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Signs of Labor

The day you meet your baby is fast approaching and you have also done a lot of work to get here. Dealing with food aversions, nausea, restless nights, and a finicky bladder was just the tip of the iceberg. But now it is almost over, and with your hospital bag packed and your birth location…

The day you meet your baby is fast approaching and you have also done a lot of work to get here. Dealing with food aversions, nausea, restless nights, and a finicky bladder was just the tip of the iceberg. But now it is almost over, and with your hospital bag packed and your birth location chosen, it has become a waiting game.

So what are the signs that you should head to the hospital? When do you contact your provider that labor has started? Below, we will help you gain a deeper understanding of the birthing process and the confidence to have an empowered birth experience.


Signs That Labor Is Soon:

There are a couple clear signs that labor is approaching. You may experience all or none of these.

  • Lightening: your baby’s head drops lower into your pelvis.
  • Loose Stool: your body begins to flush out everything it no longer needs to grow your baby.
  • More Vaginal Discharge: the hormone prostaglandin prepares the cervix to open. This may cause more discharge.
  • Nesting: the urge to prepare your nursery, pack your birth bag, and fold baby clothes.
  • Pelvic Discomfort: the hormone relaxin loosens cartilage, ligaments, and muscles around your pelvis to start making room for your baby. This can lead to discomfort.
  • Strong Emotions: your hormones fluctuate towards the end of your pregnancy, which leads to mood swings.
  • Tiredness: your body wants to build up energy stores to prepare for birth. This can cause you to feel extra sleepy.
  • Weight loss: your weight might plateau or lower.

Signs That Labor Has Started:

Movies have led people to believe that labor starts with water breakage and rushing to the hospital. In reality, your water breaking might not be your first sign.

Labor is typically a slow process that becomes more intense the closer you get to birth. The beginning of labor may feel like mild menstrual-like cramping. The cramping may happen every couple minutes or have no real pattern.

If you are able to go on a walk, it can be helpful. Being upright and moving helps your cervix dilate and your baby move into position. Make sure to stay hydrated and take breaks if needed.

If you would rather rest during this time, go for it! Resting can also move your birthing process along. Relaxing now will help your body maintain a good energy level during more active labor. Take a warm bath, lower the lights, listen to soft music, and snuggle with some cozy blankets or with your birth partner.

Eventually, those mild cramps will become more intense and follow a pattern. These contractions will feel like a tightening of your belly, either the whole thing or just the lower part. As your contractions become more severe, you may need to use breathing techniques and focus inward. Your birth partner can help you by providing massages and counterpressure. Try to stay relaxed, remembering that everything you are feeling is natural.


When to Contact Your Support Team

As your contractions become stronger and closer together, it is a good idea to start timing them. You can use a pen and paper or a contraction timer app on your phone. Look for an app with an obvious start/stop button and shows the average duration and frequency of your contractions over the last hour.

It is a good idea to call your provider once your contractions follow the 4-1-1 pattern; contractions are about four minutes apart, last for 1 minute, and the pattern has lasted for an hour.

Your provider will ask you some questions to check if you should start heading to your birth location. If you are having a home birth, your midwife will discuss if she should come join you.

Remember, you are in charge of your birthing experience. If you need more support, let your partner, doula, or medical team know. They will do what they can to meet your needs and make you as comfortable as possible.


What to Pack:

Part of the nesting urge that we mentioned earlier can include packing up your birthing bag. However, thinking of all the things you may need can be overwhelming. If you are giving birth at a hospital or birthing center, call ahead to ask what supplies are available. Most birthing locations provide:

  • Postpartum underwear
  • Maternity pads
  • Ice packs
  • Perineal spray
  • Perineal bottle

These supplies will help lessen the load of your bag. Make sure to take whatever freebies your location will give you!

Once you find out the supplies your birthing location will provide, here are some essential items you will want to bring:

  • Loose Clothing: stretchy pants, a loose top, and a soft zip up hoodie should help you feel more comfortable.
  • Toiletries: you may want to do some self-care while you are at your birthing location for hours. A shower, brushing your teeth, or brushing your hair can help you feel better during and after labor.
  • Chargers: to ensure you have a form of entertainment while waiting and so you can take photos of your newborn!
  • Comfort Items: your pillow and favorite blanket can help you feel calm and comfortable during your birthing process.
  • Baby Clothes: since you don’t know how big your baby will be, it’s a good idea to pack a newborn outfit and a 0-3 month outfit. Many parents like to get a fun matching beanie and onesie set for their first photos.
  • Baby Book: this is a good place to store newborn paperwork and keepsakes.
  • Baby Blanket: to snuggle your little one in
  • If you have pets: your baby will likely get a beanie after they are born. That beanie will be covered in their scent and can be used to introduce your pets to their new roommate. Let your pets smell the beanie first and then have them meet your newborn.

Building a supportive birth team that understands your preferences can help you maintain a confident mindset during the labor process. Your support team can inform you of what options are available regarding pain management and comfort.

Robyn offers a digital doula text-based service to support new and expectant parents through pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenthood.

About the Author

Marnellie Bishop, CD, CPD, HCHD, CBE

Certified Birth and Postpartum Doula

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