You’ve spent months preparing for the day your child is born — yet you might still wonder when it’s really time to get to the hospital, birthing center or wherever you plan to deliver. This can be especially true if you’ve had increasingly strong Braxton Hicks contractions in the last trimester.
When are you really giving birth?
“Your body has undergone a lot of changes in recent months,” confirms Dr. Marie Smith, an OBGYN at Geisinger Lewistown Hospital. “But as labor draws close, you’ll get some new signs that let you know you’re about to give birth. Watching for these clues can help you know when it’s really time to contact your doctor or midwife.”
When does baby drop?
One of the first things you might notice is the baby “dropping” — also called “lightening.” That means your child has moved down in your uterus in preparation for birth. While you won’t see a change, you’ll probably feel like it’s easier to breathe, because the baby is no longer pressing on your diaphragm and ribs.
This change in position might also mean you’ll need to urinate more often, because your baby is now pressing down on your bladder. And if you’ve already been waddling when you walk, that will likely increase.
All of this can happen from a few weeks to a few hours before labor begins, but it’s a sign that your baby’s birth is being set in motion.
“Bloody show” – it’s normal
As your “labor day” draws near, you’ll also lose your mucus plug and have what’s called “bloody show.” Because the mucus plug isn’t really solid, you may not even know when this takes place, but you can watch for stringy discharge that may be clear, pink or lightly tinged with blood. This will happen anywhere from days to minutes before delivery.
Another sign that you might miss? Surprise: It’s when your water breaks. This isn’t usually dramatic, like movies would lead you to believe. In fact, it’s sometimes mistaken for one of the urine leakages that many pregnant women experience. However, it’s important to call your doctor if you suspect your water really has broken.
“This means the amniotic sac that has protected your baby has ruptured — which is natural and expected,” Dr. Smith says. “However, once that happens, there’s more chance for infection. Call your doctor, who can determine if you’ve moved one step closer to labor.”
Dr. Smith adds that contacting your doctor is especially important if the fluid is greenish, brownish or foul-smelling, which could be a sign of infection or the presence of meconium, a substance from the baby’s bowels.
Finally, you’ll know you’re in labor when you begin to have strong, regular contractions. These differ from Braxton Hicks, also known as “false labor,” in several ways.
- They come at regular intervals, from 30 down to 5 minutes apart.
- They increase in strength and duration as they get closer together.
- You can’t stop them by moving around or doing relaxation exercises.
- You feel them first in the lower back, moving to the front — or in the opposite direction.
When you experience contractions like these, you’re in labor, and it’s time to contact your healthcare provider, who will begin to monitor other things, like cervical thinning and dilation.
All of your preparation — from eating healthy foods to preparing a nursery — has led up to this moment. Congratulations and best wishes for a healthy delivery!