When you are anticipating the arrival of a little one, you will begin questioning every little thing that happens and whether or not it is a sign of labor, especially as you near the end of the third trimester. The truth is, labor doesn't exactly tread lightly in letting itself be known, but that won't stop you from wondering about it anyway. Signs like an urge to nest and even repeat trips to the toilet might keep you guessing, as well as a baby who begins hanging low in your pelvis. But does your baby always drop before labor and are any of these symptoms a sure thing? Experts say it's not easy to pinpoint.
That's because according to Healthline, it's different for every woman. "Sometimes babies simply don’t drop until the very beginning of labor," the website noted. "Generally, women in their first pregnancy will notice their baby has dropped about two weeks before they deliver. It’s impossible to predict for women who’ve had previous babies."
Signs your baby has dropped include the ability to breathe easier (you know, a little less belly touching the boobs kind of thing), more frequent trips to the bathroom as a result of your little one hanging out on top of your bladder, and pelvic pain. Increased discharge is also a sign your baby has dropped, according to Healthline. That's because once your baby is hanging out lower in your pelvis, the pressure will cause your cervix to begin thinning out and dilating. That results in the cervix beginning to rid itself of the mucus plug, ergo discharge.
So, what exactly does it mean when your baby "drops"? Dropping, or lightening, has to do with the station of your baby's head. According to VeryWell, station is the measurement of where your baby is located in regards to certain areas of the pelvis.
"Negative numbers indicate a baby that is higher in the pelvis, and from zero forward are signs that the baby is further in the pelvis," the website said. "So perhaps your doctor said that your baby was at a negative three (-3) at your last visit, but now is at negative one (-1), this means that your baby has moved down."
In addition to your baby dropping, signs of labor vary for every pregnant woman, Dr. Sherry Ross, OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period., tells Romper in an email interview. But one, decidedly universal symptom you can depend on? Pain, Ross says.
"If you can tolerate the pain and are able to easily breathe through the contractions, you may be able to stay home a bit longer," she says. "Once the pain becomes more intense and increasingly painful, then it’s time to gather your hospital bag and head over to the hospital."
Contractions that follow the 5-1-1 rule — meaning they last a minute from start to finish, five minutes apart, and last for one hour — are also a surefire sign things are progressing, Dr. Yvonne Bohn, OB-GYN at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Romper. Your water breaking, nausea, loose stools, a burst of energy, and an effaced cervix are also cues that your bundle of joy is on the way.
But the number one sign? You'll just know.
"Doctors and midwives will often advise expectant parents not to go looking for labor — labor will find you," Yiska Obadia-Gedal, a doula and comforting touch for birth educator, tells Romper in an email interview. "A person is only in true labor when they are contracting regularly."
And if you're unsure about whether or not you are experiencing contractions, then put simply, Obadia-Gedal says you're not in labor.
Which reminded me of what my mom would tell me as I was nearing the end of pregnancy with my daughter and constantly questioning whether or not I was feeling contractions. "Trust me, you'll know." And, whoa, was she right.