Warm-Up Signs of Labor

Prior to the onset of labor, you will notice several signs indicating that it is approaching. Some will happen several days or even weeks in advance. Others will occur when labor is imminent.

“Lightening”, or dropping, refers to the fetus’s head settling into the pelvis. After lightening, your abdomen may appear lower and protrude more. (See Figures 6.1 and Figure 6.2). You will be able to breathe easier and to eat more at one time. In addition, you may feel relief from heartburn. However, lightening increases the pressure in the pelvis, possibly causing greater frequency of urination. You may have increased backache because of the lower position of the fetus as well as its greater size. Your center of gravity will change with the new angle of the baby, which may cause you to become more awkward when walking. In addition, finding a comfortable sleeping position may be difficult.

Try using relaxation techniques and extra pillows. If this is your first baby, lightening may happen 2 to 4 weeks before the onset of labor. With subsequent pregnancies, it may occur earlier or not until labor begins.

Your vaginal secretions will increase during the last weeks of pregnancy as your body prepares for the passage of the baby through the vagina. Effacement (thinning) and dilation (opening) of the cervix may start weeks before the onset of labor. Your mucous plug, a slightly brown, pink, or blood-tinged mucus, may be released.

Anxiety and depression are very common as the due date approaches or if it passes without labor beginning. Try to remain occupied and active.

A loss or leveling off of weight may be noticed in the last few days before labor begins. You could lose as much as 2 to 3 pounds due to excretion of excess tissue fluid. About 24 to 48 hours before delivery, some women notice a spurt of energy. You may have an urge to clean the entire house, wash floors or carpets, clean closets or do some other chore that require a great deal of work. Do not give in to this “nesting” urge! Nature gives you this extra energy to help you during labor.

Hints for the Labor PartnerDuring the warm-up phase:

  • Spend time with your partner—for example, take her out to eat, take her out on a “date”, accompany her on long walks.
  • Continue to give your partner prenatal perineal massages.
  • Help your partner pack her hospital and Lamaze.
  • Keep your car’s gas tank full.

Frequent bowel movements may be experienced within 48 hours of labor, cleansing the lower bowel in preparation for birth. You may notice more frequent Braxton-Hicks contractions. These contractions, named after the man who first described them, can be felt as early as the fourth month of pregnancy. These “practice” contractions prepare the uterus for the labor and may cause some effacement and dilation to occur during the warm-up period. They do not ordinarily cause pain, but may be sufficiently strong and regular during the last weeks of pregnancy to be confused with true labor. When this happens, it is called “false labor”, or prelabor. For a comparison of prelabor and true labor contractions, see “True or False Labor“.

True or False Labor
Prelabor can be differentiated from true labor only by an internal examination. However, there are certain signs that can help to distinguish the two. These signs include the following:
True Labor Prelabor
The contractions may be felt more in the back The contractions are felt more in the abdomen
The contractions become stronger, last stronger, and come closer together over time. The contractions do not increase in intensity or length, even though sometimes they are strong and close together.
A bloody or pink mucous discharge is usually present These is no bloody mucous discharge.
The contractions continue or become more intense with a change in activity or a warm shower. The contractions slow down or become less intense with a change in activity or a warm shower.
The contractions continue after eating. The contractions slow or stop after eating.
     True labor contractions effect changes in the cervix, causing it to thin out and open, while encouraging the baby to descend through the pelvis. Prelabor contractions do not do this.