Signs of Labor: What Should You Look For?

Picture this- you're about 38 or 39 weeks pregnant, excitedly awaiting your first labor and birth, all of which will take place safely at home. Chances are you wake up every day, wondering if today or tomorrow will be the day you meet your baby. (If you're overdue and are looking for natural ways to induce labor, you'll find that info here.) Here are some myths and truths about determining when that day will arrive. Above all, remember to cherish those last few weeks and days, and rest assured that your baby will be born when he is ready.

*Losing your mucus plug

This is one of those signs that you may or may not experience. Throughout pregnancy, your body protects your baby by plugging up your cervix with mucus so that bacteria cannot ascend. This “plug” regenerates itself again and again. However, as your cervix begins to get soft in preparation for labor, you may experience seeing (and feeling) the entire gelatinous plug as it falls out of the cervix. This is not a reliable sign of impending labor, because you might see bits and parts weeks before labor or not until the morning of. Some women never see their mucus plug, and other women experience it as more of a liquid discharge.

*Having a (somewhat) dilated cervix

This is probably the least reliable sign and because of that, vaginal exams at the end of pregnancy are completely useless. Actually, because a vaginal exam at term can't give very precise information about when you might go into labor, it is best to avoid them since there is always a risk of infection with anything going up and inside your body. You could be 1 cm dilated, for example, for a week or for only several hours before you go into labor.

*Having extra energy to clean (“nesting”)

In my experience, this “sign” can be reliable or unreliable. Unfortunately, the more children you already have, the earlier you start nesting (to make up for all the extra mess) so in that case, this is an unreliable sign. With my first baby, however, I did insist in scrubbing the kitchen floor on my hands and knees and my water broke later that day. In general, nesting is something a lot of women do in the weeks prior to having a baby and there is no way to tell when the last time you are able to nest will be!

*Having a bloody show

This is different from losing your mucus plug, but a bloody discharge may include your mucus plug. In textbooks, having a bloody show is a positive sign of labor beginning within about 24 hours. Sometimes the bloody show will accompany contractions or just slight back pain. Sometimes bloody show does not appear until active labor begins. Often, the “show” begins as a light pink stain on the toilet paper.

*The baby has “dropped”

In first time moms, the baby will generally sink into the pelvic bones about 2 weeks before labor begins. This can leave you with a feeling of pressure down there, need to urinate frequently (although that might not have changed) and a relief from any compression on your ribs. With 2nd and later pregnancies, this is not a good indicator at all as those babies can wait to “drop” until labor begins.

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