While you’re counting down to D-day, your body is doing some amazing warm ups. This is known as the pre-labour phase, and it can last anywhere from one to four weeks before labour actually begins. Some women get lots of action during this stage, others might not feel much at all. Here (in no particular order) are a few signs to watch for:
1. The baby ‘drops’
As you lumber towards full term, you’ll be feeling impossibly heavy. But then something magical happens in that last month before birth – the baby ‘drops’. This is known as lightening, and it’s essentially the baby settling into your pelvis and getting into prime position for birth (deep and low).
While some women won’t experience any lightening, many first-time mums will feel some kind of dropping sensation. The upside: you’ll be able to breathe a bit easier, since there’s less pressure on your diaphragm and more room for the lungs. The downside: you might start waddling a little, and the extra weight on your bladder means more trips to the toilet.
2. Your cervix dilates
In the weeks leading up to birth, your cervix (the neck of the uterus) will start to soften and thin. This process is kind of like waiting for a door to open wide enough to let the baby out. At first, the changes are slow, and can take days or even weeks. During the pre-labour phase, your cervix will begin to thin, and may or may not be accompanied by mild contractions. Eventually your cervix will dilate to 4cm and contractions will become stronger and more regular – this is when labour is officially ‘established.’
From this point, you’ll move into the active phase, dilating to approximately 7cm with very strong contractions. Then finally, the hard work begins in the transition phase, where the cervix rapidly dilates to 10cm, at which point your baby is ready to be born. Just keep in mind that these markers are a guide only. Everyone dilates differently, and it’s perfectly normal for dilation to take a (very!) long time to progress.
3. You see the ‘bloody show’
The name’s dramatic, but really this is just a blood-stained mucus discharge that occurs anytime during the two weeks before labour. As your cervix dilates, the mucous plug that filled your cervix during pregnancy begins to loosen and come away. It usually looks a bit watery or jelly-like, and may be brown or pink in colour. Some women may not get a show at all, or it could happen during labour. If you notice any bleeding be sure to contact your doctor or hospital.
Don’t worry if you’re experiencing diarrhoea, it’s just your rectum getting in on the action and preparing for labour. Your body will start to empty the bowels more often to make way for the baby, so just try to drink lots of water and keep in mind this is a very good indicator that labour is just around the corner.
Contractions can be a little confusing in this pre-labour phase. You may have been experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions for months prior to delivery, which usually feel like little pinches as the uterus tightens and relaxes. What you’re looking for in pre-labour are real contractions, which are stronger, faster, and closer together. Here are some tell-tale signs of labour contractions:
- They get stronger and don’t ease up
- They come in a predictable pattern, so you can fairly reliably count the minutes between each contraction
- If you change position the pain does not go away
- The pain builds up, plateaus, then reduces
6. Your water breaks
Ignore the movies, the ‘breaking of the waters’ is not always a dramatic flood of liquid. It can also be a slow leak or just a small gush of fluid. Your ‘waters’ should be slightly pink or clear, so if there is any blood or greenish tinge, call your hospital immediately. If it all looks normal, just pop on a pad and call your hospital to tell them your waters have broken. They will then advise you on next steps.