After you have been carrying around your baby for weeks and weeks, you feel more than ready to give birth. However, your baby will come when she is good and ready and there is not much that you can do about it. But as your term draws near, you should begin to keep an eye out for signs of labor. These range from feeling lightness near the chest and heaviness in your lower belly to regular contractions. However, it is necessary to identify the actual signs of labor from the false ones so that you can contact your health care provider on time.

The normal period of gestation for humans is 40 weeks, but nobody can predict to the day when your baby will be born. As your term draws towards end, you may feel scared of the coming experience, but mostly you are eager to give birth because the physical discomforts of pregnancy have become acute. It is a good idea to keep your bag packed and ready for your trip to the hospital and put the finishing touches on the nursery. But when exactly to go to the clinic? Some women often make mistakes in identifying signs of labor and rush to the hospital too soon. In that case, you are likely to be sent home. On the other hand, there are no shortages of stories of women giving birth in cars and on roads because they let it too late. So, it is helpful if you can identify the signs of early onset of labor and know when to go to the clinic.

Stages of labor and what to do in each stage

Women have been giving birth since the beginning of time. There is nothing to worry about the method, but you do need to be able to identify when the baby is coming and when to go to a clinic.

Childbirth occurs in three stages. The first stage is the beginning of labor till the cervix is completely dilated. The Second stage lasts till the baby is delivered while the Third stage is the delivery of the placenta. The First stage often begins at home. It is necessary for you to identify the signs and symptoms of this first phase and what to do when you see the symptoms.

The First Stage of labor is divided into three stages:

  1. Early labor phase
    This is the onset of labor and will probably occur when you are at home. Many women cannot identify when this stage started. It generally lasts from eight to twelve hours. There is no need to rush to the hospital. Instead, you can rest or do light and simple chores like pack the bags and put finishing touches to the nursery. Have light snacks as you are going to need your strength in the coming hours. This stage lasts till the cervix is dilated 3 centimeters.
  2. Active labor phase
    This phase lasts till the cervix is 7 centimeters dilated. It lasts from 3 to 5 hours and you can say this phase has begun when your contraction become more intense and come closer together. This is the time to head to the clinic and practice and breathing and relaxation techniques that you have learnt.
  3. Transition labor phase
    This is the phase when the cervix dilates up to 10 centimeters. It is the shortest phase and can last from half an hour to two hours. Contractions are intense and close together and you will need your full support system to get through this phase. You are very near to meeting your baby.

When to know that labor may begin shortly?

From the above it is clear that identifying the early labor phase may not be easy. By the time the term nears its end, you are so uncomfortable, that some increase in the discomfort can slip by you without even noticing it. So, here are some signs to watch out for that lets you know that labor is imminent:

  1. Your lower belly has become huge. It was slowly increasing, but now, grooming this bikini area has become a complete guessing game. People are no longer talking about your baby bump. Rather, they are giving you sympathetic looks and helping you across the aisle in the supermarket.
  2. You are peeing so frequently that you want to sleep in the bathroom. Frequent urination is common in pregnancy, but now you feel as if you are pushing out much more than what you are taking in. as the baby assumes the position of birth, she moves downwards, creating heavy pressure on your bladder and increasing the urge to pee even more.
  3. You can no longer walk. You waddle and that also not like a cute duck but rather like an ungainly truck.
  4. You are finding it difficult to squeeze into your maternity outfits. Now, yoga pants are your new uniform.
  5. Your nesting instinct has become an obsession.

When you identify the above signs, you should know that labor will begin any moment.

The warning signs of labor

Soon after, the early phase of labor will start. The signs and symptoms are as follows:

  1. One of the early signs of labor is lightening. The baby moves downwards for delivery. So, she is no longer pressing against your rib cage and you will probably be breathing easier than the last forty weeks. This results in a feeling of lightness. The downside is that the baby is now pressing against your bladder leading to a greater urge to urinate more frequently.
  2. Your cervix is plugged by mucus during pregnancy to protect your child from infection. When labor is about to start and your cervix begins to dilate, it is unplugged and the mucus is discharged. This is known as the mucus plug. Sometimes, a blood vessel may tear as dilation begins. In that case the mucus will be tinged by blood. This is called bloody show. It may take hours or even days for labor to begin after the bloody show, but it is an indication that dilation has started.
  3. Diarrhea is a common early sign of labor. In order to soften the muscles of cervix and prepare it for delivery, your body releases a hormone called prostaglandin. This hormone can also hyper stimulate the bowels leading to frequent stools or even diarrhea.
  4. Labor contraction is the obvious symptom that your baby is ready to enter the world, but it may not be so easy to identify. Many women experience false labor or the Braxton hicks contractions and they find it difficult to distinguish between the actual and false labor.
    Here are some ways you can tell:
Actual labor False labor
Regular contractions at slowly decreasing time interval. Irregular contractions with no discernible reduction in time interval.
Continued contractions in every position or activity Contractions cease with changed position or walking.
The intensity increases. The intensity remains unchanged or deceases
They start at lower back and move to the front They are concentrated in the abdomen and pelvis.
Cervix thins and dilates with contractions No change is seen in the cervix.
  1. One third of all pregnant women experience back labor. This is a high degree of pain in the lower back. In normal cases, the baby descends down the birth canal with her face pressed against the mom's spine. This is enough to cause pain in the lower back. But in some cases, the skull of the baby hits the mom's spinal column as she descends. This leads to excruciating pain and is a sure sign of labor.
  2. Breaking of water is the most well known symptom of labor. But this is not the nightmare scenario you are probably dreading with a gush of water descending down your legs in a public place. Most often, it is a steady leakage of water because the head of your baby is actually acting as a plug. This leakage occurs due to the rupture of the amniotic bag. Only 8% of women reported that their water broke before they noticed regular contractions. In most cases, the rupture is preceded by considerable period of contractions. In 80% cases, women whose amniotic sac has ruptured go into labor within 12 hours. In the rest, labor is induced because once the sac has ruptured; the risk of infection is much higher.
  3. Decreased activity of your baby is another sign to watch out for. It either implies that labor is coming or may indicate some complications. In any case, this is the time to consult your doctor. If this is accompanied by lower back pain, bleeding, leakage or contractions at the interval of five minutes or less, it is time to go to the hospital.