It happened once before. You thought you were in labor. Excited and anxious you headed to the hospital only to be told they were “Braxton Hicks Contractions”. Oops, false alarm!
Pregnancy is difficult to predict and such confusions are common occurrences. But, how will you be able to tell when the time actually comes? If this thought is troubling you, worry not. Read on to learn the body signals that say “Get ready, you’re about to deliver the baby.”
Lightning is the stage when the baby descends into the pelvic cavity. It is also called baby dropping or engagement. You will notice a change in the shape and position of your bump. It descends lower. The increased pressure in the pelvic increases the urge to urinate. The descent also reduces the pressure on the rib cage making it easier for you to breathe.
“Show” in labor is the passing of the mucus plug. The cervix secrets mucus to keep itself lubricated. During pregnancy, this mucus thickens to form a plug. It plugs the neck of the cervix throughout pregnancy and sheds just before delivery. The function of the mucus plug is to prevent infection causing bacteria. Shedding of the mucus plug can happen anytime between a few hours to a few days before labor.
If you have passed the mucus plug you will notice a reddish, brownish mucus discharge when you go to the bathroom. It may be blood tinged as cervical dilation ruptures the blood vessels in the cervix. The mucus plug may pass at once or as smaller dislodged pieces.
Timing and Frequency of Contractions
This is biggest and most important of the lot. You should keep a track of how the contractions progress. When the contractions start they feel like simple abdominal discomfort which may or may not accompany any pain. They occur far apart. It feels like an alternate tightening and loosening of the stomach muscles. As labor advances, the time difference between two successive contraction decreases. Once they start intensifying, you may also experience pain in the back and pelvic region that does not subside even by changing positions. It may even become difficult to talk through a contraction. When the contractions start occurring every 15 minutes it’s time to head to the hospital.
The fetus grows and develops in a sac called the amniotic sac which includes the placenta. The sac drains the liquid (amniotic liquid) in preparation for delivery. This is known as your waters breaking. It generally occurs once the mucus plug has been unplugged, but there is no specific time. The contractions or the baby’s head pressing down may cause the sac to split. In very few cases, the water breaks before women go to the hospital. For majority women the waters break during labor. Therefore, this is not a very reliable symptom. Waters breaking may feel like a gush of water or a tiny trickle.
The cervix too prepares for delivery. It dilates and thins out to allow the easy passage of the baby through the birth canal. The final goal is 10 cm wide. The only way to come to know if you have started dilating is through a physical exam by your OB. It can start weeks, days or hours before you deliver.