What are the common & first signs of labour

Will you know the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions, false labour and the real thing when the time comes?

Common signs towards the end of your pregnancy:

  • Lightening (two to three weeks before in first-time pregnancies) which allows a woman to breathe more deeply. Near the end of your pregnancy, your baby will move down. When this happens, you will be able to breathe better and will feel less burning in your chest and throat after you eat. If this is your first baby, this may happen two to three weeks before you go into labour. If this is not your first baby, this may not happen until closer to the time you will give birth.

  • Increased urge to urinate because there is more pressure on your bladder.

  • Weight loss of 0.5-1.0kg. This is usually “water” being lost.

  • Increased backache and pelvic pressure due to baby descending in preparation for birth.

  • Increased vaginal secretions and/or diarrhoea. As your body is preparing for birth, you will notice more vaginal discharge and may experience diarrhoea.

  • A sudden burst of energy for 24 to 48 hours getting everything ready for the baby. This is called the ‘nesting instinct” – when a pregnant woman is making sure everything is in order for her baby’s arrival.

  • Ripening of the cervix. This is the cervix softening and thinning in preparation for birth.

Signs of impending labour:

  • Loss of mucus plug/bloody show

While you are pregnant, you have a thick mucus plug in your cervix. As the baby’s birth gets closer, your cervix begins to thin and open, and the plug may come out. You may notice a pink, red, or brown discharge – this is called bloody show. It is a sign of your cervix changing shape and your body preparing for the birth of your child.

  • Bag of water breaks

Your baby is inside a bag of water (amniotic sac) in your uterus. When the baby is ready to be born it is normal for the bag of water to break. This may happen before labour starts, early in labour or when the baby is almost ready to be born. When it happens, you may have a little or a lot of water leaking from your vagina. Sometimes women do not know whether this is water from their uterus or urine. If you are not sure, call your healthcare provider. When your water breaks, remember to record the time when the bag of water broke, the amount of fluid, colour and the smell of the fluid.

  • Contractions

When the uterus contracts (get tight), rests and then gets tight again, it is called a ‘contraction.’ During the course of labour and up until your baby is born your body will experience many contractions. Pain associated with childbirth mainly comes from these contractions. All the contractions and pushing move your baby down the birth canal, to be born into this world.

What do contractions feel like?

Late in your pregnancy, you may have contractions (uterus tightens, rests, and tightens again) that are very strong. They may come and go for hours or days and then stop. These contractions are helping your womb (uterus) get ready for birth and are called pre-labour, practice or Braxton Hicks contractions.

Real labour contractions feel like:

  • Menstrual cramps or gas pains

  • Lower back pain radiating around to the front and back again

  • Wavelike in the beginning

  • Becomes more intense as the labour progresses (strong, longer, more painful)

  • Usually, you will not be able to talk, laugh or sleep through a contraction.

Later on, you may also have nausea, vomiting, chills, painful backache, tremors and a sense of desperation.

How do you time your contractions?

By learning how to time your contractions, you will know when you are in true labour. Time your contractions when the contractions come closer together and/or the contractions get stronger or when your water breaks.

It is advisable to time for at least three contractions in a row to see what the pattern is.

Write down:

  • When each contraction begins and ends.

  • How far apart the contractions are.

  • How long each contraction lasts.

  • How strong the contractions feel.

What should I do if I experience these first signs of labour?

During early labour, it is best to stay at home. Take a shower, have a light meal, walk around and REST are great ways to cope with early labour. You do not need to go to the hospital or midwifery unit straight away. You should only go to your place of birth if:

  • you are bleeding from your vagina.

  • your contractions are five to six minutes apart and are also increasing in intensity. (Your healthcare provider may ask you to go to the hospital earlier).

  • your water breaks.

It is always a good idea to communicate with your care provider about your specific situation.

What can make you think you are in labour but are not?

“False labour” or prodromal labour, is a common experience as you approach your due date. There is also a difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and prodromal labour, as prodromal labour is more than the quick, tightening feeling of a Braxton Hicks contraction. It is somewhere in between Braxton Hicks and labour contractions. As you may experience multiple “contractions”, you may think you are in real labour and thus prodromal labour is very confusing and can be frustrating as it feels almost like the real thing! But it isn’t – the contractions may dilate or soften your cervix a bit, but they don’t lead to imminent birth.

Prodromal labour is usually erratic in time and intensity and no clear pattern can be established. For a varied amount of time they may come every three minutes, then 10, then five and then 15 again. Most of the times it’s felt in front of the uterus and you may even be able to sleep through them, albeit uncomfortably so! If the contractions stop when you use the bathroom, bath or shower, drink water, change positions, or lie down, then they’re probably not the real thing.

The most important difference is that real labour mostly occurs at regular intervals and closer together as time goes on. Generally, contractions during labour last about 30 to 60 seconds, getting longer as labour progresses. They also increase in intensity, don’t change with movement or position, and are often felt in both the front of the body and the back.

This article was originally written for and published by Baby Yum Yum: https://babyyumyum.co.za/what-are-the-common-first-signs-of-labour/

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