The Common (And Not-So-Common) Signs of Early Labor

Clues that your little one might soon make their grand appearance.

The weeks before your baby is born can be some of the most exciting weeks of your life…

…But, they can also drag on for what seems like two and a half centuries.

Not only are you constantly second-guessing every little twinge, but you’re just plain tired of not knowing what’s happening. You’re probably asking yourself question after question. Is baby coming now? Why do I feel this way? Is something wrong?

Although each pregnancy is as unique as each mother, here are some clues to help you figure out what’s really going on in there and what you can expect.

6 Common Signs of Early Labor

Following are six of the most common signs of early labor. Take note that the term “early labor” is debatable in some circles. Some view it as the latent phase of labor while others consider it the moments leading up to the latent phase. No matter which school of thought you belong, here are the leading six signs.

1. You Experience “Lightening”

Otherwise known as your baby “dropping” lower into your pelvis, lightening (not lightning) is a common sign that labor will soon begin. Though it’s not exactly a good indicator of how soon labor will begin. Though every pregnancy is different, this typically happens anywhere from two to four weeks before delivery. Especially for first-time moms.

Some women have described lightening as a sudden twinge of discomfort when baby is shifting to a more head-engaged position. Others recall a refreshing sense of relief for their lungs since baby’s new position gave them more room to breathe. Remember that baby moving lower into your pelvis usually means more pressure on your bladder, too, often resulting in frequent trips to the restroom.

2. Your Water Breaks

Although Hollywood generally depicts the birthing process entirely wrong, it did get one thing right – water breaking as a sign of labor. Except in the movies, babies arrive like 4.765 seconds after the epic “gush” happens. If only!

When your water breaks, it’s your amniotic sac rupturing and the amniotic fluid leaking out of your vagina. Depending on where the rupture happens, usually the bottom or side of the sac, you may experience this in a few ways.

Some women feel the Hollywood gush while others sit down to pee and just never feel like they stop. There are some women who only notice a small trickle with a slight gush when they move. One way to know what you’re leaking is simply to smell it. Both amniotic fluid and urine have very distinct smells.

3. Your Cervix Dilates

This is a symptom that most people are familiar with, as well. Some women are trained to check their own cervix, but you’re not typically expected to do this. Besides, during your weekly visits, your doctor will likely check your cervix anyway.

Your doctor is watching for your cervix to open (dilate) and thin out (efface). In vaginal births, it’s necessary for your cervix to dilate and efface completely. Often, women begin dilation and effacement several weeks before giving birth while others don’t show any progress until right before giving birth.

Each mom-to-be is different, but it’s always exciting when this sign does appear because you know you’re on the homestretch of pregnancy.

4. You Have Back Pain or Cramps

Although you may have experienced back pain for much of your pregnancy, your body could bump it up a notch for this event. Many women experience the kind of dull back pain that comes with menstrual cramps. In fact, this is actually pretty common.

Another symptom that often accompanies back pain is cramping. Again, these cramps will feel a lot like menstrual cramps. Really, they’re more annoying than anything. All this back pain and cramping are simply your body beginning to stretch and shift to prepare for birth.

For some, this back pain goes away. Others get to experience back labor, which is another ballgame altogether. Click here for details on what back labor feels like.

5. You Feel Progressing Contractions

Contrary to what many believe, contractions aren’t always in a huge hurry. More often than not, they work like a freight train. Contractions have a reputation for a slow start, but then end up steady and strong by the time you’re ready to give birth.

For first-time moms especially, contractions can be tricky. Braxton Hicks contractions have likely been annoying you for the latter part of your pregnancy. Plus, some women experience prodromal labor, which can make distinguishing real from false contractions very difficult.

The best way to tell the real ones from the false contractions is whether they progress or not. Keep in mind that Braxton Hicks contractions will ease up if you change positions and prodromal labor will just stop suddenly.

6. Your Vaginal Discharge Changes Color

Seeing blood in your undergarments usually freaks out expecting moms. But, there is one time that you’ll probably be glad to see it. Many women experience what’s known as “bloody show” shortly before labor begins. It’s a sign that your body is getting ready for labor.

Bloody show happens when the cervix dilates and softens. This change often bursts capillaries in the cervix resulting in vaginal discharge with blood in it. Often, it’s bright red, but can also be anywhere from light pink to dark brown.

Though not always, bloody show often happens after losing the mucus plug. The mucus plug is what protects your baby from the outside world. Some women even see their mucus plug when it’s released, which also tends to be blood-tinged.

6 Not-So-Common Signs of Early Labor

Following are six signs of early labor that some books tend to leave out or simply don’t greatly emphasize. You might not experience any of them, or you might experience all of them. More than anything, it’s comforting to know that there could be a reason behind what you’re feeling.

1. You Drop a Few Pounds

Directly before labor begins, you might see something that you haven’t seen in a while. You could very well see the scale stop moving or even show that you’ve lost weight. Though it’s normal to gain weight during pregnancy, it can still be tough to handle at times.

So, to see the scale decrease or level off can be a sign of relief. If you lose any, the pounds you lose in this stage will be water weight, and typically happen in the last few days before labor begins.

Some women who experience this sign have reported a weight loss of about a half a pound a day during the last few days of pregnancy. It’s usually between one to three pounds total. To gauge your weight accurately, remember that it’s important to weigh yourself at the same time each day.

2. You Are Overwhelmingly Fatigued

Feeling tired and feeling overwhelmingly fatigued are similar, but fatigue is more intense. Especially for expecting moms who can’t seem to sleep longer than a few hours, this early labor sign is going to be frustrating.

You may have trouble doing any kind of work requiring you to stand up like washing dishes or pushing your toddler on the swing. Granted throughout pregnancy, you were no stranger to the feeling of being tired. Carrying around another human life is a lot of work!

This fatigued feeling sort of hits you like a brick wall. Rather, it feels like a ton of bricks has been dumped on you. When you experience this kind of fatigue, then you might be closer to delivering than you think.

3. You Get the Urge to “Nest”

If you feel an unexpected burst of energy sandwiched by the fatigue mentioned above, it may be your body telling you to get ready for baby-having time. This sign of early labor usually has women deep cleaning, rearranging, decluttering, and organizing like crazy.

You might be so excited that you feel like doing something that you do everything. All the things, you want to check off all the things from your to-do list!

Perhaps this is just your body’s way of cutting you a break. After all, pregnancy has likely exhausted you, oncoming labor will exhaust you, and a newborn is pretty exhausting, too. It doesn’t exactly seem fair, but this one last burst is often viewed as a jumpstart on the whole labor process.

4. You Feel Restless, Moody, or Can’t Sleep

Pregnancy is well-known for providing us women with extreme mood swings. You may have noticed that during pregnancy you were more sensitive or emotional. It can be a lot to handle! Take heart that these mood swings are completely normal and you can blame hormones for that.

Mood swings are an early sign of labor, too. But these mood swings are more than just you having a bad day or weepy moment. They can seem completely out of character for you. You could feel emotional, withdrawn, moody, or even depressed and just want to be alone. More than anything you will feel restless and most women suffer from insomnia at this point, as well.

5. Your Joints Feel Incredibly Loose

The hormone relaxin has loosened up your ligaments and joints during your entire pregnancy. You may have noticed that you aren’t as graceful as you were pre-pregnancy. Of course, the big belly can be blamed for any clumsiness, as well.

In attempts to open up the pelvis, your body sends a final surge of joint-loosening juice throughout your body. Your joints will feel more relaxed and flexible. Some women claim that they feel like Rubber Man because of how loose their body is. Many women stop walking as their exercise regime simply because they’re body seems so loosey-goosey and off balance.

6. You Have Hot Flashes or Diarrhea

Hot flashes aren’t just for menopausal women, but you’ve probably already figured that one out. Pregnancy can produce hot flashes of its own! Plus, they are a sign of early labor, too. This can happen up to two weeks before labor begins and is often worse when you lie down.

Like mentioned before, everything in your body is relaxing and preparing for birth. Even muscles are loosening for birth. What this can also mean is that you may experience loose stools. For some reason, hot flashes and diarrhea often come in a pair. When you get one, you get the other, too.

Whether this is your body’s way to clear the pipes, your baby is putting pressure on your intestines, or your rectum is in relax mode, it can be annoying. Just remember that it’s totally normal, so stay hydrated and take it as a good sign!

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