As your due date inches closer and closer, you might be feeling many things at once: excitement, nervousness, and the beginning signs of labor. Though you can’t predict exactly when labor will start (only about 5% of babies are born on their due dates), the following symptoms could mean you’ll be meeting your bundle of joy sooner rather than later.
The baby drops: If you feel a heaviness in your pelvis, less pressure in your ribs, and an increased urge to urinate — yes, even more so than throughout pregnancy so far — it could mean your baby is dropping. Sometimes called “lightening,” this usually happens two to four weeks before giving birth. That said, it can happen earlier or later, and some people don’t notice any changes.
Contractions: Braxton Hicks contractions, which are typically sporadic, can show up several weeks before labor. Since they can be uncomfortable, some pregnant folks may think they’re in labor when they’re not. But even if it ends up being a false alarm, you may still want to check with your healthcare provider. In the final weeks of pregnancy, “real” contractions will kick in. When labor and birth are right around the corner, you can expect contractions to be increasingly intense, painful, and frequent. Healthcare providers often recommend you go to the hospital or birthing center when your contractions are three to five minutes apart, so it’s a good idea to start timing them. You can do this within your contraction timer in Ovia.
Cervical changes: As birth approaches, contractions cause your cervix to begin thinning and dilating. During early labor, you might notice more mild, irregular contractions as your cervix thins and you dilate the first few centimeters. In active labor, you’ll probably start to have those more painful contractions every few minutes, as we mentioned above.
Bloody show: Despite its somewhat spooky name, “bloody show” can be a part of late-term pregnancy, and it can be a sign you’re going into labor soon. When your cervix starts to open, and the mucus plug loosens (or dislodges completely), you might notice slightly bloody vaginal discharge. Bloody show is often clear and slightly pinkish in color, but it can be brown or red too. If you see a significant amount of blood or are unsure how to tell what’s “normal,” don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.
Digestive Upset: For some people, it’s diarrhea, and for others, it is a return of nausea or food aversions of the first trimester. Often just before labor begins, our bodies experience some unexpected and unpleasant digestive changes. If you’re unsure if the cramping you’re feeling is from diarrhea or contractions – be sure to give your OB provider a call.
Water breaks: Your water breaking (or “amniotic sac rupturing” in medical terms) might be the most well-known sign of labor. Though it often happens all of a sudden in movies, it’s actually less common for a person’s water to break before labor starts. It’ll usually occur at the beginning or during labor — at which point you may already be experiencing contractions or settling in at the hospital, birthing center, or home birth setting. If your water breaks before labor (which is known as prelabor rupture of membranes or PROM), you might notice about a cup’s worth of clear, odorless fluid flush out all at once. You could also experience a slower leak with smaller amounts of wetness over the course of a day or two. If you think your water broke, be sure to call your healthcare provider, especially if it is green, yellow, or brown in color.
Labor is different for everyone. Some feel it coming for weeks, while others experience almost no obvious signs until it’s go time. Many people also report emotional changes prior to going into labor, like sudden energy to clean (often called nesting) or tearfulness at the slightest thing. Having said that, we encourage you to get in touch with your provider if you’re ever unsure about a symptom. False alarms happen, and it’s always a good idea to ask questions and play it safe when it comes to your pregnancy.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Pregnancy and birth: When your baby’s due date has passed. 2018. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279571/
- Michigan Medicine Healthwise Staff. Pregnancy: Dropping (Lightening). University of Michigan. 2019. Web. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/aa88159
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. How to Tell When Labor Begins. 2020. Web. https://www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/labor-delivery-and-postpartum-care/how-to-tell-when-labor-begins
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Stages of labor and birth: Baby, it’s time! Mayo Clinic. 2020. Web. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/in-depth/stages-of-labor/art-20046545
Mayo Clinic Staff. Water breaking: Understand this sign of labor. Mayo Clinic. 2019. Web. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/in-depth/water-breaking/art-20044142