Signs of nearing labour – more than waters breaking

Giving birth is not an uncommon scene in movies, so most people would know that a baby is near when the water broke. But did you know that there are many more tell-tale signs that a woman is nearing her labour? If you are pregnant right now, these are critical things to look out for near your due date.

The baby drops

A few weeks before birth, the baby will descend into your pelvis, ideally with the head down and low. This is known as “lightening” in medical terms.

After the baby drops, you will most likely be having more bathroom visits as the baby’s head is now pushing down on your bladder. But on the bright side, you have a little more breathing room!

A “show”

This is a small bloodstained discharge as the mucus plug falls off from the cervix. A mucus plug is essentially the cork sealing off your uterus from the outside world, but could come off in a blob or several pieces of mucus mixed with blood.

The “show” indicates that the cervix is dilating in preparation for delivery. However, some women do not experience a “show” before labour.

During the last days before labour, you will also likely see changes to your vaginal discharge, such as increased and/or thickened discharge in a pinkish colour. This is called a “bloody show”.

Although it’s normal to lose some blood mixed with mucus, losing too much blood is an alarming sign to see your doctor or midwife straight away.

Contractions and cervical dilation

Contractions are your body’s way of pushing the baby down and opening your cervix in preparation for delivery. A fully dilated cervix needs to open about 10cm for a baby to pass through. A dilation to more than 3cm is considered “established labour”.

If this is your first labour, the time it takes from established labour to full dilation is usually between 6 and 12 hours. You practitioners may advise that you wait at home until you have an established labour.

You may have contractions throughout the pregnancy, especially towards the end. These painless contractions are called “Braxton Hicks” contractions.

If you start to have regular, painful contractions that feel stronger and last for more than 30 seconds, you may be in active labour already. Further into the labour, your contractions tend to become longer, stronger and more frequent.

Back pain and diarrhoea

You may feel more cramping and lower back pain because the muscles and joints are shifting and stretching in preparation for delivery.

Just as the muscles in your uterus and back are changing in preparation for birth, so too do the rectal muscles controlling bowel movements. They become looser and make it easier to have “accidents”. But remember, this is completely normal and not an uncommon scene! Just stay hydrated and you are almost there.

Waters breaking

Quite literally, waters breaking is when you feel a slow trickle or a sudden flow of water out of your vagina. It comes from the bag of amniotic fluid that was surrounding your baby.

For most women, their waters break during labours or before labour starts, but there are also rare cases where babies are born inside intact amniotic sacs. When your water breaks, contact your midwife or doctor so that they can check on your other signs of nearing labour.

Now what?

After learning all the signs of nearing labour, let’s talk about how you should cope at the beginning of labour. For a start, don’t panic! Instead, you can:

  • Drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated, drink electrolyte/sports drinks to keep the energy up
  • Eat some food or a snack if you want to
  • Practice relaxation and breathing exercises to calm the nerves
  • Ask your partner to rub your back to relieve the back pain
  • Monitor your contractions and dilations with your doctor or midwife
  • Take a hot bath or shower

Congratulations! You are near the homestretch and will soon meet the long awaited little one. For more information, you can consult Melbourne-based fertility specialist Dr Alex Polyakov.