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signs of labour pains, early signs of Labour, early signs of labour approaching, 1st signs of labour, sign of true labour pain

How can you tell if you are about to go into labour?

Nearing your due date? It is the time to recognize the early signs of labour. This can help be prepared, grab the “go bag” and reach your hospital to welcome the little one.  

Many a time, initial symptoms of labour are vague and easily misinterpreted. Whether it is your first pregnancy or not, you can always get confused with dull labour cramps and discomfort after a heavy meal. Or even your water breaking or urine trickling thanks to the pressure on your bladder. To help you figure it out, here is a list of early signs of labour approaching.  

Early signs of labour pains

These symptoms don’t manifest in any particular order and can occur a few days before the start of your labour.  

Increase in vaginal discharge 

During pregnancy, the cervical opening is closed shut by a thick plug of mucus. This helps prevent bacteria from entering the uterus. In the third trimester, this plug is pushed into your vagina. This generally causes an increase in vaginal discharge that may be clear, pinkish or bloody. However, if this discharge is as heavy as your period, get in touch with your obstetrician. 

A sensation of your baby descending

This feeling is also called “lightening”. This term is used to describe the feeling of the baby’s head settling deep into your pelvis. You might also notice a change in the shape of your abdomen. You may also feel like you can breathe more freely. This is because the baby is no longer pressing on your diaphragm. This can happen anywhere from a few weeks to a few hours before you begin your labour. 

Slight weight loss 

As you approach your labour, you will notice that you have stopped gaining weight. Some soon-to-be mothers also report to have lost a few kilos. This is completely normal and should have no effect on your baby’s birth weight. This weight loss is generally attributed to lower levels of amniotic fluid, increased urination and sometimes increased activity. 

Dull pain in your lower back that can come and go 

It is reported that muscle cramps and pain in the lower back and groin as labour approaches, is more common in women who are giving birth again. This is because your muscles and joints are stretching and shifting in preparation for the birth of your little one. 

Loose and frequent bowel movement that may be accompanied by cramps 

As the muscles in your uterus relax in preparation of birth, other muscles, including the ones in your rectum relax as well. This results in diarrhoea, a common complaint amongst women approaching labour. It is important that you keep yourself hydrated to compensate for the loss of fluids.  

Feeling restless 

Some mothers reportedly become more restless or experience a burst of energy as they go closer to their due date. They may feel an inexplicable urge to clean and organize everything around them. This is called the “nesting instinct”. It is completely normal. Just remember to get plenty of rest as there you won’t be guaranteed much sleep after the birth of your baby.  

Increase in Braxton Hicks contractions 

Braxton Hicks contractions are sometimes called practice contractions. They feel like tightening or hardening of your uterus with mild cramps and are often mistaken for labour. Braxton Hicks contractions generally ease up with time unlike real labour contractions. They also go away by changing positions. Real contractions become closer and more intense with time and generally fall into a regular pattern. 

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If you experience any of the following symptoms, you are probably going to go into labour quite soon. So, get in touch with your doctor if you notice any of these 1st signs of labour.  

  1. Your water breaks. Contrary to popular belief, water breaking is not a dramatic gush of fluid onto the floor. It feels more like a tiny trickle of urine that is often mistaken for a slight urine leakage. This is because your baby’s head will most likely block too much fluid from leaking out. Water breaking is not a very reliable sign of labour though, as it happens in only around 15% of births or lesser. 
  2. Start of the “bloody show”. During the pregnancy, the cervix remains closed and plugged up with mucus. This is to protect your baby from infections. As you progress into labour, your cervix would dilate and soften. This releases the “mucus plug”. It can be dispelled as a blob or a runny smear. It can look brown or pink. Once you notice the “bloody show”, labour is probably around the corner. 
  3. Increase in back pain can also be a sign of labour based on your baby’s position. This is especially true if your baby descends into your pelvis with its skull pressing against your spine. Excruciating back pain is a tell-tale initial sign of labour pains arriving soon.
  4. Contractions can vary amongst women and is often described as a pounding, tightening or stabbing pain. It can feel like a more severe form of menstrual cramps. They are more intense when compared to Braxton Hicks contractions. When contractions are less than ten minutes apart, it signals the onset of true labour pains. 

Read: Caesarean section delivery – What to expect

It is generally advised that you start preparing your hospital bag and do trial hospital runs a few weeks before your due date. This will not only keep you ready for when junior decides to arrive but also give you the confidence to complete your pregnancy with minimum stress. 

Read: Tips to get you started on your postpartum weight loss journey

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Author: Dr Astha Dayal
Dr. Astha Dayal is an esteemed obstetrician and gynaecologist in Gurgaon. She cleared her MRCOG certification in London, UK, and is a member of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynecological Societies of India. She has over 16 years of experience in the medical and surgical management of women’s health with an emphasis on high-risk pregnancies as well as advanced laparoscopy.
 
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