Signs of Approaching Labor

There is no way to predict when labor will start. However, a pregnant woman undergoes a number of changes when labor approaches, and these are the signs that her body is preparing itself for childbirth. In this HerHaleness article, you can find out more about these signs, and how to discern them so as to prepare yourself for that special day.
HerHaleness Staff
Last Updated: Apr 12, 2018
Did You Know?
A pregnant woman's body starts preparing for childbirth as early as about one month before the due date.
Besides the ecstasy of having a baby, what most expecting mothers go through is the anxiety of whether they will be able to recognize the signs of early labor. Labor refers to the changes that the uterus undergoes in order to push the baby out of the womb.
There is no way to predict exactly when labor will start. However, thankfully there are a number of clues or signs that the labor is approaching, which are discussed in this article.
Signs of Labor
Some signs of labor are so subtle that a woman may not realize that she may soon go into labor. The following are some of the most common signs and symptoms associated with impending labor.
Dropping of the Baby
As the uterus becomes softer with the date of delivery approaching, expectant mothers may feel a sense of lightening a few weeks before delivery. The baby moves further down into the pelvis and its head drops down when the time of delivery approaches. As a result, the expectant mother may feel less pressure below her ribcage, and so, she may find it easier to breathe. However, she can feel more pressure on her bladder and the pelvis, and this increased pressure in the pelvic region can produce the frequent urge to urinate.
Changes in the Cervix
During childbirth, the cervix needs to dilate so that the baby can be pushed out of the womb. Dilation of the cervix begins days and even months before childbirth. Besides dilating, the cervix begins to soften and ripen. This is known as 'effacement'. A pregnant woman is usually unaware of these changes in her cervix. But her physician can find out these changes with the help of vaginal examinations.
Braxton Hicks Contractions
Sometimes, a woman may feel painful contractions weeks before going into actual labor. Known as Braxton Hicks contractions, these are the practice contractions that are neither regular nor of the same intensity as the contractions during labor. These contractions may feel like menstrual cramps, and occur in the lower abdomen. Braxton Hicks contractions usually subside when a woman changes her position.
Increase in Vaginal Discharge
Signs and symptoms of labor also include an increase in vaginal discharge a few days or weeks before delivery. The discharge will change from being thick and cloudy to clear and watery. But if it has a yellow tinge, then it can indicate the presence of an infection.
Lower Back Pain
As the baby drops lower and gets heavier, it puts more and more pressure on the lower back and the pelvic region. To prepare the body for childbirth, the uterine and the pelvic ligaments also get stretched. All these factors can cause increased pain in the lower back area a few days prior to delivery.
The 'Bloody Show'
The 'bloody show' is the outcome of the dilation of the cervix, and the resulting dislodgement of the mucus plug that seals the cervical canal throughout pregnancy. The dislodged mucus plug comes out of the vagina, which can be pink or blood-tinged, and stringy to thick in consistency. Some women may also experience an increase in blood-tinged vaginal discharge before delivery.
The presence of a small amount of blood in the mucus is normal, which can be caused due to the rupture of the tiny blood vessels of the cervix, when the cervix thins or starts to dilate. The 'bloody show' can typically occur a few hours to weeks before finally going into labor. But if the vaginal discharge is bright red in color, or there is more blood than mucus (like menstrual bleeding), then seek immediate medical intervention, as this could be a sign of a problem with the placenta.
Breaking of Water
A great majority of women experience the breakage of the amniotic sac after having the labor contractions. But some women can get it prior to labor. The rupture of the membrane or the amniotic sac can cause amniotic fluid to gush out or leak slowly from the vagina. In the second case, it might be confused with urine. To identify amniotic fluid from urine, you can use a pad to absorb it. Urine is light yellow or straw-colored, while amniotic fluid is clear and colorless, and it does have the typical smell of urine.
It has been observed that only 1 out of 10 women experience the breaking of water or the amniotic sac before going into labor, and for them, it is a sign that labor is about to begin. The breaking of water should be immediately reported to a physician, as some women may require an induction, if labor does start within 24 hours after the rupture of the water bag.
A Few Other Signs
In addition to the aforementioned signs, a woman may experience the following symptoms when the time of delivery approaches:
Slight weight loss, in the range of 1 to 3 pounds.
Discomfort in the legs
Spurt of energy
Increased interest in making sure that the room of the baby is well-arranged, and that all things for him/her are in place. This is known as the 'nesting instinct'.
One of the surest signs of labor are the contractions. But sometimes, a woman may assume the false contractions as the real ones. So, it important to know the difference between the real contractions and the false Braxton Hicks contractions. The labor contractions become more frequent and intense over time, and occur at regular intervals. Unlike Braxton Hicks contractions, the pain caused by the real labor contractions does not subside when a woman changes her position, or when she walks, or takes rest. The false contractions on the other hand, are irregular, and their frequency and intensity do not increase over time. True labor pain usually starts in the back and then spreads to the front, while the pain caused by the false contractions begins in the front, usually in the lower abdomen.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.