Signs the Baby is on Its Way
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Let's face it, nine months is a long time to wait for anything in life, let alone something as highly anticipated as a baby. Typically, the estimated due date for most single pregnancies is at the end of week 40, however, full term pregnancy is usually considered to be anything between 37 and 42 weeks. With an acceptable window of more than a month, the guessing game can make you a bit impatient. There are a number of signs that you can look for that may indicate that labour will be starting soon. However, you should note that predicting when you will meet your baby cannot be an exact science and every pregnancy is unique. There is no set of rules that will make the onset of labour possible to accurately predict, but there are a number of symptoms that many women experience in the lead up to labour. The chances are that the more of these symptoms you experience, the more likely it is that labour is on its way. Just remember that there are always exceptions to the rule.
Losing your mucous plug or having 'a bloody show'
During pregnancy, at the opening to the cervix there is a plug of mucous which literally works as a cork. It is clear, thick and gelatinous and provides protection to the uterus and cervix from infection. The mucous plug may become dislodged as your cervix begins to dilate and efface (thin). Many women don't notice the loss of the mucous plug as it could just disappear down the toilet, especially if it were to happen at night. However, you may notice it if you have the lights on or lose it during daylight hours when you might be more observant. It could be in the toilet or may appear on the tissue when you wipe. Alternatively you may find it in your underwear. Losing the plug can also be referred to as having a 'show', or a 'bloody show.
The plug itself should look clear, or have a slight tinge or streak of pink or red blood in it. If you find that you are losing any more than a streak of blood, particularly if it is bright red in colour, then you should call your midwife immediately. Some women don't experience the loss of the plug as one big lump, instead they lose it gradually. This means the plug is often confused with ordinary vaginal discharge which can be quite heavy during pregnancy.
Having a show indicates that your body is preparing for labour, however, your body could be preparing for a labour to occur within days or even within weeks. Noticing the show can be a reassuring sign that things are progressing, but don't get your other half to bring the car to the door just yet; you may not experience any other signs of labour for a little while.
Many women report that in the final weeks or days before labour, they have an energy spurt and a sudden urge to make sure that the house is ready. Of course, it is important that you bring your baby home to a clean house but the nesting instinct can sometimes take women beyond a quick tidy up and a spring clean. The most important thing is that you do not put your health at risk as a result of nesting. If you absolutely cannot rest without that light shade over the stairs being removed and checked for dead flies, then get someone else to do it for you. Spending a little time on your hands and knees may help to get the baby into a good position for labour, but hard scrubbing of the kitchen tiles might exhaust you or put your back out. Prioritise the jobs as logically as you can and make sure that you get help if you need it.
Still feeling lethargic and finding your bottom glued to the sofa? Not having the urge to nest doesn't necessarily mean that you have weeks to wait to meet the new arrival, and neither is it something to feel guilty about. While the nesting instinct is common in all manner of animals, as well as humans, it is not a prerequisite to giving birth. You may well have found that you experienced the urge to prepare your home for the baby months ago, in which case it is no wonder you feel that now is the time to rest.
When the baby drops, or becomes engaged
After what seems like a lifetime of rib-kicking and breathlessness it can come as a welcome relief when the baby 'drops' into your pelvis. When the baby is said to have dropped, it means that its head has lowered into the pelvis in preparation for its exit into the world. This is also known as 'engagement, as the head engages in the pelvis, or sometimes as 'lightening', as the pressure on your diaphragm is reduced. This usually happens around week 36 in first time pregnancies, and later in subsequent pregnancies. If this isn't your first baby then you may find that the head doesn't drop into place until you are actually in labour. Engagement of the head is a good sign that the baby is heading in the right direction. However, as with all signs and symptoms that labour might be on its way, every woman's pregnancy is unique and this is not a sure indicator that things are about to kick off.
Many women report feeling increasingly tired during the final days or weeks before labour begins. As ever, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule and lots of women find that they get a sudden burst of energy often accompanied with an urge to clean the house from top to bottom and to pack and repack the hospital bag. Whichever way your energy levels go, a noticeable change could indicate that your body is beginning preparations for the big day; that could be tomorrow, or it could be weeks away.
In the run up to labour, many women experience loose bowel movements. This is because the cervix is preparing for delivery. This activity stimulates the bowel and encourages more frequent movements. Some people follow the theory that this is an intentional process by the body to empty the bowels and make more room for the baby as it progresses downwards.
Towards the very end of pregnancy, you may find that your weight stabilises, or even drops a little. This is very common and unless the weight loss is dramatic it is nothing to worry about. Usually it is attributed to a combination of a reduction in amniotic fluid and loose bowel movements. If you have also had a sudden burst of energy and spent your time decorating and redecorating then all that hard work might have caused you to sweat a lot.
Many women experience Braxton Hicks, or practice contractions, from as early as the first half of the second trimester. The chances are that you will be having Braxton Hicks before you are even aware of them as they will begin very mildly, but as labour approaches they can increase in intensity and frequency. Naturally, this raises questions in many women as to where the practice contractions end and real labour begins. The key difference will be that contractions during labour will be longer, more frequent and at more regular intervals. They will increase in intensity over time and become painful, unlike Braxton Hicks which are at worst uncomfortable.
Some women experience a sudden loss of appetite in the days immediately preceding labour. If this happens to you then it could mean that labour is imminent, especially if you have experienced some of the other symptoms discussed in this article. However, there are also women who report gorging on anything and everything just before they have their baby, so as always, it is different for everybody. Eat the amount that feels natural to you but be sensible about it. You need energy and so does the baby, so do not starve yourself. Likewise, as with the preceding nine months, now is no excuse to be eating for two.
You can expect to feel fewer big movements from your baby as labour approaches, but you should still feel at least ten movements per hour, however small they may be. By the time labour approaches, your baby has much less room to throw his or her weight around, particularly once their head is engaged in the pelvis. If you haven't noticed your baby move for some time then the chances are that you haven't been concentrating on them or that they have been in a deep sleep. Settle down and focus on your bump for a while to ensure that your baby is still active. If you have any concerns then don't panic, but do call your midwife. They will advise you either to come in for an examination or give you some tips on alternative approaches to feeling your baby's movements.
This is probably the most certain indication that labour is on its way. Generally speaking, most women go into labour shortly after their waters break. Some women are already in labour when their waters break. Regardless of whether your body follows this course or not, provided that your baby is not premature, you will probably be meeting him or her very soon. Even if your labour does not start naturally after your waters breaking, the hospital will probably arrange for you to have labour induced within 24 hours of your waters breaking to prevent infection.
While many of these symptoms may well mean your labour is near, the most definite sign is the last one: your waters breaking. However long you still have to wait to meet your little one, try to relax and enjoy the last few days of pregnancy.