What Are The Signs of Early Labor?

A black and white image depicting a pregnant woman holding her belly.

Did you know that only about 5% of pregnant mothers end up giving birth on their due dates? As it turns out, your baby is much more likely to be born within the two weeks before or after your assigned due date. But if your baby will arrive before their due date, how are you supposed to know when they’re on the way? As it turns out, several signs can indicate the development of early labor. Here are the top signs that your little one’s big day is coming that all expecting mothers should be on the lookout for.

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The Baby Drops

Anywhere between a few weeks to a few hours before labor starts, a baby’s head has the potential to drop down into the pelves as part of the preparation for their birth. If this occurs, women can experience pelvic discomfort, excess heaviness, and an increased frequency of urination. Some women may find that they also have an easier time breathing once their baby shifts down and away from their diaphragm.  

Your Cervix Begins to Dilate

Your cervix is a thumb-long section at the end of your uterus that extends up into the innermost part of your vagina. Throughout most of your pregnancy, the cervix should be closed, but it will become thinner, shorter, and begin to open (dilate) as you approach labor. The amount of time that it may take for the cervix to dilate fully can range from only a few hours to as much as a few weeks. It will typically enlarge to about 4 inches (10 centimeters) by the time the labor comes due

Onset of Diarrhea

Hormones known as prostaglandins will start to kick in a day or two before the onset of labor to help soften your cervix. These hormones can often result in diarrhea. While that is unpleasant, to be sure, emptying your bowels can allow your uterus to contract more effectively during labor. 

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Your Cramps and Back Pain Worsen

As you reach the end of your pregnancy, you’re more than likely to experience some back pain that will come and go. If that back pain starts to get increasingly worse and won’t go away, it may be a sign that you’re beginning to go into early labor.

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You Begin Nesting

 A pregnant woman holding up an ultrasound photo.

As the date of your baby’s birth begins to approach, you may suddenly find yourself experiencing bursts of energy alongside a desire to organize, clean, and prep your home for the arrival of your little one. This behavior is known as nesting, and it may be an early indication that labor is on its way. It’s a beautiful feeling to get everything ready for your baby’s arrival by folding their cute little clothes, sterilizing their bottles, and arranging their toys. However, you have to be careful that you don’t overdo yourself with physical labor. Be sure to take plenty of breaks and get sufficient amounts of rest as you go.

Weight Gain Stops

There’s a good chance that you have been packing on the pounds during your pregnancy’s third trimester. Once labor is approaching, you’re likely to see the scale stop ticking upward. Women will usually lose between one and three pounds from their water breaking and the increased urination that occurs before labor.

You Lose Your Mucus Plug

Your cervix is sealed with a type of plug composed of a kind of sticky mucus throughout your pregnancy. Once your cervix begins to dilate, this plug will break down and may cause the release of a thick discharge a few days before labor. However, women must know that this discharge should only be slightly blood-tinted, not bright blood red. If you see large amounts of fluid that is significantly blood-like in appearance, please reach out to your doctor immediately. 

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You Develop Stronger, More Frequent Contractions

The development of frequent, strong contractions is one of the primary signs you may be going into or are already in labor. It's possible that you may have been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions up until this point. These are a type of “false labor” pains that can help your body start to prepare for labor but don’t cause your cervix’s dilation. Braxton Hicks contractions are typically unpredictable and uncomfortable but don’t tend to be outright painful. Once real contractions begin, they will be much more powerful, frequent, and should eventually start coming at regular intervals that you can track. These real contractions may feel like stomach pains, strong menstrual cramps, or intense lower back pains. 

Conclusion

A woman holding her pregnant stomach and a small pair of baby booties.

As you approach your final weeks of pregnancy, you’re probably going to be more than a little eager to get your little one out into the world so you can finally see them face to face. During this point, every new sensation you experience may feel like a sign of labor. Carefully watch for the symptoms above, but try not to jump the gun and be sure to keep as calm as possible during this time. Even if you are experiencing early labor signs, actual labor may still be a few days- or even weeks!- away. You may find it difficult to concentrate on anything else in the meantime, but try to make sure that you’re giving your body the rest it needs. You’re going to require as much energy as you can possibly get once it’s time for your little one to make their big entrance.  

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