Early signs of labor – Recognize labor symptoms and signs early.

By: Julie Fletcher

Early signs of labor - Recognize labor symptoms and signs early.

Early signs of labor - Recognize labor symptoms and signs early to keep you from making a pregnant trip to the hospital or call to the doctor that results in being told to 'just wait'. By the end of nine months of pregnancy, every woman is ready for labor and delivery. Each tiny hopeful sign will send some women in a rush to get their bags ready to go and their husbands warming the car, but labor doesn't always come when we'd like. Many women have overshot their due dates  of pregnancy with not one sign of labor! Listed below are the most universal signs of imminent labor to help you determine if you are truly in labor.

Emotional signs of labor:

Nesting is an instinct that mothers of nearly every species experience. Though humans won't actually be burrowing or gathering leaves, (I hope), you will often start to go into a cleaning and organizing frenzy. Some women go through their baby layettes over and over, organizing the baby's room or section of the parents' room. Others will clean the house from top to bottom, empty every drawer, and dust in places they never knew existed before. This is completely normal! You are not becoming obsessive compulsive, nesting is just nature's way of letting the mother know the baby is coming soon. So, clean as much as you like, just avoid strong fumes and try to use gloves when using chemicals of any kind. Don't touch the cat litter and avoid any area that may harbor black mold or mildew.

Diarrhea and bowel disturbance:

Nearing labor your body will produce prostaglandins, a chemical which will cause loose bowel movements. A very unpleasant sign of impending labor, but one which does let you know the baby is coming soon. If you have been suffering from constipation, this may be a bit of a relief. Gas, which is so common throughout pregnancy, will also become more of an issue. All of this will pass soon enough and the diarrhea serves two purposes. One is to empty the bowels in preparation for pushing the baby out of the womb. Secondly, the muscle contractions of bowel movements are very close to the type caused by the uterus. If you are suffering severe diarrhea, you should call your doctor because severe diarrhea can actually induce labor contractions.


Also known as the baby 'dropping, engagement is when the baby lowers deep into the pelvis and nestles into position for birth. You may feel a lightening sensation and gain the ability to eat slightly larger portions without discomfort or heartburn. Many women find this a welcome sign of labor since the baby is no longer pushing against the stomach and may even sleep more comfortably. In first pregnancies engagement can occur days before actual labor, though in women who have had several children the baby may not drop into position until right before labor. Engagement is not a reliable sign of labor occurring quickly in all women.

Pelvic floor pressure:

Once the baby has dropped into position or engagement has occurred, you may feel pressure on the pelvic floor. The head of the baby is pressing very snugly against the cervix now and will continue to do so until birth. You may feel as if you need to move your bowels, the pressing down of the head causes a feeling of fullness and pressure very similar to that. Some women who have had several children might experience some pain. Many women might have trouble walking or feel as if their hips are not working properly. A hard feeling to describe even to doctors, if you are experiencing this odd and painful experience you might feel at the end of your rope trying to find an answer. This pain is stemming from a large tendon that weakens in each pregnancy. The tendon forms a sort of 'saddle' and the stress of engagement may cause pain after sitting or lying down, then standing. To help avoid this pain, try to walk and get exercise to strengthen this area early in your pregnancy.

Vaginal discharge in early labor:

Some women may experience more discharge in the days leading up to labor. Normally thick and whitish, if the discharge changes to thin and watery a visit to the doctor may be in order. This could indicate a leak in the bag of waters surrounding the baby. This only poses a danger to the baby if labor is not immediatel indicated, as an infection or introduction of bacteria to the womb and baby could occur. If the discharge is thick and white or thick and colorless, you should not worry. This is normal discharge.

Softening of the cervix, mucus plug, or bloody show:

In addition to the normal discharge you are experiencing, near labor you may find red streaks and a thick mucous 'blob'. This is the mucus plug that has been in the cervix since after conception to prevent access to the womb for bacteria or other pathogens. You may never see this bloody show, because as the cervix has softened or ripened, it could have slipped out and fell into the toilet to be flushed away. The cervix has thinned and softened so that it is prepared to dilate enough to allow passage of the baby into and through the birth canal. In your final visits to the obstetrician he or she will check your cervix often to check for softening and dilation.

Early Contractions:

Early contractions can be completely painless and go unnoticed. Occasionally women experience sharp pains with early contractions. If the contractions are not regular and only come infrequently with no real pattern they are referring to as False or Braxton-Hicks contractions. Their main purpose is practice for the uterus. Early contractions usually do not progress labor readily and may stop at any time. False contractions have sent many women to the hospital in hopes of labor only to be sent home to wait out real labor.

Regular, rhythmic contractions:

When true labor begins, those contractions which have come at odd times suddenly begin to come in a regular pattern and occurring closer together. At first, the contractions may be felt as a hardening of the stomach, though many women have described them as very strong menstrual cramps. Women who are experiencing their first labor and delivery may have contractions for a day or so that start out an hour or more apart, then finally reach the recommended eight to five minutes apart before leaving for the hospital. Some very lucky women have only a few strong contractions before the birth of their child. Breathing exercises and focusing methods can help decrease the pain felt during contractions. Some women have found water births to be very relaxing and helpful in relieving contraction cramps.

Membrane rupturing:

For years movies and television programs have perpetuated the vision of a woman in early labor suddenly stopping in public and exclaiming that her water has broken. This does happen, but not nearly as often as these outlets would have you believe. The rush of amniotic fluid that happens when the bag of waters around the baby ruptures may not occur until strong and active labor. Occasionally the doctor may use an instrument to rupture the membranes, but this is not always necessary. Studies have shown that rupture of the membranes does not speed labor, but neither does it impede it. Old wives tales speak of 'dry births' but there is no such thing as a dry birth. The body will produce amniotic fluid around the baby until delivery. If you suspect a rupture of the membranes, tests can confirm whether or not the leaking fluid is actually amniotic fluid or urine.

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