With discussions of Braxton-Hicks Contractions, false labor, true labor, pre-labor contractions, round ligament pain and all sorts of other pains and cramps, you may be worried that you won't know when you're really in labor. In The Pregnancy Book by William Sears MD and Martha Sears, RN, they discuss the "1-5-1 formula." If your contractions last for at least 1 minute, are 5 minutes (or less) apart, and continue for at least 1 hour, you are probably in labor.
Here are some of the signs that labor is approaching. You may not experience all of these symptoms or be aware of them . . .
Lightening ~ aka the baby dropped ~ You may notice one day that there is a space between your breasts and abdomen that you didn't notice yesterday. As you get closer to your due date, the baby will drop into your pelvis (called lightening). This can happen weeks before delivery or even the day of delivery. You may not even notice.
Bloody Show ~ aka the mucous plug ~ Your mucous plug is a collection of secretions that seals the opening of the cervix. As the cervix thins and relaxes, the plug is dislodged and will look like stringy pink or blood-tinged mucous. (It won't look like a plug.) Labor could be imminent or days away.
Rupture of Membranes ~ aka your "water broke" ~ The "water" is actually the amniotic fluid surrounding your baby inside your uterus. Although you may have heard horror stories of women's water breaking in restaurants or while shopping, in reality, only 10% of women's membranes rupture before labor begins. When it does occur, it may trickle out or gush. Discuss with your care provider what s/he would like you to do in the event your water breaks before labor starts.
The Nesting Urge ~ aka you want to clean everything in sight ~ I must confess that this has never happened to me whether I'm pregnant or not. But if you wake up one day with lots of energy and you want to tackle some things you've been putting off or just HAVE to have everything prepared for the baby, you'll know it's that old Nesting Urge kicking in. It happens to most females of the animal kingdom ~ one of those primal instincts.
Effacement ~ aka ripening of the cervix ~ Unless you have an exam and your care provider tells you your cervix is effacing, you won't realize it. Your cervix is usually an inch or so thick during pregnancy, and it will begin to thin (efface) out. If you're 50% effaced, your cervix is half its original thickness. If your cervix is 100% effaced, it has completely thinned out.
Dilatation ~ aka opening of the cervix ~ Dilatation is the process of your cervix opening up to allow for passage of the baby. Full dilatation is 10 centimeters.
Diarrhea ~ aka you know this one ~ Your birth hormones can cause abdominal cramps and loose stools. This is nature's way of emptying your intestines to make room for the baby's passage through the birth canal.
Contractions ~ aka OUCH those labor pains! ~ You've been having contractions for most of your pregnancy as your uterus and body prepare for the "big event." Most of these contractions are painless or felt more as pressure or a feeling of tightening that isn't painful. Towards your due date, these Braxton-Hicks contractions may increase in frequency and intensity.
False labor pains are usually in the lower abdomen and groin. They usually don't follow a regular pattern and will stop regardless of your activity.
True labor contractions tend to start at the top of your uterus radiating down through your abdomen and lower back. They will develop a regular pattern and grow in intensity and frequency. A change of activity will not stop true labor.
Still not sure if you're in labor? Don't be embarrassed! Call your care provider, get out the stop watch and start timing.