Here is the last of the childbirth ed posts from Life and Times. Don't worry, though, there are tons more to follow in this series.
What Happens Before Labor?
Everyone wants to know: "How will I know it's labor?"
And every time I answer: "Because you can't mistake it!" I get looks of frustration and confusion. Labor won't pass without you knowing it. Trust me.
Here's a known fact among labor units everywhere: if you can easily talk through a contraction, like you can tell us you're having one while smiling with excitement, means you are either not in labor or in very early labor. And if you come to the unit like this, you'll likely be going home.
Other things that women frequently ask is what signs can I look for to tell me when labor is going to happen? Well, hate to burst your bubble here but there is no specific sign or scientific formula that is going to tell you that either.
There are things that can occur that tell you that your body is preparing for labor. They don't occur in any specific order nor do they occur in every woman.
- Braxton-Hicks Contractions: these are contractions that occur in the third trimester of pregnancy that are irregular and mild. These contractions do not change the cervix like true labor contractions do. Think of them as practice contractions on a very small scale. Some women can be bothered by them and others never seem to experience them. These contractions will typically subside with rest and fluids.
- Lightening: You've heard the saying, "The baby has dropped", right? This is lightening. It's when the baby engages it's self into the pelvic cavity and you can suddenly catch a good breath. And you pee like every 22 minutes.
- Nesting: Ya, this really happens. This is when you get an urge where everything must be ready. Clothes must be washed in Dreft, folded, and placed in the cute little baby bureau in the nursery. Diapers must be stacked in the changing table. The suit case must be packed. The house must be cleaned. You've mustered up some new found energy that just must be put to use.
- GI Changes: Here's everyones favorite! That nausea and vomiting you finally got rid of? It's come back. And that diarrhea? Ya, its to empty out the system and triggered by prostaglandins (more on the hormones later).
- Dilation and Effacement: I hate to even put this in here because everyone wants to hang on to their cervical exam at 39 weeks like it's their ticket to the labor room. But dilation and effacement can occur before labor. Typically the changes in the cervix prior to labor are minimal at best, particularly in a first time mom. There is no formula that says if you are 1 centimeter dilated at 38 weeks then you will go into labor in 16.23 hours. Sorry, there just isn't. I've told this to countless women, but everyone wants to hang on to that damn exam! Why are they done, anyhow, is what I'd like to know! But that's beside the point. So many get hung up in this and just make themselves frustrated and disappointed with each passing day that the stork passes them by. Here's what I've seen happen: cervical exam at prenatal appointment is 2 centimeters. You think labor will hit you at any moment. And then you find that your doctor is booking a postdates induction. OR cervical exam at prenatal appointment is zippo. Cervix closed tighter than Fort Nox (Knox?). You think you'll never go into labor but end up having a baby hours later. So either way, you just never know. I've seen women walking around at 4 centimeters for several weeks and not go into labor; and I've seen the disappointed mom with the closed cervix go into labor later that night. So I guess the take home message here is that dilation and effacement of the cervix can happen before labor, but it won't tell you when labor is going to occur.
- Loss of the infamous Mucous Plug: Here is another event that can't really tell you diddly squat. Well, other than your body is doing all the right things and labor will occur at some point in the future. And the mucous plug doesn't come out looking like a cork. Typically its seen as an increase in mucousy vaginal discharge over a couple of days. Sometimes the cervix does spit it out in one big glob. I can tell you that the big event of the mucous plug has doctor's offices rolling their eyes when someone calls in a panic thinking that at any moment labor will strike them down like Kryptonite. I can attest that no one cares but you about the mucous plug. We'll care if there's bleeding associated with a mucousy discharge... but otherwise you can just make note of it in your scrapbook. Well... I mean write about it...don't scrapbook the actual plug.
Makes labor signs clear as mud, huh?