During pregnancy, as your due date draws nearer, you might find yourself analyzing every feeling in your body and wondering whether or not it’s go-time. All of this can be anxiety-inducing, so knowing some of the early signs of labor can help put you at ease a little bit. The only problem is, many early signs of labor are hard to pick up on and can be easily confused with other symptoms.
“About 10% of women [who think they are in labor] have false labor or simply a leaky bladder or kidney infection,” gynecologist Dr. Michael L. Friedman, MD, FACOG, tells Romper in an email, “and are sent home [from the hospital] disappointed.” In fact, it’s not uncommon for a mom-to-be to show up in labor and delivery convinced the baby is coming only to find out she’s actually experiencing practice contractions or that the gush of liquid that came out of her was, unfortunately, just a result of the baby’s position on her bladder, not her water breaking.
While not every woman will experience every early sign of labor, they are likely to experience a couple of them that should put them on alert that the baby’s arrival may be in the coming weeks. Here are some to be on the lookout for.
Bleeding and/or Discharge
In an email to Romper, Dr. Felice Gersh, M.D., OB-GYN and author of PCOS SOS Fertility Fast Track, explains that expecting moms may experience a “bloody show” as their body starts preparing for labor. “‘Blood show’ is a term that is used to describe the loss of the cervical mucus plug,” she says, “[which] often occurs prior to the onset of labor.” When this happens there could be “bleeding .. [and] leaking of smelling liquid [that’s] slightly yellow with white particles,” Dr. Friedman says. This is all normal, however, Dr. Friedman notes that if you notice significant bleeding that is bright red and/or clotting you should contact your healthcare provider right away.
You’ve probably been told that you’ll experience contractions at regular intervals once you’re in labor, but your body will start practicing well before that. “Lower abdominal or back pains which can be very irregular [are called] Braxton-Hicks contractions,” explains Dr. Friedman. You can typically tell these are practice contractions because when you time them, they’re not evenly spaced out. “Usually they are like a tightening of the abdomen and get progressively more painful like those of a bad menstrual cramp,” says Dr. Friedman, “When the pains get regular, usually every 15-20 minutes, it’s time to start making plans and calls.”
In addition to the possible visual evidence of the baby dropping, Dr. Gersh says you may notice some physical symptoms, too. “Feeling lots of pelvic pressure as the baby’s head descends further into the pelvis” is common in the days leading up to labor, and can be an early sign that the baby is getting ready to be on its way.
In some cases, your water breaking could be one of your earliest signs of labor. “There can be a slow leak which a sanitary pad can absorb,” explains Dr. Friedman, “or a gush of lots of liquid, which is about 85% true breaking of the water.” Whether it’s a slow leak or a big gush, when it happens you’ll want to call your healthcare provider to be evaluated and likely make your way to labor and delivery.
Cervical Dilation & Effacement
Labor happens in various stages, and even though you might not be experiencing regular contractions or any other telltale sign of labor, when your cervix starts dilating and effacing, you’re entering the latent phase which lasts until you’re around 6 cm dilated, according to a review by the Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America. Typically, in the weeks leading up to your due date, your healthcare provider will regularly check your cervix for dilation and effacement, and one of those checks could be your first sign that labor is getting close.
As you get closer and closer to your due date, it’s normal to get anxious and feel on constant alert that the baby is going to come at any minute. If that feeling gets to be too much or you’re experiencing symptoms that you can’t ignore, always call your healthcare provider so they can check you and put your mind at ease.
Michael L. Friedman, MD., FACOG, Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Providence Little Company of Mary Hospital, Torrance, California.
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