How can I know when I am in labor? This is a common question. The most obvious way to know is if you are feeling contractions. But there often signs that come before that, and sometimes people are fooled and don't even realize that the sensations they are feeling are contractions. Often women will labor for days with what doctor's call "false labor" - contractions that seem light and ineffective, that don't really lead to birth. But we do not believe in false labor. Whatever your body is doing is preparing you for birth. I know many women who labor for days with these light contractions and don't seem to be dilating, only to find at a certain point that their body just opens up all of a sudden and it's done. All that laboring ahead of time WAS doing something, they just didn't realize it because they were using a dilated cervix as the only indicator of progress. Trust what your body is doing and feel confident that all is proceeding normally.
Here are some of the typical signs of labor, or signs that labor is imminent:
Dropping - also called "lightening", this is when the baby descends into the pelvis, getting in position for birth. You may notice you are able to breathe easier, but have to urinate more frequently. Friends or relatives may comment that you have "dropped." First time moms often notice dropping more than in subsequent pregnancies.
Nesting - Not all women experience this, but enough do experience it that it is worth noting. As the time for birth approaches, the woman may feel an urge to get her home / birthplace ready. She may feel a sudden urge to clean everything in sight, sort clothes, cook a lot of extra food that can be frozen for later, do laundry, paint the nursery, or anything to do with the baby that she has been putting off.
Bloody Show - You may notice some blood on the toilet paper when you wipe, or on your underwear. This is a sign that your cervix is changing and dilating, thinning and moving forward in preparation for birth. You can also see this after sex or a vaginal exam, because the vaginal tissues are so soft and fragile right now. In that case, it doesn't mean anything. But if you just see it out of the blue, it means things are changing. It can still be days or weeks before labor starts.
Mucous Plug - As your cervix starts to change, it will dislodge the mucous plug that has been sealing up the entrance to the uterus. It may come out all at once or in pieces, and may also be blood-tinged.
Loose stools - not everyone experiences these. However, diarrhea is caused by the release of prostaglandins which cause the cervix to soften and efface. At this point, you are probably only hours or days away from the beginning of labor.
Water breaking - This may come in a trickle or a gush. You may simply experience an increased need to go to the bathroom and lose the water in the toilet, or it may break all at once like a balloon and gush everywhere.
Contractions - a feeling of pressure that grows in intensity and then subsides. These contractions are normally not painful. Pain is caused from the fear which causes the fight-or-flight response. Also, your body uses pain to tell you to change something - your position, your attitude, something. The uterus is a muscle and there is no reason that working a muscle should be painful, unless you have not been getting the proper nutrition, which can cause the contractions to be ineffective.
Backache - sometimes if your are feeling discomfort in your back that comes and goes, this can be a sign of labor.
Constipation - feel like you need to go but can't? That is often a labor contraction you are feeling. The pressure that builds up during a labor contraction feels just like the pressure that builds up when you need to have a bowel movement. Ever noticed that when your rectum is full, you feel an urge to push it out? That's the same urge you feel when your birth canal is full of baby.
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