The Process of Labor
How Do I Know When Labor Will Begin?
It is most important that you trust your body when you go into labor. Remember your body was built to carry, nourish and safely delivery your baby. Some of the factors that affect the course of labor include your health, nutrition, emotional makeup, size and shape of your pelvis, size and presentation of your baby, your educational preparation for labor and birth, and the practice of exercises, relaxation and breathing techniques. During labor, the emotional support you receive, along with medical interventions, may also affect the course of labor.
Each labor is unique. No one can predict exactly what your individual labor will be like, or when it may begin. However, prior to the onset of labor, you will notice some signs that are nature's way of telling you that labor is approaching. If you are not sure, call your physician or midwife to discuss your labor signs. In the event you are evaluated at the hospital as being in very early labor and sent home, it is common to feel disappointed, maybe even embarrassed. It is common for first-time mothers to make more than one trip to the hospital. If you are in early labor and sent home, the following may be helpful: walking, showering, resting, drinking fluids, renting a video, listening to music, etc.
The most common warm up signs that labor may soon begin include:
- The baby "drops" or engages into the pelvis (called lightening.) Lightening may occur two to four weeks prior to labor in first-time mothers and often not until labor begins if you have previously had children.
- Your abdomen usually appears lower and more protruding.
- You may experience a greater ease in breathing, relief from heartburn and an ability to eat larger portions.
- However, the lower position of the baby together with its greater size, can lead to:
- Increased backache and sacroiliac (hip) discomfort
- Increased awkwardness in walking
- Increased frequency of urination
- Frequent bowel movements may be experienced within 48 hours of labor, cleansing the lower bowel in preparation for birth.
- Diarrhea or flu like symptoms. Indigestion, nausea, or vomiting are common a day or so before labor begins.
- Increased vaginal discharge during the last few weeks of pregnancy as the body prepares for the passage of the baby through the birth canal.
- Increased Braxton-Hicks contractions during the last weeks of pregnancy, which are "practice" contractions that prepare the uterus for labor and may cause some effacement and dilation (thinning and opening) of the cervix. These contractions do not ordinarily cause pain but may be sufficiently strong and regular to be confused with true labor. This is referred to as false labor.
- Possible "bloody show" or the release of slightly brown, pink or blood-tinged mucus from effacement and dilation (the thinning and opening) of the cervix, causing the mucus plug to be released from the cervix.
- Some women notice a sudden burst of energy, sometimes called a "nesting instinct" approximately 24 to 48 hours before the start of labor. You may feel a strong desire to clean the house and prepare for the baby. Try not to tire yourself as nature gives you this extra energy to help you during labor. If you must be active, be careful not to overexert yourself!
- A loss or leveling off of weight may be noticed in the last few days before labor begins. It is common to lose 1 to 3 pounds of fluid before labor begins as a result of hormonal shifts.
- Mother just feels "different," not quite herself.
- The bag of water may break. Depending on the location of the break in the amniotic sac, the break can feel like a gush, or an uncontrolled trickle of fluid coming from the vagina.