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10 Early Symptoms and Signs of Labor- Stages, Signs

Signs of labor

During the pregnancy phase, the patient goes through a certain amount of pain which signals that it’s time for the baby to arrive. Such pain is known as labor pain which usually occurs in the 7th, 8th, or 9th month of pregnancy.

But what exactly is labor pain?

Labor pain

During labor pain, the regular contraction of the uterus and the gradual effacing and dilation of cervix happens in order to allow the baby to pass.

As stated before, labor pain begins between the 37th and 42nd weeks of pregnancy. However, the cause of labor pain is unknown. It occurs when the baby is ready to breathe on her own. There are various ways to induce labor naturally.

Signs of Labor at 37 Weeks of Pregnancy

If the pain is regular and lasts more than 30 seconds, it is an indication of the ultimate labor pain. It differs from every woman and can occur for hours or days.

The occurrence of “Bloody show” (Leaking of mucus and blood from the cervix) or the rupturing of amniotic sac is an indication of true labor contractions.

From the moment true contractions begin, it usually takes about 12-18 hours for a first-time pregnancy and half the time for subsequent pregnancies to deliver the baby. Technically, labor occurs in three different stages.

First Stage – The breakage of the amniotic sac

The first stage is sub-divided into three different phases.

  • Latent phase
  • Active phase
  • Transition phase

Let’s dig deep into what occurs during these phases.

Latent phase

The cervix dilates in the latent phase. The contractions happen continuously before the cervix dilates by few centimeters. Most of the women are encouraged to walk around in order to stimulate this process.

During this phase, irregular contractions happen every 5-30 minutes and last for 30 seconds each, causing the cervix to dilate from 0 cm to about 3 cm and efface from about 0% – 30%. The latent phase lasts for about 8-12 hours.

Active Phase

In the active phase, regular contractions happen every 3 – 5 minutes and last about a minute or more, causing the cervix to dilate from 3 – 7 cm and efface to about 80%. The active phase lasts for about 3 – 5 hours.

Transition Phase

Now, this is the final phase of the first stage. The contractions are very intense during this phase lasting for about 30 minutes to 2 hours. It happens every 30 seconds with 2 minutes of rest in between and last 60-90 seconds each. Sometimes, the contractions even overlap with each other.

In this phase, the cervix is fully dilated from 7 cm to 10 cm with 100 % effacement. The amniotic sac often ruptures at this point.

According to a survey, for about 10 percent of pregnant women, the labor starts when the bag of water or amniotic sac breaks.

How do you know if the amniotic sac broke?

Well, when this happens you might notice a trickle of fluid or the fluid gushing down your legs. The families panic when this happens as they believe the life of the baby is at risk. But the fluid surrounding the baby’s head up to the shoulders only comes out and the rest continue to cushion the baby.

Second Stage – Delivery of Fetus

This stage is called the pushing stage where the baby’s head navigates through the maternal pelvis. The ideal position of the fetus for a hassle-free delivery is the longitudinal position as the spinal cord of the fetus is in perfect alignment with the vaginal passage.

During this stage, the uterine contractions get stronger and the position of the baby keeps on changing until it finally comes out. The appearance of baby’s head at the opening of the vagina signifies the arrival of the baby. After passing through the pubic bone, the head fills the lower vagina and stretches the perineum.

One of the important factors during this process is the active pushing by the mother. If the baby’s head is too large to pass through the vaginal opening, a small incision is made into the perineum in order to enlarge the vaginal opening. Once the head of the baby comes out, the rest of the body slips out easily.

Third Stage – Removal of Placenta

The final stage of labor happens after the baby is delivered. Once the baby is delivered, the uterus contracts firmly and the placenta starts to separate from the uterine wall. The placenta which looks like a pancake and is about 10 inches in diameter nourishes the fetus throughout the pregnancy.

Doctors make sure that the placenta is removed completely from the uterus otherwise it leads to menstrual complications after the delivery.

Now that you know what labor pain is, here are the 10 signs and symptoms of labor pain.

10 Symptoms and Signs of Labor

  1. The Back Pain

A pain in your lower back is a sign that your labor is about to start. Usually, the pain is like the pre-menstrual feeling and cramps. The lower back starts to feel heavy and pain is persistent.

  1. The bloody show

The increase in vaginal discharge is early signs of labor approaching. The discharge is pink or slightly red in color. It can happen several days before labor. However, if the discharging of blood is more, the mother’s visit to the doctor is highly recommended.

  1. The breaking of the bag of waters

The unborn baby is protected by a bag of fluid called the amniotic sac. The breaking of the amniotic sac is one of the signs that labor is a few days away. It can happen in the early stage or later stage. The draining of fluid through your vagina can be felt when there’s a slow trickle or sudden gush of water that is out of your control.

It becomes difficult to differentiate amniotic fluid from urine. The water that breaks should be slightly pink or pale straw in color. Sometimes the amniotic fluid breaks without any early signs of labor, the mother may not even know if it has happened. In such cases, it’s better to keep a check on yourself especially during the last weeks of pregnancy.

The baby is no longer protected once the water breaks as there are chances of losing the baby or getting infected. It is advised to visit the doctor as soon as possible especially when the amniotic fluid is greenish in color.

  1. Regular contractions

The contraction of uterus every 15 to 20 minutes is one the symptoms of labor pain. These contractions are strong and painful, and usually, last 20 seconds each. Unlike Braxton Hicks, these contractions are frequent and unbearable.

If the contractions are regular, painful, stronger and lasts more than 30 seconds, it means that your labor may have started. The increase in the frequency of contractions in less time validates that it’s time for delivery.

  1. Lightening

Lightening is nothing but the dropping of the baby in the lower uterus. You start to feel relieved as the fetus moves from rib cage to the pelvic area. Some women are able to breathe more easily and deeply soon after lightening. Also, making it difficult for them to walk.

  1. Disrupted sleep

The sleeping pattern of the mother is badly disrupted as the contractions are untimely. It becomes difficult to sleep during the last weeks of pregnancy with a huge belly and squashed bladder.

  1. Restlessness

Women start to get mood swings few days before labor. They are likely to feel excited, moody, anxious or unhappy. They might want to eat extremely spicy or sweet things.

  1. Upset stomach

You are prone to diarrhea in the last few days of labor. As the muscles in your uterus start to relax in preparation of the birth of the baby, so does the muscles inside your body. The rectum muscles needs to loosen up a little in order to make it easy for the baby to make its way to the outer world through it. Although it happens in the beginning of the pregnancy but the frequent occurrence of diarrhea in the last few weeks of pregnancy is the symptom before labor begins.

  1. Dilation of Cervix

The cervix starts to dilate (open) by few centimeters in the last days or weeks before delivery. A fully dilated cervix needs to open about 10 cm. The contractions in the early stage of labor help in the softening and dilation of the cervix.

  1. No more weight gain

During pregnancy, women gain a lot of weight but by the end of the pregnancy period they start losing weight. This happens because of vomiting, diarrhea and other extra activities, it’s perfectly fine to lose weight as the baby is still unaffected by this.

What to do when you are in labor?

Labor pain can start anytime and anywhere, it is advised to stay home and have someone near you all the time. Make a point to visit the doctor every time there’s any doubt or a feeling that something’s not right.

Walk around as it eases the process of delivery. Visiting the doctor as soon as the water breaks is mandatory, it may lead to complications otherwise.

On being sure about experiencing all or most of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms of labor, admit yourself in the hospital as the delivery is about to happen in a few days.

Sagar Papneja

For me, health is about sustainable living and consuming environmentally conscious food; I am a vegan.