Signs Labor Has Begun

The baby’s due date gives an idea as to when the labor could begin. The standard term labor begins anytime between 3 weeks before the due date and 2 weeks after the calculated due date.

Most women feel false labor before they experience true labor. False labor or latent labor is accompanied by typically short contractions which may not be painful.

Labor. Image Credit: Kzenon / Shutterstock
Labor. Image Credit: Kzenon / Shutterstock

The frequency of the contractions is not regular and they do accompany any leaking fluid or bleeding. However, there are some signs that signal that true labor has begun. If the labor is true, contractions will occur regularly and frequently. Contractions will not stop and last for 30–70 seconds and even longer.

Labor will reach lower back area and upper portion of the abdomen. Contractions can get stronger and painful as time passes by. Pregnant women will be unable to talk to others or even laugh at a joke.

Sensing the Six Signs

Six signs that a woman may experience when the labor is near are:

  1. Dropping or lightening
  2. Pink mucus “show”
  3. Changes in baby movement
  4. Water breaking
  5. Diarrhea
  6. Nesting

Dropping or Lightening

This occurs when the head of the baby “drops” into the pelvis. The belly seems to appear lower and women can breathe with ease as the baby does not pressurize the lungs. However, frequent urination is possible as the baby presses the bladder.

For women who are about to deliver their first child, lightening occurs a couple of weeks before the baby is born. For second-time mothers, lightening occurs when labor has started.

When the baby pushes the stomach upward, it causes the acids present in the stomach to move into windpipe, creating heartburn. When the baby is dropped in the pelvis, the symptoms may improve.

Pink Mucus “Show”

The cervix begins to open up and the mucus becomes visible. The mucus plug is a sticky, jelly-like substance that protects the opening of the cervix by preventing the entry of bacteria into the uterus.

The mucus plug passes through the vagina in small amount, termed as “show,” either in one shot or in multiple pieces. As the mucus plug is blood-stained, it shows a pink color.

Normally, blood is mixed in small amount with the mucus; therefore, if more blood is lost, it is a warning sign to contact the physician immediately. Labor may begin right away or may take a couple of days. However, in some women, a “show” is not visible.

Changes in Baby Movement

At the onset of labor, the cervix will open. The contractions of the muscles in the uterus begin at regular intervals. The uterus will relax itself between successive contractions. The baby will keep moving till the labor begins, and this movement will continue during the early labor.

However, the movement pattern may change. Instead of kicking the womb, the baby may squirm or shuffle.

Feeling of movement of the baby provides assurance that the baby is doing well. If the movement of the baby is reduced, it may mean that the baby is in trouble. Talking to a physician helps in these instances.

Reduced fetal movements may be linked to stillbirth. Changes in movement patterns could be a sign that the baby is not well.

When the baby rotates into right position, then women may experience a lower back pain.

Water Breaking

The amniotic sac breaks and the fluid passes through the vagina. The fluid may come out as a gush or sometimes as a trickle. In many cases, contractions begin within 24 h of water breaking. It is advised to let the physician know about water breaking even if contractions have not begun.

At times it can be difficult to differentiate between urine and amniotic fluid. The amniotic fluid is a clear, pale straw-colored fluid, and may be blood stained to a small extent when the water breaks. If the water is colored or smelly or if more blood is seen, contacting the physician will help as the baby may require immediate attention.

Owing to the changes happening in the body fluids, there can be a weight loss of about 2–3 pounds.

Diarrhea

In some women, there is an urge to empty the bowels. If this occurs and if the stools are loose compared to normal stool, then it is a sign of getting into labor. The hormones causing the uterus to contract can sometimes result in diarrhea. Increasing fluid intake and avoiding sugary drinks and milk help improve the condition.

Nesting

Most women get a sudden urge to clean and organize; this is known as nesting. It is considered that nesting is an instinct for preparing for the birth of the baby.

The nipple may leak noticeably during the last few weeks of pregnancy. The milk — colostrum — is a nutrient-rich food for the baby.

Reviewed by Afsaneh Khetrapal Bsc (Hons)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Oct 24, 2017

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