Probably every woman who tells you about her labor experience, tells you a different story. Your delivery will be just as unique. However, the following information will prepare you for when "Labor Day" is just around the corner.
ONE: Lightening: You can breathe again! This is an indication that the baby has dropped, settling deeper into your pelvis and relieving some of the pressure on your diaphragm, so you are not as short of breathe. You may feel increased pressure on your bladder, which means more trips to the bathroom. Others may comment on your changed appearance, or you might not be aware of it at all.
TWO: Bloody show: Loss of mucus plug. During pregnancy, a thick plug of mucus protects your cervical opening from bacteria entering the uterus. When your cervix begins to thin and relax, this plug is expelled. Some women think the plug will look solid like a cork, but it is actually stringy mucus or thick discharge. It can be clear, pink or blood tinged and can appear minutes, hours or even days before labor begins. Not all women notice this sign.
THREE: Rupture of membranes: Your water breaks. Only 1 in 10 woman experience a dramatic gush of the amniotic fluid and even then it usually happens at home, often in bed. Sometimes the amniotic sac breaks or leaks before labor begins. This may be just a small trickle. It is common to be uncertain about whether leaking fluid is amniotic fluid or urine - many pregnant women leak urine in the later stages of pregnancy, so be sure to have it checked. Until you see your physician or midwife do not use tampons, have sexual intercourse or do anything that would introduce bacteria to your vagina. Let your doctor know if the fluid is anything other than clear and odorless, particularly if it's greenish or foul smelling, because this could be a sign of infection. Your doctor should discuss what to do if your membranes rupture. Most doctors want to evaluate you and your baby as soon as the membranes rupture, because of the risk of developing infection. Your doctor may decide to induce labor.
FOUR: Nesting: Spurt of energy. For most of the pregnancy you have probably been fighting the urge to take a nap, so you'll know when you experience this. One day you will wake up feeling full of energy! You'll start making hundreds of list of things to do, things to clean, things to buy and everything you've put off doing will become a high priority. In all your preparations, don't forget that "Labor Day" may be just around the corner so save some energy.
FIVE: Effacement: Thinning of the cervix. Usually in the last month the cervix begins to stretch and thin. This process means the lower segment of the uterus is getting ready for delivery. A thin cervix will also allow the cervix to dilate more easily. Your doctor will check for effacement in the final 2 months of pregnancy. Effacement is measured in percentages. You may hear your care provider say,"You are 25% effaced, 50% effaced, 75%..." The Braxton Hicks contractions or "practice contractions" you have been experiencing may play a part in the effacement process. You will not be able to determine your effacement process, but by doing an internal exam each visit, your care provider will keep you informed of your progress.
SIX: Dilation: Opening of the cervix. Dilation is the process of the cervix opening in preparation for childbirth. Dilation is measured in centimeters or, less accurately, in "fingers" during an internal (manual pelvic) exam. "Fully dilated" means you're at 10 centimeters and are ready to give birth. In the same way that your care provider will be checking for effacement in the last 2 months, your care provider will also tell you how many centimeters your cervix has dilated at each visit.
One sure sign labor is really happening is if you're experiencing consistent contractions. When you begin to experience regular uterine contractions, this is the strongest indication that you are in labor. This is the time to get your notebook to record the exact time each one begins, and how long it lasts. These contractions feel like menstrual cramps or a low backache that comes and goes at 20 to 30 minute intervals. Gradually, the aching or cramping becomes stronger and lasts longer. When your contractions are 5 minutes apart, it's time to call the midwife or go to the hospital.
Labor Contractions Have the Following Characteristics:
- They are regular
- They follow a predictable pattern (such as every eight minutes)
- They become progressively closer
- They last progressively longer
- They become progressively stronger
- Each contraction is felt starting in the lower back and then radiating around to the front or visa versa
- A change in activity or position will not slow down or stop contractions
- There may be bloody show
- Membranes may rupture
- Your doctor or midwife will notice cervical changes, such as ripening (softening), effacement (thinning), or dilation
Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association