When you find out you’re pregnant, all you want is to meet your bundle of joy as soon as possible. In movies, it’s simple and easy: A woman experiences contractions, goes into labor, and voila — the baby is there. In reality, it’s not that simple.
So, is there a way to predict when you’ll actually give birth?
When you browse for this topic online, you usually come across various pages and websites that will give you information about your week by week pregnancy and claim you can predict when you will go into labor. Some websites even offer a wide range of tests you can do in order to see whether you’re near labor or not. However, doctors agree about one thing — it’s not actually possible to know exactly when you will give birth. Experts still don’t fully understand what triggers the onset of labor. Your body starts preparing for labor up to a month before you give birth.
Some women aren’t even aware of this “preparing process”. But if you’re nearing the time of giving birth, pay special attention to the following signals.
1. Your baby “drops”.
The technical term is dropping or lightening, and it refers to the point when your baby drops lower in the belly and settles deep in your pelvis. For first time mothers, lightning usually occurs at the end of the third trimester, while mothers who have given birth previously may feel dropping just a few hours before they the baby arrives.
So, how do you recognize lightening? You might have a sensation of heaviness in the pelvis and notice that pressure below your ribcage lowered. You will also notice that you can catch your breath easier than you used to, and heartburn occurs less frequently. On the other hand, increased pressure on your bladder will make you urinate more often. Some pregnant women feel pressure on pubic bones and are able to see in the mirror that their belly was lowered; others may not notice the difference at all.
2. You notice Braxton Hicks contractions.
Before your labor begins, you may experience false labor pains that are also known as Braxton Hicks contractions. These contractions are your body’s way to get ready for the labor, but you should bear in mind that occurrence of Braxton Hicks contractions doesn’t mean your labor has begun. You might feel these contractions in the third trimester, or even as early as the second trimester. According to experts, Braxton Hicks contractions are perfectly normal, and you have nothing to worry about. As for how you can differentiate them from real labor, Braxton Hicks contractions:
- aren’t usually painful
- don’t happen at regular intervals
- don’t get closer together
- don’t increase when you walk
- don’t last longer as they go on
- don’t become severe over time
Some pregnant women describe these contractions as tightening in the abdomen that often comes and goes. Most women also report that false contractions feel like menstrual cramps. When you experience false contractions, you usually don’t have to do anything. If they make you feel uncomfortable, here is what you can do to feel better:
- Take a walk (they usually disappear when you change position or move)
- Get some rest
- Listen to music or take a warm bath to relax
- Get a pregnancy massage
3. Your cervix changes.
This is also called ripening or effacement. It’s defined as a process by which the cervix prepares for delivery. After lightening, your baby gets closer to the cervix that gradually softens and becomes thinner. By the time you’re about to give birth, your cervix will change from 1 inch in width to paper thinness. Your healthcare practitioner might check for signs of cervical change with vaginal exams during your last two months of pregnancy. Effacement is measured in percentages, e.g. 0% means no effacement while 100% means the cervix is fully effaced.
4. Your cervix dilates.
Before giving birth, your cervix starts to dilate or open up. Dilation of the cervix is checked during a pelvic exam and is measured in centimeters. For example, 0 cm means there is no dilation while 10 cm means you are fully dilated. At first, this cervical change happens slowly, but you should expect it to dilate quickly in the active stage of labor.
5. Your vaginal discharge increases.
Between week 37 and 40 of your pregnancy, you might spot vaginal discharge that is pink or bloody. This is also known as bloody show. During the pregnancy, a thick plug of mucus blocks the cervical opening in order to prevent bacteria from entering the uterus and harming the baby. When your cervix becomes thinner and starts to dilate, this plug may fall out. Losing the mucous is, in most cases, one of the best indicators of labor (but it’s not a guarantee). In some cases, labor could still be days or weeks away.
NOTE: Bloody show isn’t dangerous. However, if the vaginal bleeding is as heavy as bleeding during your normal menstrual cycle, you should contact your doctor because that would be a sign of a problem.
6. You feel energetic.
You might wake up in the morning and feel energetic, eager to do something. This is known as nesting. Although it’s not quite sure why women feel this sudden outburst of energy, it is assumed it’s due to the primal instinct that leads us back to the times when physical preparations were necessary before labor.
When you start feeling energetic, you should do something: Take a walk, go to a nearby store, etc. Just make sure you don’t wear yourself out. Nesting can begin a few months before the due date, but it is the strongest just before delivery.
7. Your water breaks.
You probably won’t have the Oh my God, my water just broke moment from movies. Instead, when the sac of amniotic fluid that surrounds and protects the baby breaks, it’s more likely to leak from the vagina in a gentle trickle. If you’re uncertain whether the fluid that leaks is water, urine or something else, it is advised to consult with your health care provider or head to your delivery facility right away. Some women experience contractions before the water breaks, but in some cases the water breaks first. When this happens, labor follows soon, and you should call your doctor or midwife.
8. You experience contractions.
This is one of the most obvious signs of labor. During your pregnancy, you have probably experienced false contractions that slowly prepared your body for the big day. It was already mentioned above how you can differentiate real from false contractions. However, most women usually recognize they are dealing with real contractions because they become longer and more severe as they go on. Most doctors create a “plan” for when you will call or head to the delivery room (for example, if contractions last for around one minute, etc.).
When should you call your doctor or midwife?
Toward the end of your pregnancy, your health care provider will give you clear guidelines for when to let him or her know about your contractions or at what point you should go to the hospital. These instructions depend on your condition, and they vary from mother to mother. However, if you suspect there’s a problem with your baby, you should also make sure you call your doctor.
For example, call your doctor right away if:
- your baby is less active
- your water breaks
- you experience heavy vaginal bleeding, in some cases coupled with fever and abdominal pain
- you experience signs of preterm labor
- you experience vision changes, headaches, pain in upper abdomen or other symptoms of preeclampsia.
Although it’s not quite possible to predict when you will give birth, there are some signs that will indicate the big day is near. In the meantime, all you can do is rest and prepare for the arrival of your child.
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