Prelabor Signs Explained
Lightening and Engagement
This is often referred to as when "the baby drops." There will come a time toward the end of your pregnancy when you might notice the baby sitting lower than before. This usually occurs sometime between two and four weeks before labor. This sign of prelabor usually happens only with the first baby. With this prelabor sign, you'll find it's become easier to catch your breath.
Increase in Braxton Hicks Contractions (Practice Contractions)
These practice contractions become more frequent and intense as true labor draws closer. Braxton Hicks contractions can occur as often as every 10 to 20 minutes, which makes some women believe they are early signs of labor. However, if the contractions don't get longer, stronger, and closer together (with a corresponding dilation of the cervix), then they are likely just a part of so-called "false labor."
Increasing Pressure in the Pelvis and Rectum
Menstrual-type cramping and groin pain are common signs of prelabor, especially in the second and later pregnancies.
Changes in Energy Level, Mood, or Habits
As true labor draws near, women can experience changes in energy levels -- either becoming more fatigued or more energetic. You may also experience the nesting instinct, such as the irresistible urge to clean the refrigerator or the house.
Change in Vaginal Discharge
You may notice more vaginal discharge that is either of an egg-white consistency or pink-tinged. This prelabor sign differs from the "bloody show" or loss of the mucus plug discussed next.
As the cervix thins and dilates, small blood vessels within the cervix frequently rupture, tinting the mucus pink or streaking it with blood. This "show" usually means labor will start within 24 hours, but it could still be as much as several days away.
Losing the Mucus Plug
The mucus plug is the small amount of mucus that has sealed the cervix for nine months during pregnancy. You may lose your mucus plug as early as one to two weeks before the signs of true labor appear, or just as labor itself is beginning. As the cervix thins and dilates, the plug isn't large enough to fill the space anymore. The plug may come out all at once, or it may come out slowly in the vaginal discharge over a couple of days.
Some women experience loose stools prior to the onset of labor.
Rupture of Membranes
When a pregnant woman experiences a rupture of membranes (also referred to as her "water breaking"), it simply means that the amniotic sac in her uterus has burst and released the amniotic fluid. This can be the result of a strong contraction or the baby's head pushing through the membranes. When this happens, there will be a watery discharge from the vagina in a trickle or a gush. Usually, contractions will get stronger after the water breaks. Your water may break before, during, or after labor begins. No matter when your water breaks, you should call your doctor.
(Click Signs of Labor to compare prelabor signs to signs of true labor.)