As your due date creeps closer, you might feel even more in tune with your body than ever before. Every cramp and every twinge can make you wonder: Is this it? Am I in labour?
The reality is that getting that baby out is a long process, and your body will start to prepare for labour and delivery several weeks before the big day actually arrives. Here are some of the early signs to look out for that might mean your little one is getting ready to make an appearance soon. Remember that these symptoms can occur in any order, and some pregnant mamas will experience some, all, or even none of these signs in the weeks leading up to their labour.
Important Early Labour Signs and Symptoms:
An increase in Braxton Hicks contractions:
As early as 24 weeks, you might feel these “practice” contractions, which will feel like a tightening or hardening of the uterus. While they can be uncomfortable, these contractions aren’t usually painful. Although they don’t always mean that labour is soon approaching, many expectant moms find that they come more frequently as they near the end of their pregnancy.
Your baby “drops”:
If you’re a first-time mom, expect your baby to “drop”, or move lower into your pelvis, as they’re getting ready to come out. This usually happens around two to four weeks before labour starts. For subsequent births, babies often don’t drop until you’re actually in labour. The good news about the baby descending lower in your body is that you’ll likely find you can breathe a bit easier since they’re no longer pressing on your diaphragm – but the bad news is that you might feel more pelvic pressure and a more frequent urge to urinate.
Nausea or loose stools:
If you’re finding yourself needing to visit the bathroom more often, that could be an uncomfortable early sign of labour. Many women experience nausea, vomiting, loose stools, or diarrhea as labour nears. Just as the muscles in your uterus are relaxing as your body preps for birth, so too are all of your other muscles, including those in the rectum.
Your cervix begins to dilate:
In the days or weeks before you deliver, your cervix will start to dilate as it prepares for birth. At your check-ups in the home stretch of your pregnancy, your doctor or midwife might check to see if your cervix is beginning to dilate – but don’t get too excited if they say that you’re a few centimetres dilated already. Some expectant moms can be two to three centimetres dilated for a few weeks, without having any contractions yet. It’s not considered to be active labour until you are four centimetres dilated.
An increase in vaginal discharge:
Many pregnant women find that they have more vaginal discharge throughout their pregnancy, and sometimes this will increase even further in the weeks and days leading up to labour. This is just one of the ways that your body is preparing for your baby to pass through the birth canal, along with your cervix dilating.
When you’re pregnant, the pregnancy hormone relaxin makes your ligaments loosen up in preparation for birth. Before you go into labour, you might notice that your joints will feel even more relaxed. This is your body’s way of opening up your body, and particularly your pelvis, to make it easier for your little one to come on out.
Your weight gain slows:
As you near the end of your pregnancy, you may find that your weight gain slows down. Some moms-to-be may even lose a few pounds – but don’t worry. Your baby is still gaining weight, but you might see a small dip due to lower levels of amniotic fluid, more bathroom breaks, and maybe even increased activity if you’ve been feeling more energized in the home stretch.