Before labor begins, a baby’s head typically drops lower into the pelvis. But when it occurs can vary from person to person.
Your baby dropping is one of the first signs that your body’s getting ready for labor.
When the fated event happens, kindly friends, family, and complete strangers will probably comment about your bump looking low. “Oh! It looks like the baby dropped,” they’ll say.
But what exactly does baby dropping mean? And is there a way to predict when it will happen?
When people talk about your baby dropping, they’re actually referring to a term called lightening. Lightening is one of the major signs that labor is approaching.
It happens when the baby’s head literally “drops” lower into your pelvis, becoming engaged within your pubic bones. This starts baby’s descent down and out into the world.
Lightening can start as early as a few weeks before labor actually begins. But for some women, it happens only a few hours before labor starts.
Every pregnancy is different. While labor isn’t far off for some women when their baby drops, others may have weeks to go. And some never really feel their baby drop until labor officially begins.
There are 11 stations (-5 to +5) used to describe how far down the baby’s head is within your pelvis.
The highest station is -5, when the baby’s head is still floating above your hips. The lowest is +5, when the baby’s head is clearly visible on the outside world. Picture a vertical scale with zero in the middle. This is when your baby is firmly engaged into your midpelvis.
Generally, the baby will move lower and lower as labor progresses. If you’ve had one or more babies, your baby may “settle in” lower earlier.
For example, when I felt like I was walking with a bowling ball between my legs with my second daughter, my midwife told me she had dropped to a +1 position. This is why I was so uncomfortable. But by my next checkup, she was back floating merrily away in a -1. Babies can be tricky like that. Learn more about the fetal station.
Unfortunately, there really isn’t a good way to predict when your baby will drop. That’s because it’s different for every woman. Sometimes babies simply don’t drop until the very beginning of labor. Generally, women in their first pregnancy will notice their baby has dropped about two weeks before they deliver. It’s impossible to predict for women who’ve had previous babies.
But in general, if your baby drops before labor, you’ll definitely be able to tell. Here are five signs you may notice.
1. You can breathe easier.
When a baby drops, they physically drop into your pelvis. This means there’s a little less pressure on your diaphragm, so you may notice that you can breathe easier.
2. You might feel a lot more pressure.
Once your baby drops, you might notice a lot of increased pressure in your pelvis.
This may be a time when you develop a significant pregnancy “waddle” as you adjust. This is probably the same feeling as walking around with what feels like a bowling ball between your legs. My 2-year-old once said it best when she asked me, “Mama, why do you walk like a penguin?”
3. You notice increased discharge.
Once your baby has dropped, their head will be physically pressing down more on your cervix. This will help your cervix thin and dilate to begin labor. The cervix will thin out by ridding itself of the mucus plug that served to block the cervical opening.
You may notice increased discharge in the last weeks of pregnancy that comes out in chunks like actual mucus. Or, it might just be a thicker stream of discharge. Hey, no one said pregnancy was always beautiful, right?
4. You take more frequent trips to the bathroom.
Baby’s head lower on your bladder plus baby growing a pound a week? This equation equals bathroom trips approximately every 10 seconds. Welcome to the end of pregnancy.
5. You have pelvic pain.
An odd symptom of your baby dropping is “zings” of pain in your pelvic area. These occur as a result of the baby’s head putting pressure on a lot of the ligaments in your pelvis. You might notice that they happen when you move a certain way. Or the pain might come seemingly out of nowhere. This happens as the baby adjusts to its new position.
Remember, small twinges of pain in your pelvis may be a sign of your baby dropping. But if you’re experiencing regular, constant pain, see your doctor. The same goes if you have any other symptoms like fever, bleeding, or fluid loss.
It’s difficult to predict when your baby will drop because it’s different for every woman, every pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about what to expect during the third trimester. Read on for other tips on how to handle the final trimester.