Approaching D-Day

Physical Signs of Labour

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A due date can be a frustrating thing. A quick internet search reveals that only 3-5% of babies are actually born on their due dates. This can leave a mother rather impatient and wondering just how long it will be before she is holding her precious bundle in her arms. While there is no way of knowing precisely when a baby will be born (short of scheduled induction or caesarean surgery), there are some physical signs of labour that may mean your big day is approaching.

  • The baby 'drops'. When we say that a baby drops, also known as lightening, we mean that the uterus has moved down in the pelvic cavity. The baby will tip over to a head-down position (if he wasn't already), which is closer to the cervix. You may feel more comfortable than before. With the uterus no longer pressing on the stomach and diaphragm, breathing becomes easier and heartburn symptoms may fade. Lightening can happen a few weeks or days from birth. Sometimes the baby won't drop until very close to birth.

  • Cervical changes. This isn't a sign that you can easily check for yourself. As you get closer to labour, your cervix will begin to change, becoming shorter and thinner (effacement), and beginning to open (dilation). Even though these changes can't give a sure answer as to when a baby will be born, they are useful in determining that you're getting closer. Your caregiver will check for changes to the cervix during a vaginal exam. During true labour, the cervix continually thins and shortens until it is fully dilated.

  • Bloody show. As the cervix effaces and dilates, the mucous plug will often come out, either all at once, or a little at a time. This is also known as "bloody show". The mucous plug is precisely what it sounds like: a plug made of mucous which is often tinged with blood. The mucous plug fills the cervix during pregnancy and protects against infection. The mucous plug usually comes out within a few days or hours of delivery, though it can come out even earlier.

  • Waters breaking. If you're sitting around waiting for that dramatic gush of water from between your legs, as often depicted in films, you may end up disappointed. While the bag of waters can rupture before labour begins, it usually doesn't. Typically, a woman will have no doubt that she is indeed in labour by the time the amniotic fluid makes its appearance. Sometimes babies are even born with the amniotic sac still intact. However, if your waters break before true labour begins, it means you'll be in labour very soon. Once the amniotic sac is ruptured, the chance of infection rises dramatically. If labour doesn't start within 24 hours of a woman's waters breaking, most doctors will induce labour to protect mother and child from infection.

  • Contractions. Having contractions is the most obvious and surest sign of labour. Unlike Braxton Hicks contractions, which can be felt as early as the second trimester, true contractions come at regular, predictable intervals, with increasing intensity. "False" labour will be irregular, unpredictable, and lessen in intensity. The biggest difference between true labour and false labour, unfortunately, is that true labour is painful, while false labour is not.

Talk to your caregiver if you notice any signs of labour, as only you and your doctor can determine if you are truly in labour. This article is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to replace medical advice.

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