Nine months—40 weeks—can seem like a really long time, especially if you’re pregnant. Chances are you’ve been tracking your pregnancy week by week, even daily, as that tiny little human grows inside of you. As you approach the final weeks of your pregnancy, you’re probably feeling a mix of nervousness and excitement, as well as looking for any signs that you may be in labor.
Although every pregnancy is different—meaning that different people will experience different labor signs. Here’s a few of the top signs that indicate that labor may be near, or that you are in labor.
- Your baby “drops.” As you near the end of your pregnancy, the baby will shift lower in your body to prepare for delivery. You can often tell a baby has dropped because you feel increased pelvic pressure—this is because the baby is sitting lower and their head is pushing down on that area of your body. You may find that you need to use the bathroom more often and that you have now started to “waddle” when you walk.
- Cramps and increased back pain. Menstrual-like cramps are a common sign of early labor. Intense back pain is also a sign. This is often called “back labor,” as your muscles and joints are loosening and stretching. Back labor can be painful and uncomfortable, especially when coupled with contractions. To ease the pain, try taking a warm bath or shower or applying a hot or cold compress.
- Diarrhea. Diarrhea can be a sign of labor. As your body is preparing for the baby to arrive, it’s making room and clearing out for childbirth. If you have diarrhea, remember to stay hydrated (and stay near a bathroom to make it easier on yourself).
- Passing your mucus plug. During your pregnancy, clumps of mucus build up on your cervix, “plugging” its opening and sealing the uterus, and the baby off from any germs or bacteria. As your pregnancy continues, you may feel some cramping. This is a normal sign that your pregnancy is progressing. When labor starts and your cervix begins to dilate, the mucus plug, as the accumulation of mucus is referred to, is discharged. This lost mucus may also be referred to as “bloody show” because of the color of the discharge, which can contain blood or be pink in color (it can also be clear mucus). The passing of your mucus plug can discharge all at once or gradually.
- Your water breaks. When your water breaks, it won’t necessarily happen the way it does in the movies—like a giant bucket of water spilling all over. Although it may happen in that way for some women, it can also be a slow, trickling leak. It’s also helpful to know that you may not have contractions right away if your water breaks.
- Contractions start. Contractions can be a tricky sign of labor because of Braxton Hicks contractions, which are essentially “fake” contractions. Many women experience Braxton Hicks contractions for many weeks or months during their pregnancy, but they are not a sign of labor. Here’s how you can distinguish “real” early labor contractions from Braxton Hicks (or false labor) contractions:
- Your contractions get stronger.
- Your contractions increase in frequency, becoming progressively stronger. Time your contractions, including how long they last and how far apart they are. Are they occurring more regularly, at regular intervals? Increasing contractions are a sign of labor.
- Changing your position doesn’t stop the contractions. If you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions and you stand up or lie down (or otherwise change your position), your contractions will stop. In true labor, the contractions won’t go away, regardless of changing your position.
- Your cervix dilates. Cervix dilation is measured in centimeters. When you reach 10 centimeters, you’re fully dilated. As you reach the last weeks of your pregnancy and begin weekly checkups with your doctor, he or she may do an exam and check to see if there is any dilation. After all, dilation—or the opening of your cervix—is a sign of labor.
Every labor is different, and every woman experiences different signs and symptoms of labor. It’s an exciting time, full of anticipation. As you near the end of your pregnancy, it can be helpful to take note of any new symptoms or signs you’re experiencing, so you can share them with your healthcare provider. If you have any questions or concerns about any of these—or other—signs and symptoms, do not hesitate to contact your doctor’s office.