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How will I know when it's time? Watch for these 5 early signs of labor.

Updated: Oct 29, 2018

One of the most common questions that expecting parents ask me is "How will I know I'm in labor?". While it seems like there should be a simple answer, it turns out everyone experiences early labor differently which can cause a lot of anxiety as you wait for the big day to arrive.

**Note: This list is meant for education and preparation during pregnancy. Always talk to your care provider first if you think you could be in labor.**

Here are 5 signs your baby is preparing to meet you soon:

1. Baby Drops

Suddenly, you can breathe again and your baby bump sits lower on your body. This is a sign, called “lightening”, that baby’s head has engaged in your pelvis and is getting in position for birth. You might notice you’re running to the bathroom every few minutes since baby is positioned right on top of your bladder while they rest lower in the pelvis. This is a sign that labor is approaching, but be aware that this lightening can take place weeks before the onset of labor or in some cases just hours before.

2. Bloody Show

During pregnancy, your cervix collects a thick plug of mucus which prevents unwanted bacteria from entering the uterus and reaching your baby. When the body is preparing to go into labor, your cervix softens and begins to change shape, loosening the mucus plug. You might notice stringy, mucousy discharge often tinged with blood either a few days or a few hours before the onset of labor.

3. Cervical Changes

While you probably won't notice this change on your own, if you have a cervical check at your prenatal appointment your provider will be able to tell you if your cervix is thinning and shortening, called “effacement”. This is the first step in dilation, where the long, firm cervix must soften and thin out before it can begin to dilate. Your provider will be able to tell you the percentage your cervix has effaced, and the centimeters it has dilated which is a clue that the body is preparing for labor.

4. Nesting Instinct

While you might think of the “nesting instinct” as the stuff of urban legend, it is common for pregnant women to experience a sudden burst of energy shortly before the onset of labor. While you may feel constantly tired during the end of pregnancy, this burst of energy is triggered by a release of hormones signaling labor to start. It can be tempting to take advantage of this surge to clean the house or finish painting the nursery, but try to use this as an opportunity to rest and mentally prepare for labor. Don’t wear yourself out staying up half the night before labor begins, instead save that energy for the important work of birthing your baby.

5. Water Breaks

In the movies, your water breaking happens in a huge gush and contractions start up right after the big moment. In real life, this step is often not so dramatic and can happen long before active labor really begins. You may experience a trickle of clear amniotic fluid leaking, and it may come and go if the tear seals itself. Let your care provider know if you think your water has broken or is leaking and follow their instructions. Pay attention to the amount, color, and odor and share this info with your care provider when you call. 1 in 10 women do experience their water breaking all at once, and if that happens before you’re in labor then it's probably time to go to your birthing location.

Every labor is different, but this list will give you some idea of what signs to look for. Always talk to your care provider if you're experiencing changes that seem like labor is starting. Your intuition is your strongest tool. Trust your body and your baby to be born at the perfect time. Until then, the wait continues!