Poll a group of women about their childbirth experiences, and you'll find that no two stories are identical. Labor can present itself through a wide array of symptoms and with varying levels of intensity. For some, it's a mad dash, but often — especially with a first baby — progress happens more slowly (nothing like the movies!). A first labor experience isn't necessarily indicative of what subsequent deliveries will be like, either.
With the help of the experts at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Cleveland Clinic, we've rounded up some of the symptoms that you can expect as the big moment approaches. You may experience some or all of these, and they may mean the baby's coming quickly or that you've got some time to spare. As with all things relating to your pregnancy, call the doctor if you have questions. Welcome to the home stretch!
This information is not meant to be construed as medical advice. Contact your doctor with any questions about your pregnancy.
Similar to menstrual cramps, these can vary in intensity from minor discomfort to the early stages of contractions. Some women experience pain in the abdomen or pelvis, while others feel it in the lower back.
Lightening or Pelvic Pressure
In early labor, the baby descends to the pelvis in preparation for childbirth. This can result in intense pressure in the pelvis, combined with an increased feeling of lightness in the upper abdomen.
The "Bloody Show"
The mucus plug, according to the Cleveland Clinic, is an "accumulation of mucus that forms a seal over the cervix's opening." It's there to protect the baby from unhealthy bacteria outside the uterus. When the cervix begins to open in preparation for labor, the mucus plug can emerge as a singular blob, or as a change in the consistency and amount of vaginal discharge. This is (charmingly!) known as the "bloody show." It doesn't necessarily mean that labor is imminent, but when accompanied by other symptoms, it can indicate that the baby is on their way.
Separate from the bloody show, when the fluid-filled amniotic sac surrounding the fetus ruptures, liquid can emerge from the vagina as a slow trickle, a heavy gush, or anything in between. This doesn't happen to everyone — for some women, the doctor will have to manually rupture the sac to move labor along.
Steady contractions at regular, increasingly frequent intervals indicate that the baby is on their way. Not to be confused with Braxton Hicks false contractions (though it's easy to do so), true labor contractions will generally last between 30 and 70 seconds and feel like a dull ache in the lower back and abdomen. Many doctors suggest going through early labor in the comfort of your own home, and calling them when the contractions are less than five to 10 minutes apart and have been ongoing for about an hour. Of course, you should talk the plan through with your own doctor, and loop them in when it feels like the right time.