When you’re near the end of your pregnancy, you might feel a bit like a ticking time bomb waiting to go into labor at any minute. You’ll be hyper-aware of your body, and every twinge can make you think, “Is this it?” Here are some of the most telling signs and symptoms that labor (and meeting your baby) is around the corner.
Losing Your Mucus Plug
If you go to the bathroom and notice bloody, brown or red-tinged discharge, you might be experiencing what’s known as “bloody show.” When you’re pregnant, a mucus plug develops to block the opening of the cervix. And when your cervix begins to dilate (open) and become thinner (efface) in preparation for labor, the mucus plug comes out.
Losing your mucus plug can make vaginal discharge appear brown or pinkish in color (as opposed to the colorless and odorless pregnancy discharge you’ve likely been experiencing throughout your pregnancy), and may come out in small bits, large clumps or streaks of mucus. While losing your mucus plug is a sign that your body is certainly preparing for labor and delivery, it’s important to remember that active labor could potentially be days away.
Experiencing contractions that become stronger, more consistent, and more frequent is one of the biggest indicators that your body is preparing for birth. In the early stages of labor, contractions might feel similar to a very strong menstrual cramp. You might also experience pain in your back or pelvis when these contractions occur. You may also notice that during each contraction, your belly hardens, which is the muscles of your uterus tightening up like a fist and then relaxing. As labor progresses and gets more intense, you may not be able to walk or talk during them.
Keep your eye on the clock or use a timer to track your contractions so that you can easily see if there’s a consistent pattern forming. There are a lot of apps that can help you time and track your contractions, but using a pen and paper works too.
Here’s how to time your contractions:
- Write down the time at the beginning of the contraction
- Write down the time at the end of the contraction
- Do the math: write down the length of the contraction
- Write down the time at the beginning of the next contraction
- Do the math: write down the time between each of your contractions
Your provider will typically advise you to head to the hospital when your contractions are nearing “5-1-1,” meaning they are five minutes apart (or less), last about one minute in duration, and happen consistently for at least one hour.
If your contractions aren’t falling into a pattern (or come and go sporadically), you might still be in the early stages of labor, or you may be experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions. Try to move around and sip water during your contractions. If they ease up or stop, they’re likely Braxton Hicks. If they continue and keep getting stronger and more frequent, you’re likely in labor.
The beginning of labor isn’t always like you see in the movies, where a pregnant woman’s water suddenly breaks—although this certainly can happen. In fact, it’s possible your water won’t break at all, and your provider will break your water in the hospital using a special tool (also known as an amniotomy).
If your water does break, you might notice a large gush or a continuous trickle of amniotic fluid. If you suspect your water has broken, call your provider. They can do a quick test to determine if it’s amniotic fluid or urine. As you may know, many pregnant women can leak urine later in their pregnancy.
You should also take note of the color of your amniotic fluid. It should be pale yellow, and odorless or slightly sweet smelling. If you notice a green or brown color, call your doctor right away as baby might have had a bowel movement (known as meconium) in the uterus. A useful way to remember what to look for when your water breaks is the acronym “TACO”—take note of the Time of your water breaking, the Amount of fluid, and the Color and Odor of the fluid.
Women often go into labor shortly after their water breaks. However, if this doesn’t happen, your provider will likely induce labor to prevent your risk of infection. Many providers induce labor within 24 hours of your water breaking (if not sooner) in order to keep you and your baby as safe as possible.
If you’re unsure if you’re in labor, or have questions about anything that’s happening in your body or with your baby, give your provider a call. They’ll be able to ask questions to determine if you should come to the office or hospital for an evaluation, or if you should continue to labor at home.
If you experience any of the following, you should go to the hospital immediately:
- You’re bleeding heavily from the vagina
- You have constant, severe contractions with little to no relief in between
- You notice that your baby is moving less often
Wishing you luck as your approach your due date, mama. You’ll be meeting your sweet baby soon enough!