As the days after my due date began ticking by unceremoniously last December, I started looking for any and every possible sign that labor was impending. Although I had given birth twice before, I didn't feel like a veteran. On the contrary, most moments found me Googling exactly as I had done the first time around. One symptom I read about was diarrhea; apparently there is a theory that your body expels waste to clean you out when you're about to go into labor. So every time I experienced loose stools, I would wonder, is diarrhea a sign of labor? Will my contractions begin any minute?
One quick internet search will convince you that diarrhea is, in fact, often a definite sign of upcoming labor. But the certainty of that claim is debatable. California OB-GYN Dr. Thomas Ruiz tells Romper he thinks the assertion is false — but that there is a caveat. "“Diarrhea is not typically a sign that labor is about to come," the Orange County-based physician says. "Although, when a woman is having regular uterine contractions, loose stools are not uncommon.” Ah. So just a big mind game then, huh?
It may sound like Ruiz is contradicting himself, but there is an important distinction between the two ideas. Experiencing diarrhea alone does not mean that labor will begin in the next 24 hours; it just means you should probably stay near a bathroom. (You were probably near one anyway at nine months pregnant.)
However, Ruiz explains, if you are having regular contractions, even mild ones, diarrhea may very well be an accompanying symptom. It's common for your bowels to empty during labor — even early labor — but diarrhea in and of itself doesn't really mean anything. (Believe me, I should know: I analyzed every poop I took for a week straight.)
Sutter Health lists "diarrhea or flu like symptoms without fever" as common signs of impending labor, however, and also mentions that "frequent bowel movements may be experienced within 48 hours of labor, cleansing the lower bowel in preparation for birth." So when it comes to seeking a definitive answer, there doesn't really seem to be one.
Predicting the onset of labor is notoriously difficult, not only because every woman is different, but also because every pregnancy and delivery experience is different as well. While my firstborn came a week early with zero symptoms except my water breaking in the middle of the night, my second was right on time in a quick and predictable way, and my third, as I've mentioned, came weeks after I started having "all" the symptoms. When it comes to childbirth, you really don't know what will happen until it's already begun.
That being said, the American Pregnancy Association (APA) identified a nearly exhaustive list of every symptom of labor a woman might experience in the days — or yes, weeks — leading up to delivery. These include lightening (baby drops), loss of mucus plug, rupture of membranes (water breaking), nesting, effacement, and dilation. The only sure sign of labor, noted the APA, is consistent contractions; starting at as many as 20 to 30 minutes apart and working their way down to five minutes apart.
Once you begin experiencing these regular uterine contractions, you can be sure that labor has definitely begun and you are officially in for the ride of your life. Like many women, you might have some diarrhea or loose stools at some point during labor (yes, some women poop during the pushing phase — no, it doesn't faze your OB-GYN in the least). But then again, you might not. The only thing predictable about giving birth to a tiny human being? Its completely unpredictable.