If the movies spoke truly to labour, preparing to deliver would combine a straightforward sequence of waters breaking, painful contractions and an impossibly clean baby placed on your chest – not to mention an instant recovery! While waters breaking and contractions are often part of the lead up to giving birth, here are some of the less obvious signs that labour is approaching and it’s soon time to meet your baby!
- The mucous plug. Also referred to as ‘the show’, the mucous plug resembles a thick blob of mucous that passes as the cervix starts to dilate in preparation for delivery. The mucous plug collects throughout your pregnancy in the cervical canal. While it’s about as pleasant it sounds, it actually acts as a barrier to prevent unwanted bacteria and other sources of infection from travelling into the uterus.
- Your baby ‘drops’. Medically known as ‘lightening’, your baby descends into the pelvis generally a few weeks before labour begins. While you might be taking even more trips to the bathroom as the baby’s head pushes on your bladder, you will also have a little extra breathing room!
- Your cervix dilates. In the days or weeks before delivery, your cervix begins to dilate (open) and efface (thin out), which is detected by your doctor during a pelvic examination.
- Cramps and back pain. As your muscles and joints shift and stretch in preparation for delivery, you may feel some cramping and pain in your lower back and pelvic region.
- Braxton-Hicks contractions. Sometimes referred to as ‘false labour’, Braxton-Hicks contractions usually occur towards the end of your pregnancy (sometimes earlier). They typically resemble a tightening or hardening sensation across the belly that do not occur at regular intervals.
- Loose bowels or diarrhoea. Alongside the muscles in your uterus, those in your rectum also begin to relax in preparation for birth. While this is natural (and annoying), remember to stay hydrated!
- Changes in vaginal discharge. You may notice an increase in vaginal discharge, as well as changes in consistency and colour that could appear anywhere from brownish to pinkish.
- Sudden nesting urge. Some women experience a burst of energy that drives them to clean and organise everything in sight in preparation for bringing baby home. While this is natural, be sure not to overdo it!
- Fatigue. Conversely, as discomfort and sleep disturbances increase, you may feel an intense exhaustion as you approach the final stages. Be sure to pile up on pillows and take naps wherever possible.
- Waters breaking. Rupture of the amniotic sac will lead to the release or leakage of fluid. This is typically not a dramatic gush, but rather a trickle or slow dripping. Despite how often this is portrayed in films (in the middle of a restaurant or supermarket aisle), many women don’t actually experience this until they are well-progressed into labour. So, don’t count on your waters breaking as a sure sign of nearing labour!
When approaching the final stages of your pregnancy, remember that everyone’s experience is different, so don’t worry if you ‘miss out’ on one or more of these symptoms. If you have any concerns or questions about your pregnancy or labour, always direct them to your doctor or midwife. And remember, though these signs and symptoms may be uncomfortable and irritating, they each serve a positive purpose that will bring you closer to meeting your baby!