
  • It lasts longer. Gentle contraction usually starts at having interval of fifteen to twenty minutes and takes sixty to ninety seconds in length. Then it progresses and until having an interval of five minutes or less.
  • And it is getting intense. They begin in a mother’s back and go around to the front. The paunch gets hard as a basketball then it eases.
  • Cannot find any comfort anymore. Changing your position or walking is not helping at all. Jokes and conversation does not help to divert your minds attention.

The active labor has a general guide of five-one-one or five minutes of contraction, one minute or sixty seconds long, and being consistent for one hour. Use this occasion to practice breathing techniques and trying out positions. It is time to make use of your TENS machine if you have one. Make sure to communicate with your health provider by this time.

  1. The amniotic sac rapture also known as water breaking. Almost eighty percent of women who have their water break voluntarily labor within twelve hours if not they need to be induced because the baby does not have a protection and becomes prone to infections once the sac is already raptured.Do not worry about the possibility of the sudden stream of amniotic fluid. It is a very rare case of lower than eight percent that a mother experience water breaking in other places such as office or movie house. To ready for this keep a sanitary towel handy if you are going outside the house and use a protective sheet on your bunk. Do not use tampon use a sanitary pad instead. This kind of fluid is odorless and usually clear or sometimes straw-colored.The flow will be uncontrollable and using a panty liner is not sufficient. You have to be mindful of its color, smell, and the amount of water you are releasing because you will need this information once you contact your doctor. Notify your doctor once your water breaks even if you are not feeling any pain because there are cases where water breaking takes place and not having any contraction.The baby needs to get out of your womb within twenty four hours once the baby sac breaks. The mother can have her water breaks days prior to labor, while on labor, or at times the obstetrician may need to break it while on delivery room.Make sure to communicate with your health care provider or visit your hospital right away if you are not sure whether the fluid is amniotic or urine. You and the baby need to be evaluated by the doctor to decide the next measures.

Make sure to immediately contact your midwife or doctor if:

  • The amniotic fluid started to leak.
  • The movement of the baby inside the womb slowed down or not moving at all
  • Vaginal bleeding occurs
  • You are having painful contraction that is regular and occurs every five to ten minutes and last for sixty seconds.
  • If you have a sudden severe headache, your vision suddenly changes, or if your face, hands, or feet suddenly swell.

If you are not sure it is always better to contact your doctor then to wait at home.

Other necessary things to do while waiting for the signs of labor:

  • Make a list of important contact numbers such as the phone number of the hospital or labor ward, midwife, closest neighbor, and taxi company.
  • Check the route to hospital and car park.
  • Check the facilities of the hospital or ward labor. Make sure to check if they allow using mobile phones and if not bring cash or change for a phone card.
  • Make sure that your phone and camera are fully charge.
  • Packed the necessary things for you and for the baby. It has to be in a separate bag and you should let your birth partner know which bag is for the baby and which bag is for you, let them know what is inside too.
  • Most of all keep calm and trust your feelings. You will know if it’s time to call your doctor or if it is time to rush to the hospital.