When we imagine what going into labor will be like, most first-time moms-to-be think it will only mean contractions, water breaking, and running towards the hospital to receive their precious baby.
However, less obvious signs of labor may help you prepare in advance, maybe even weeks before delivery.
Even women who have already had babies may not have noticed these signs or at least not connected them with being early labor indicators.
Many changes happen in pregnant women when approaching labor, from physical to emotional to other indicators that need to be detected by a doctor. Some wonder about weird signs labor is near and if they should be concerned.
So let’s break down all those labor signs and what they may mean.
Traditional signs of labor
First, let’s start with the most obvious signs.
Around week 36, you will notice that your doctor will check your cervix and feel for dilation or effacing. Why is this?
As labor approaches, your cervix begins to dilate, soften, and get thinner because it needs to adapt in time to allow your baby’s safe passage through the birth canal.
But this process can take weeks. While it needs to be monitored, changes in your cervix are not a sign of impending labor so long as the changes are not combined with other signs of labor that we will explain ahead.
Once your cervix dilates 10 cm, the baby can be delivered vaginally; less than that is not considered viable for the baby to pass through.
Braxton Hicks contractions
Not to be confused with active labor contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions can begin as soon as in the second trimester but are most common during the third trimester.
These irregular non-rhythmic contractions usually last 30-60 seconds and are a way for your body to prepare for the real contractions.
They’re also known as practice contractions because they give you the chance to practice your breathing exercises and let your body get familiar with what’s to come.
Braxton Hicks may be uncomfortable but rarely painful.
You will mostly feel how your abdomen hardens and contorts. The main difference between Braxton Hicks and actual labor contractions is that the Braxton Hicks contractions don’t happen in regular intervals that you can track, and the discomfort or pain doesn’t increase.
As labor approaches, contractions will become more frequent and intense. Still, some pregnant women reported never having experienced these, which is normal and not a sign that anything is amiss.
Baby dropping or lightening
You may notice that as the due date comes near, your bump may be slightly lower than before, and you may breathe better and have less heartburn. This is because the baby changes position in preparation for birth.
The baby’s head needs to position itself on the pelvic area. Therefore, this change in position makes the baby’s weight push the bump downwards, making your belly seem lower.
The side effect of this change is that the baby’s head will put pressure on your bladder and bowels, which generally leads to more frequent trips to the toilet.
It may sound ominous, but a bloody show simply means losing the mucus plug.
The mucus plug is a barrier that forms in the cervical canal in early pregnancy and blocks the entrance of bacteria or infection to the uterus.
As your cervix dilates in preparation for delivery, the mucus plug will loosen and fall out, sometimes entirely and sometimes in parts.
It’s referred to as a “bloody show” because it may have some blood traces on it as it comes out, not because you will bleed everywhere or there will be actual bleeding.
To identify if your mucus plug has dislodged, check your underwear for vaginal discharge. If you notice a jelly-like sticky substance that’s clear, white, or tinged with blood, it may be your mucus plug.
The bloody show may happen around week 37. In some cases, it doesn’t happen at all if the mucus plug gets pushed out by the baby on the way out.
However, if you notice signs that the mucus plug has dislodged before the 37th week, contact your health care provider as soon as possible.
The baby is nested inside a sac of amniotic fluid. For the baby to get out, the sac needs to be broken.
We’ve all seen in shows and movies, or even read in books, that once that sac bursts and water comes gushing out, it’s game time.
But this may not always be the case and may be less obvious than what is shown in Hollywood.
Yes, in many cases, as water breaks, the amniotic fluid can come out in a gush, but sometimes it is more subtle.
You may experience leaks of amniotic fluid that may even be confused with peeing your pants or having some spurts, not the full-on waterworks.
Sometimes, this never happens, and a medical professional must puncture the amniotic sac to accelerate labor.
Be aware that once your water breaks, you need to contact your doctor and most likely get your hospital bag because real labor contractions will begin if they haven’t started. Pretty soon, you’ll be welcoming your baby.
Active labor contractions
Contrary to Braxton Hicks contractions, these happen at regular intervals (that you can track with an app or a timer); those intervals begin to shorten as labor progresses and can be painful.
Early contractions may feel like menstrual cramps; regardless of changing your position, the discomfort won’t ease until the contraction passes.
Contractions are an imminent sign of labor, but you don’t need to run to the hospital until they’re about 5 minutes apart unless you live far from the hospital or your medical provider recommends otherwise.
Once labor begins and mild contractions appear, it may take a while, but they will increase in frequency and intensity and may become very painful nearing the delivery time.
You must contact your healthcare provider for instructions and follow-up as soon as labor starts.
Doulas provide excellent support during this process, but if you feel you will be more comfortable and less stressed out in a hospital, go ahead.
Weird signs labor is near
The following unusual signs are often overseen, and if you don’t pay attention to these changes, you may miss the clues about the early stages of labor.
As pregnancy progresses, you will notice soreness in your lower back, spine, joints, and legs. It’s usually attributed to pregnancy fatigue and carrying the water weight or body weight.
But the true culprit may be the release of a hormone called relaxin.
In preparation for childbirth, relaxin relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis and softens and dilates the cervix.
However, the effects of this hormone are not exclusive to the cervical area; it also loosens the joints in the whole body, including on your spine.
Aside from changes in posture to accommodate your growing body, your center of gravity changes when your baby drops. Your levels of relaxin hormones rise.
All these changes take a toll on your body which is now trying to balance everything, causing soreness and pain.
Stomach issues and diarrhea
Most mothers have reported having stomach issues during the pregnancy, like morning sickness and sour stomach, both of which ease during the second trimester, but they may come back late second and third trimesters.
Diarrhea may or may not be a sign of labor because many things can cause it. However, if pregnant women experience diarrhea or loose stools during the final weeks, it may be a sign of labor within 24-48 hours.
This is a way for your body to flush your system in preparation for labor, and it’s caused by prostaglandins, a hormone-like compound that promotes uterine contractions.
If a pregnant woman is experiencing diarrhea, it’s essential to keep her hydrated to prevent other complications.
Some women experience weight loss even while keeping a healthy appetite. And this may be a result of water weight loss in the days leading to the due date.
Many women have said that before giving birth to their first baby, especially during the last few weeks, they felt an urge to accommodate, organize, clean, and an overall need to have everything ready for the baby’s arrival.
The nesting instinct has kicked in and has been linked to a surge in estrogen levels. It may also serve as a coping mechanism for stress related to the changes ahead.
Women experience nesting combined with mood swings and feeling emotional, so you will notice that while they have a burst of energy that drives them to plan and move around the house constantly, they may avoid social encounters and gatherings.
Labor hormones wreak havoc in your body in the days leading to giving birth. On top of the anxiety, weird things may happen.
Changes in sleep patterns
Among those unusual signs, changes in your sleeping pattern may occur. Such changes are very relative, and it doesn’t happen to everyone.
In the days leading to labor, some women notice that they may experience sleepless nights, while others rest better than before.
The mental change that happens in late pregnancy may be the cause, but try to get as much rest as you can before your due date (even if it’s not at night, napping is an option as well) so that when labor begins, you have all the energy you’ll need.
Pet owners have said that in the early stages of labor, they notice that the family pet starts acting weird.
They may become overprotective or simply want to always be around the mom. One reason may be because domestic animals may perceive a change in the pregnant woman’s scent that’s not perceptible to humans.
So if you notice this, it may be a pleasant sign that baby is coming soon.
How long after water breaks do contractions start?
As soon as your water breaks, it’s like a countdown begins.
Typically labor contractions start immediately, but delivery may take longer.
But it’s generally agreed that labor will begin within the next 24 hours once your water breaks.
Once your amniotic sac breaks, you will need to be closely monitored by medical professionals to assess the progress and prevent complications.
As a mom-to-be, it’s better to be armed with information to be more prepared for the days ahead.
If you know the changes you will experience during pregnancy and labor; you will not be surprised by how weird such changes may seem.
Instead, you will focus your energy on the excitement of childbirth and welcoming your bundle of joy.