You've spent the last 40ish weeks building up this moment, and it's finally here! Or is it? Pregnancy is pretty magical, but it's also really mysterious, and you can't rely on or depend on things happening on any kind of specific timeline. Your body will know what it's time, and your baby will come when it's ready! As normal as that it, we get that it can also be kind of maddening. Luckily, there are some signs of labor that you can look for, which can give you an idea that go time is (at the very least) getting nearer.
What Is labor?
Labor is the process of delivering the baby you've been carrying for your entire pregnancy. It's broken up into three stages: early labor and active labor, delivery of the baby, and delivery of the placenta. Stage one begins as soon as you feel regular contractions, which signal the cervix to open and soften. Early labor in this stage can last for days, but once you notice your contractions becoming stronger and more regular, that's a sign you've moved into the next phase of stage one, active labor. Active labor is when your cervix goes from around 6 cm to 10 cm.
Your contractions will get stronger and closer together, and your water may break. On average, this phase lasts between 4-8 hours, but it can vary. Stage two is when your baby is actually delivered - this one is where the hard work happens! You may be pushing for a few minutes to a few hours. In the final stage of labor, stage three, your placenta will be delivered. You can expect to continue to have mild contractions through this process.
When does labor usually start?
A pregnancy is considered full-term at 39 weeks. Most women will go into labor sometimes between 37 and 42 weeks, and it will vary wildly with each woman (and each pregnancy). Labor before 37 weeks is considered preterm labor, and you should contact your doctor immediately if you are showing signs of labor before week 37 of your pregnancy.
Some Signs of Early Labor
As you near the end of your pregnancy, there are some signs of early labor you can watch for, to get an idea of whether or not you're getting close to the finish line. These signs of early labor can happen weeks or even just hours before you go into active labor. For a lot of women, the first sign that labor is close is when the baby drops, called lightening. This means the baby is moving deeper into your pelvis to get into position for delivery. Losing your mucus plug and your water breaking are also signs of early labor.
If you're feeling more tired than usual, but also have the sudden urge to nest and make sure everything is in order for the baby's arrival, that may be your body's way of letting you know it's almost time. Some women also feel more relaxed as their joints and ligaments loosen in preparation for delivery, while others have bouts of diarrhea as D-Day gets near.
When To Call The Doctor
These signs of early labor can start weeks before you go into active labor, so no need to call your doctor right away. However, if your water breaks, or you start to have more intense, regular contractions, give your doc a call to let them know it's almost time.
And always call your doctor if something doesn't feel right, or you experience bleeding, your water breaks and the fluid is brown or green, or you experience sudden and severe headaches or blurred vision, as these can be signs of potentially dangerous pregnancy complications.