six signs of labor

Whether you’re two weeks out from your due date or several days overdue, you might be wondering what to expect with regard to labor. Each woman is different, and labor patterns can vary wildly from the birth of one baby to the next. At the same time, there are some common telltale signs which signal that baby will soon be on the way.

Labor and Delivery

1. Diarrhea

You may experience diarrhea at any time during your pregnancy. Changes in the diet, hormonal variances, or your prenatal vitamin could cause diarrhea. If you are nearing your due date, though, diarrhea may be a sign that labor is just around the corner. If your symptoms are mild, keep yourself hydrated and watch out for other early signs of labor.

Call your doctor if you have a fever, severe stomach pain, or diarrhea that lasts for more than one to two days.

2. Lightening

You may have overheard women talking about their babies dropping. The process they’re describing is called lightening. Lightening is when your baby lowers down into your pelvis to prepare for delivery. After the drop, you might feel pressure on your bladder and cervix and have an increased urge to urinate.

3. Ripened Cervix

Your doctor may be able to give you a good indication of how things are moving along by examining your cervix. This exam isn’t typically done until very late in your pregnancy. Your cervix may be dilated (opened) and even effaced (thinned and stretched). Some women may walk around for weeks with their cervixes dilated a few centimeters without going into labor. Regardless, it’s a sign that delivery day is nearing.

4. Increased Discharge

You may start to see bits and pieces of your cervical mucus plug falling out between weeks 37 and 40. It doesn’t sound pleasant, but that barrier helped protect your baby from countless germs and bacteria. The plug exits the body when the cervix has softened enough to let it go. Spotting (also called bloody show) can accompany the plug and is usually normal. Though delivery could be imminent, it may take up to a few weeks before labor starts in full force.

5. Contractions

Braxton-Hicks contractions may pick up in frequency and intensity. These practice contractions prepare your uterus for delivery, are typically painless, and don’t follow a regular pattern. If they get strong or painful and eating, drinking water, or lying down doesn’t quell them, your contractions might be the real deal. Start keeping track of the time between each one and let your doctor know when they’re three to five minutes apart.

6. Water Breaking

You might be worried you'll spontaneously go into labor after your water breaks. Rest assured it likely won’t happen to you. Only 8 to 10 percent of women will experiences ruptured membranes before labor actually begins. Contact your doctor if you notice a gush or even a trickle with any of the other signs. Labor could be around the corner. You'll likely deliver your child in the next 24 hours.

Listen to Your Body

Labor progresses at different paces and intensities, depending on the individual woman. As you observe your body changing and preparing to bring your baby into the world, note anything new and unusual. You could experience most of the signs above and still have a while left to go. Alternatively, your water could break and you could deliver within hours.

The uncertainty might make you uneasy, but once it starts for real, the average length of labor for first-time moms is between 12 to 18 hours. For questions and concerns, keep the lines of communication open with your provider. Best of luck to you!