Labor can be a pretty scary prospect, usually made only scarier because of it's utter unpredictability. That's why it's only natural to read into common pregnancy aches and pains and think that they are maybe, possibly a sign that it's "go time." When I was approaching my due date, if my lower back hurt I thought, "Ok here we go!" If I had indigestion or heartburn, I thought, "This is it!" But medically speaking, is heartburn a sign of labor... or just a common pregnancy complaint?
The answer is a little nuanced. Approximately 50 percent of pregnant women experience heartburn at some point in their pregnancy, according to WebMD. What's more, heartburn is more common as you enter the third trimester, because your expanding uterus puts more pressure on the stomach. So while heartburn is more likely to occur in the final stretch of your pregnancy, it doesn't necessarily mean that labor is starting.
However, heartburn can be rolled up into a few gastrointestinal symptoms that do indicate that labor is about to get underway.
"Heartburn is one of those 'soft signs' of labor," Natalie Nix, CNM, MSN, tells Romper. A Certified Nurse Midwife at Roswell OB/GYN in Atlanta, GA, Nix explains that as the "pregnant uterus grows and pushes more on the stomach" in the third trimester, nausea and reflux can be triggered and heartburn can increase.
"In the last few weeks of pregnancy as that growing uterus starts to have more Braxton Hicks contractions in preparation for labor, that also can push more on the stomach, triggering reflux/ nausea," she adds.
The closer you get to your baby's big debut, the more likely you are to experience these digestive discomforts.
"Indigestion, nausea, or vomiting are common a day or so before labor begins," explained Sutter Health. And if you're feeling the need to race to the bathroom, that could mean labor will start soon too. "Just as the muscles in your uterus are relaxing in preparation for birth, so too are other muscles in your body — including those in the rectum. And that can lead to diarrhea," explained What to Expect.
You might also notice an increase in acid reflux and gassiness, according to Family Education. In my personal experience, I had the feeling that I had eaten way too quickly even though I hadn't.
So, if you're experiencing heartburn near your due date, the best thing you can do is to be on the lookout for some of the other, more telltale signs that labor is about to begin. One of the most noticeable sign is bloody vaginal discharge. "As labor begins, or several days before it does, a woman may notice an increase in vaginal discharge that's pink, brown or slightly bloody. Called a 'bloody show,' this discharge is caused by the release of a mucous plug that blocks the cervix... during pregnancy," explained Live Science.
Some other signs that labor is approaching include lower back pain and cramps, feeling looser in your joints (thanks to the hormone relaxin), and/or feeling the need to rest and nest, according to What to Expect.
However, sometimes, the opposite of tiredness occurs, according to LiveScience. You can get a burst of energy that makes you want to clean the entire house or, in my case, go for a rigorous four-mile walk while listening to Tom Petty! I felt downright buoyant the day before giving birth, despite hardly being able to roll of the couch the day before.
So, if you're experiencing heartburn and any of the symptoms above, you might want to make sure your hospital bag is packed and ready. But if it's only heartburn, you can probably chalk it up to being just another third trimester irritation.
This post was originally published on 7/15/2019. It was updated on 8/17/2019.
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