If you’re pregnant with your first baby and worrying about knowing when to go to the hospital, you’re not alone. I guess it’s all those TV shows where Ms. Prego suddenly realizes she’s in labor, carries the news to her husband with wide-eyes and immediately needs help to even get to the car. Truth is, labor usually comes on slowly and gently, especially in first-time moms. Rare indeed is a true story of a first-time labor that progresses so fast she can’t make it to the hospital or birth center. Unless your mom or sister labored this way, you need not fear.
You’re probably aware of typical labor cues: regular contractions (every 5-7 minutes) that will not relent even with rest and water leaking or breaking. These are the dead giveaways that would be hard for any pregnant woman to miss. However, there are a couple other traditional labor cues that are not so well-known: loosing your mucus plug/bloody show, diarrhea/vomiting, and back ache.
Mucus plug/Bloody Show: The mucus plug is an accumulation of healthy mucus that forms at the opening into the uterus, at the cervix. This mucus can be clear or tinged with brown, pink or red streaks. When the mucus plug is tinged red, it’s called a “bloody show”. How’s that for ick? It can release in one noticeable clump or slowly in small, less-noticeable pieces. The release signals that your cervix is ripening, which prepares it for the changes required to deliver. You can lose your mucus plug as early as 36 weeks, but some women only lose it within a few days of true labor. If you do notice a large mucus-like clump near your due date, this is a sign that you’re likely to go into labor in the next few days. But, no promises, it could still be a week more more until you deliver.
Diarrhea/Vomiting: So, here’s one labor cue, you won’t want to share with your friends. Before you actually deliver your baby, your body will empty your bowels in an attempt to make as much room as possible for baby’s exit. Many women encounter a little diarrhea or vomiting during heavy labor. But some women will experience it just before going into labor, as in just 6-12 hours before. If you know you’re not sick and you experience diarrhea or vomiting near your due date, it’s likely you’ll be in labor soon! No need to run off to the hospital. Instead, take it as a signal that you should take a nap pronto.
Bach Ache: I was one of those lucky women who experienced back labor with both of my births. Back labor is when you experience contractions not just in your abdomen, but also in your back. It feels like an intense back ache. Back labor responds well to strong massage during contractions, so ask someone to help with massage and counter-pressure if this happens to you. Back labor can run in the family, so if your mom or sister labored this way, expect to experience some back labor. And, if you have back labor, it may start early… in the form of a mild back ache. If you are full-term and have a persistent back ache that is not related to injury, take it as a cue that labor may begin in the next 24 hours.
Ultimately, most women find that real labor is pretty easy to identify when it actually comes. Whenever you think “oh, this might be labor!” remember that it’s extremely unlikely to go from “might be” to “about to deliver” in any short period of time. Always get some rest if you can and do whatever feels right to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the special challenge ahead. A joyful labor is all about perspective. Your mantra: “my body is MADE to do this!”