Recognizing Labor

For the last nine months, your baby has been happily developing inside of your womb. As the ninth month begins to wind down you can expect your baby to make her appearance. But when will she arrive? How will you know? Doctors and midwives can try to predict the arrival of your child, but it is impossible to know exactly when you will give birth. The vast majority of babies (about 95% of them) arrive sometime in the two-week period before or after the due date. It is important for you to learn as much as possible about the signs of labor so you will be able recognize them when it is time for your baby’s arrival.

How Will I Know When Baby’s on the Way?

Here are a few signs to look for to help you recognize that it’s time to get ready for labor and delivery. While not all of these signs indicate imminent childbirth, they can help give you a good idea of when you will be going into labor.

You will likely experience the lightening of your baby a few weeks before you actually end up giving birth. Lightening refers to the dropping of your baby into your pelvis. During lightening, the baby will rotate himself so that he is ready to come out of the birth canal in a downward-facing position. This is a sign that your baby is preparing to enter the world. Many mothers can actually feel that their baby has dropped. If you notice a space between your breasts and abdomen, this can be a sign that your baby is preparing himself for life outside the womb.

During this stage, your breathing should become less labored and you should feel a lot less pressure in your stomach. You could also find yourself visiting the bathroom more frequently, though, because your baby’s new position will put even more pressure on your bladder. Additionally, some women complain of increased constipation and the appearance of hemorrhoids after lightening has occurred. You may also notice that your legs and feet swell and feel sore, making getting around a little difficult.

Bloody Show
To keep bacteria out of the womb during your baby’s growth, a plug of mucus forms at the neck of the cervix, blocking the uterus. When this plug drops out of the uterus it is called show. Sometimes, the plug looks pinkish-red when it is lost, and this is termed “bloody show”. Show can occur up to three weeks before actual labor, but it is a sign that your baby’s birth is on its way. Some women will not lose this plug until hours before they go into labor. Keep a look out for this plug as it can give you some clues as to when your baby will arrive.

Braxton-Hicks Contractions
Women in the later stages of pregnancy will experience Braxton-Hicks contractions. These contractions help the uterus to practice for actual labor and delivery. As you near labor, these contractions can start to get more painful and intense and can’t be lessened by a shift in position. Pain will initiate in your lower back and then descend into your stomach, pelvis, and legs. If contractions start to come more frequently, and at regular intervals, you may be in labor. Time your contractions. If contractions last more than 40 seconds and arrive regularly, call your doctor and go to the hospital.

Breaking of Waters
Only about 15% of pregnant women actually experience the breaking of their waters, so this may not be the best marker of the early stages of labor. However, if it does occur, you should call your doctor and go to the hospital right away, as this is a sign you are in labor.

During pregnancy, your baby grows and develops in a sac of special water called amniotic fluid. When labor begins, this fluid sac can break sending a gush or just a trickle of water out. This fluid should be clear. If it is green or brownish in color this could be a sign that your baby is in distress, so head to the hospital right away.

The Nesting Instinct
Many women experience a rush of energy or persistent restlessness as labor approaches. If you find yourself eager to clean, tidy and participate in dozens of new activities, you may be nearing the end of your pregnancy. This rush of energy is referred to as the nesting instinct. Not only is this a sign that your body is preparing itself for the arrival of your baby, it is also a signal to you to start getting ready for labor.

What Should I Bring to the Hospital?
Once you are in labor, it will be too late to pack your bags before you have to head off to the hospital or birthing home. Be sure to prepare ahead of time by packing both necessities and some extra indulgences for yourself. These extras will help you feel more comfortable and can make all the difference at this emotional time.

You will need to bring things for the labor and delivery, things for your stay on the maternity ward, and things for your journey home with your new bundle of joy. It may be easier to pack three separate bags, if the hospital allows. Here is a handy list of some items you may want to bring to help you through childbirth as well as your hospital stay:

  • a pair of socks to keep your feet warm and toasty
  • a large nightgown or T-shirt with an opening at the front to make breastfeeding easier
  • a nursing bra and extra panties that you don’t care too much about
  • a spray bottle or washcloth to help keep you cool
  • a hot water bottle for pain relief
  • baby powder or massage cream that your partner can use to massage your back
  • tennis balls to squeeze for pain relief or to use as a massage aid
  • lip balm to keep lips moisturized
  • favorite nourishing snacks or glucose tablets to keep you energized
  • a thermos full of ice cubes to suck on
  • music and games to pass the time
  • cameras in case you want to snap some childbirth photos
  • telephone numbers to update friends and relatives

Now that you know what signs of labor to look for and have your bags packed, it’s just a matter of time. Your baby will arrive when she’s ready!

Need to talk about your pregnancy? Chat with other new moms!

For more information on your pregnancy and labor check out our pregnancy videos.

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