How does labor feel like?
First time mother must be wondering how will they know if it is really labor or just false alarm, Many read about labor but still wonder how it will feel like to actually be in labor.
It’s hard to predict the answers to all those questions, since every birth is different, but knowing what labor is and what signs to look out for will help provide clues that it’s almost time to meet your baby!
What is labor?
Labor is the process of childbirth, starting with contractions of the uterus and ending with the delivery of the baby.
If you’re like a lot of pregnant moms, you’re probably wondering how you’ll know for sure that you’re in labor. Look out for these 10 signs of labor that tell you baby’s on the way:
- Baby “drops”
- Cervix dilates
- Cramps and increased back pain
- Loose-feeling joints
- Weight gain stops
- Fatigue and “nesting instinct”
- Vaginal discharge changes color and consistency
- Stronger, more frequent contractions
- Water breaks
Pre-labor: One hour to a full month or more before labor
1. Your baby “drops”
If you’re a first-time mom your baby will typically start to drop, or descend into your pelvis, a few weeks before labor begins (usually around two to four weeks before, but it can vary).
In subsequent births, this “lightening” doesn’t often happen until you’re truly in labor. Your baby is getting into position to make his exit, ideally with the head down and low.
You might feel like you’re waddling even more than you have been up until this point — and you may still be taking frequent bathroom breaks like you’ve probably been doing in third trimester because baby’s head is now pushing down on your bladder.
More About Labor and Delivery
Labor & Delivery Vacuum Extraction During Delivery
The good news is that you have a bit more breathing room, since your little one is moving away from your lungs.
2. Your cervix dilates
Your cervix, too, is starting to prepare for birth: It starts to dilate (open) and efface (thin out) in the days or weeks before you deliver. At your weekly check-ups in the home stretch of your pregnancy, your provider may measure and track dilation and effacement via an internal exam.
But everyone progresses differently, so don’t be discouraged if you’re dilating slowly or not at all yet.
3. You feel more cramps and increased back pain
Especially if this is not your first pregnancy, you may feel some crampiness and pain in your lower back and groin as labor nears. Your muscles and joints are stretching and shifting in preparation for birth.
4. Your joints feel looser
Throughout your pregnancy, the hormone relaxin has made your ligaments loosen up a little (it’s also responsible for your potential bouts of clumsiness this past trimester).
Before you go into labor, you may notice that the joints all over your body feel a bit less tight and more relaxed. It’s just nature’s way of opening up your pelvis for your little passenger to make his way into the world.
5. You have diarrhea
Just as the muscles in your uterus are relaxing in preparation for birth, so too are other muscles in your body — including those in the rectum. And that can lead to diarrhea, that pesky labor symptom you may well have experienced at other times during pregnancy.
Though annoying, it’s completely normal. Just be sure to stay hydrated and remember: It’s a good sign!
6. You stop gaining weight (or lose pounds)
Weight gain often levels off at the very end of pregnancy. Some moms-to-be even lose a couple of pounds.
This is normal and won’t affect your baby’s birth weight. He’s still gaining, but you’re dropping due to lower levels of amniotic fluid, more bathroom breaks and maybe even increased activity.
7. You feel extra tired … or you have an urge to nest
Wait a minute, is this the third trimester or the first? Between the active bladder and the exhaustion, sometimes you can feel like you’ve traveled backwards in time.
That super-size belly, along with your compressed bladder and other organs, can make it tricky to get a good night’s sleep during the last days and weeks of pregnancy. So pile up those pillows and take naps when you can, if at all possible.
That is, unless you’re feeling the opposite of super sleepy. Some moms get a burst of energy (also known as the nesting instinct) as their baby’s birthday nears, and can’t resist the compelling urge to clean and organize everything in sight. That’s okay too, as long as you don’t overdo it!
Early labor: the days and hours before labor starts
8. You lose your mucous plug and your vaginal discharge changes color and consistency
You may also notice the loss of your mucous plug — the cork sealing off your uterus from the outside world. It can come out in one large piece (it looks similar to the mucus in your nose) or lots of little ones, though you may not get a glimpse of it at all and some women don’t lose it before delivery.
In the last days before labor, you’ll likely see increased and/or thickened vaginal discharge. This thickened, pinkish discharge is called bloody show and is a good indication that labor is imminent.
But without contractions or dilation of 3 to 4 centimeters, labor could still be a few days away.
9. You feel stronger, more frequent contractions
Contractions are an early sign of active labor — except when they aren’t. You can experience Braxton Hicks contractions (or “practice contractions”) for weeks and even months before delivery. You’ll feel their pinch as the muscles in your uterus tighten in preparation for their big moment: pushing that baby out.
How can you tell the difference between real and false labor contractions? Look for these signs of real labor:
- If you’re active, real contractions get stronger instead of easing up the way Braxton Hicks contractions do.
- If you change positions, labor contractions don’t go away but Braxton Hicks often do.
- Real contractions progress, becoming more frequent and more painful as time goes on, often falling into a regular pattern. Each one won’t necessarily be more painful or longer than the one before it, but the intensity tends to build over time as labor progresses. Frequency doesn’t always increase in a regular pattern, either, but it does gradually increase. Braxton Hicks contractions come and go without getting more intense over time.
- Early real labor contractions could feel like strong menstrual cramps, stomach upset or lower abdominal pressure. Pain could be in the lower abdomen or both there and the lower back, and it could radiate down into the legs. The location of the pain isn’t as reliable an indicator of true vs. practice contractions, though, because Braxton Hicks contractions can also be felt in all those places.
10. Your water breaks
While movies would have you think you’ll learn you’re in labor only when your water breaks (in the middle of a romantic dinner date at a busy restaurant, of course), that’s a very unlikely scenario.
Your water breaking is actually one of the final signs of labor most women experience — and it happens in only around 15 percent of births or fewer. So don’t count on it as a telltale, surefire sign of labor.
Still feel like you won’t know when to announce “It’s time!” and get ready to meet your baby? Try not to stress about it. You’ll be seeing your doctor or midwife frequently now, and he or she will help you spot all the important clues.
Am I going into labor? Should I call the doctor?
If you think you’re going into labor, your doctor has likely advised you on what to do when your due date is near and you think you’re experiencing regular contractions (e.g. “Call me when they’re coming about five minutes apart for at least an hour”).
Labor contractions won’t all be exactly spaced, but if they’re becoming pretty consistent, more painful and longer (usually around 30 to 70 seconds each), it’s time to check in with your doctor.
If you think you might be in labor but aren’t sure, get on the phone. Your provider can explain what’s going on and have you come in if there’s any uncertainty.
Don’t feel embarrassed or worry about calling outside of office hours, either: Your practitioner knows it comes with the job.
You should always call your doctor or midwife if:
- You experience any bleeding or bright red discharge (not brown or pinkish).
- Your water breaks — especially if the fluid looks green or brown. This could be a sign that meconium, or your baby’s first stool, is present, which can be dangerous if your baby ingests it during birth.
- You experience blurred or double vision, a severe headache or sudden swelling. These can all be symptoms of preeclampsia, which is characterized by pregnancy-induced high blood pressure and requires medical attention.
Natural ways to help labor along
Not in labor just yet … but full-term and itching to get things moving along? There are a few natural tricks that may help induce labor that you can try at home yourself, including walking, sex, spicy food and acupuncture.
That said, there’s not a lot of research to back any of these methods up, and you should always talk to your doctor first before trying anything intended to expedite baby’s birthday.No matter what, as you near the homestretch, your baby will make it known when he’s ready to meet you. So try to just enjoy these last days and weeks of calm before you’re a full-fledged parent!