As the pregnancy comes to a close, there are signs and symptoms mom will need to look for in order to recognize the beginning of labor. During the last trimester of the pregnancy, the changes in the body of both mom and baby are happening at a lightning pace. Baby is gaining more weight every day and mom is feeling that weight gain paired with the body preparing for the birth of the new baby.
What is Labor?
Labor is the act of baby moving from the womb to the outside world through contractions and changes in the cervix. The female body has precisely planned out the entire 40 weeks of gestation and when the body says the time has come for baby to leave the womb, the process of active labor will begin. Labor can be spontaneous or it can be induced.
In order to prepare for labor, the uterus will take some time to practice the art of the contraction. These contractions are often mild and do not mark the start of active labor. These early contractions are called Braxton Hicks contractions and some can be felt while others are simply lost in the aches and pains of being in the latest weeks of pregnancy. Braxton Hicks contractions after 37 weeks of pregnancy are normal, but if they happen before 37 weeks, more than 3 weeks before your due date, then you should immediately call your doctor because they may signal premature labor.
From Training to Active Labor
After weeks or months of training, the female body will be ready to kick those contractions into full gear and labor will begin. In order to recognize these new pains and active labor, there are a few labor specific body changes to watch out for.
You know you are in active labor:
- When contractions are painful
- Contractions last longer than 30 seconds
- Contractions are coming in a regular, measurable interval, usually less than every 3 minutes.
- Contractions worsen as time goes on.
Prior to or during labor the following can happen:
- Lower back pain will appear and be persistent enough to make mom feel uncomfortable. This lower back pain may feel as though you are about to start a menstrual cycle.
- The mucus plug blocking the cervical opening will pass out through the vagina. The plug may appear as a white spot on the underwear when using the bathroom. Passing the mucus plug can happen hours, days, or weeks before labor. Or it can happen during labor.
- A brown discharge may appear in the underwear. This brown liquid may appear to be mixed with a mucus consistency matter.
- The amniotic sac breaks, also known as the breaking of the bag of waters.
These signs are all visible to mom at the later stages of the pregnancy and the earliest stages of labor. The obstetrician, on the other hand, will be able to recognize changes happening to the cervix that may also mark the onset of labor. Upon a vaginal exam, the cervix will feel thin and the plug will be gone. The cervix may be dilating in preparation for the baby to move through the cervix and into the vaginal opening. Cervix dilation is measured on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 meaning it is time to push.
Labor is a unique experience where the body prepares for the birth of a child. When labor starts early, there are medications that can help to calm the muscles of the uterus when paired with rest and relaxation.