Signs of Labor
As you reach your due date your focus will probably shift to watching for the early signs of labor and waiting in anticipation for the moment you'll get to hold your baby in your arms for the first time.
It's impossible to predict when labor will start and you need to be psychologically prepared for childbirth for two weeks before your estimated due date and two weeks after the estimated date. The good news is that it's rare for a woman to go instantly into heavy labor and there'll be some signs of pre-labor.
Some signs that indicate labor might be starting soon include mild to moderately uncomfortable cramps, a persistent dull ache in your back that makes you restless, soft and frequent bowel movements, a nesting urge and PMS-like symptoms. These symptoms don't guarantee that your baby will be arriving soon so it's a good idea to continue your normal routines.
Other preliminary signs include contractions, but be aware that non-progressing contractions called Braxton-Hicks contractions are common. They tend to be irregular in length and frequency and the discomfort is usually felt only in the front of the abdomen. They can be moderately painful, but can ease with a change of position or activity. False labor helps your body get ready for actual labor by ripening and effacing the cervix and moving it into an anterior position.
Bloody show or a releasing of the mucus plug is common near the end of the pregnancy and can mean labor is imminent. The bloody show is thick and made of pinkish mucus. A little blood is normal but you should contact your doctor or midwife if there's more blood than mucus.
If your water breaks, there's an 80 percent chance that you'll go into labor within 24 hours.
Signs of Preterm Labor
Preterm labor happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy but after 20 weeks gestation. No one knows the cause of early labor stress, multiple fetuses, or uterine or cervical abnormalities are all considered risk factors.
Signs of early labor are the same as signs for full term labor. If you suspect you're in preterm labor, contact your health care provider immediately. He or she may tell you to go to the hospital right away for an evaluation. You may be told to rest on your left side for one hour or you may be told to drink two to three glasses of water or juice.
Stages of Labor
There are four stages of labor: early labor, the first stage, active labor and delivering the placenta. In early labor your cervix slowly opens and thins out. The next stage happens when your cervix is about four centimeters dilated. The first stage of labor is the more intense and contractions are so strong you won't be able to talk through them. They'll last 60 to 90 seconds and will increase in frequency towards the end of this stage. The transition period between the first and second stage of labor can be incredibly intense as your cervix dilates from eight to a full ten centimeters. The second stage is sometimes also referred to as the pushing stage. In the final stage of labor your placenta will separate and you'll deliver it.
Induction is the process of starting or speeding up labor artificially through the use of medication or other techniques. Inducing labor is common if a woman is more than two weeks past her estimated due date. It's also done if the mother suffers from preeclampsia where the only cure is the birth of the baby. You'll also be induced if your water has broken and labor hasn't started in order to reduce the risk of infection to your unborn baby and your uterus. Low levels of amniotic fluid, health problems with the baby or an improperly functioning placenta are also reasons for induction.