Nothing can be more frustrating than the waiting game for when will labor start.
Every single day, I would always wonder if today would be the day.
As I got closer to my due date, my feet were swollen, and my belly was so big that I swear I waddled everywhere, I just wanted to know when baby would arrive.
I realized after the fact that if I had known what a contraction felt like vs cramps or Braxton Hicks then I would have known baby was coming soon.
So here are your best clues to know the signs of labor approaching, how to start labor and how to make these last few days or weeks super productive so you are beyond ready for that cute bundle of joy.
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The Signs of Labor Approaching
What is up with your weight
This one was so true for me both times. I just totally lost my appetite during the last two weeks and didn’t gain any weight. In fact, the first time around, I started losing weight during that last week. If you are still gaining weight but have no appetite, that may still be a good indicator that your body has started to prepare for labor.
Are you full of energy or tired?
Isn’t being tired just a normal everyday pregnancy thing? I swear I have been tired all of whole pregnancy. However, a lot of women find that they become very fatigued a day or so before labor. As labor is well very labor intensive, it makes sense for the body to rest up before.
Listen to your body here! One of my biggest regrets is not resting up for labor. I was so excited that I just couldn’t sleep a lot. I also wanted to make sure I was productive during my last weeks and had everything prepared. Since I was a first-time mom, a lot of my energy was wasted on silly things. I wish I had prepared better. At the end of this article, I give a list of the best ways to prepare in those last weeks.
What is Barometric Pressure?
You can look up the barometric pressure in your area as it is usually reported on most weather sites. This is the pressure in the atmosphere and changes based on storms. When it increases, a few studies show that this can cause labor to start since the extra pressure can cause your water to break.
Your water breaking is a big sign that labor is right around the corner. I had to have my water broken during the hospital.
Is it contractions or Braxton Hicks?
It was hard for me to differentiate between Braxton Hicks and real contractions the first time around since I had no idea what contractions felt like. The biggest difference is that contractions are truly a wave. The pain literally ascends, peaks and then descends. They start in your back, wrap around you and end in your lower abdomen. Cramps on the other hand are just in your lower abdomen, similar to menstrual cramping.
Diarrhea might be a good thing…
While not pleasant, this is very common before labor begins. It also means less of chance of pooping during labor. Your body needs all the space it can get for baby to come out. If this happens, remember to stay hydrated especially if you are Strep B positive and will need an IV. The last thing you want during labor is dehydrated veins and needing to have your IV redone. My IV failed so many times and I think it was because I was dehydrated.
Both of my babies have summer birthdays and I didn’t drink enough water in those last months. In addition to having dehydrated veins, I just felt awful.
Third trimester morning sickness
You read that right. Returning to the first trimester with lots of nausea is another sign that your body has started preparing for birth. I didn’t have this the first time around but the second time around, I felt sick on and off the last two weeks of pregnancy.
The mucus plug might mean labor
A lot of women have what is known as the bloody show before labor begins. After going to the bathroom, you might either notice on the paper or in the toilet, what looks like bloody snot. This is the mucus plug and it’s what kept your cervical canal free of unwanted bacteria or pathogens.
While this might mean labor will begin soon, it could be 1 to 2 weeks later. You also don’t have to lose your mucus plug before going into labor.
How high is baby?
This is a hard one to know. I could not tell if baby dropped the first time around based on pelvic pressure. However, my second time around, I knew when baby dropped because of pelvic pressure. Another way of telling besides pelvic pressure is to put your hand on top of your bump and try to gauge how high your bump is. For instance, baby is at rib height. Keep checking and see if baby starts to lower. You might also find you can breathe a lot easier when baby drops.
Is your cervix dilating?
Without getting checked, this one is very hard to tell. You can ask for an internal exam if you really want to know. However, a lot of times this won’t tell you much. You can progress a lot and then stop or not progress at all and then progress very fast.
If you are at an appointment, you could ask about this but I would focus on the other signs of labor approaching.
How to help get labor started?
You will for sure find a lot of fun things to try and see if you can encourage your body to start the process. And if labor still doesn’t start, you might be uncomfortable and impatient for a few more days. However, take solace in the fact that baby is utilizing their time building their brain. During weeks 35-40, their brain grows a third of its size.
Dates and Pineapples
A research study showed that eating dates (6 dates a day for 4 weeks leading up to the due date) resulted in an earlier labor. A digestive enzyme in pineapple is said to encourage labor by stimulating contractions. A lot of women try pineapple date smoothies which is around 8 dates, 3 thick slices of fresh pineapple, 1 Tb of unsweetened coconut. You can add milk, cinnamon or Greek yogurt as optional ingredients. It will supposedly result in labor in 24 hours.
I actually did this during my first pregnancy. I had the smoothie in the evening before L’s due date. I went into labor in the evening on L’s due date and had her the next day. This means it technically worked for me but you never really know. If you try it, I would love to know in the comments if it worked for you also.
Move, Move, Move
Whether you are trying to get labor to start or move it along quicker, movement is key. Find a yoga ball and open those hips up allowing baby to move downward. If its hot, try evening walks or go for a swim. If it’s winter, go window shopping at the mall or find a gym with a track.
This is probably one of the most promising way to help labor start. Semen has prostaglandins which help to ripen the cervix and start contractions. The release of oxytocin into the bloodstream will also help since it can stimulate contractions. Nipple stimulation can also cause contractions.
While this is an old wives tale, it is an awesome excuse for one last date night before baby arrives. If someone hasn’t already told you, make sure you plan a date night on your due date. Celebrate reaching 40 weeks and all that is to come instead of being sad baby didn’t arrive that day.
I don’t recommend
Do not try raspberry leaf tea or castor oil. Both can cause very painful intestinal cramping. You can also get diarrhea, vomit and become dehydrated. Labor is intense and long so make sure you start on the right foot.
When to go to the hospital for labor?
I got told to go when my contractions were 4 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute for 1 hour (aka 4-1-1). I also got told to call if my water broke because I was Strep B positive. While going in earlier than later might not appeal if you are Strep B positive, going in earlier has its advantages. If you get two full doses of antibiotics during labor, you don’t have to stay 48 hours after birth. You instead can go home with baby after 24 hours.
With my first I started having regular contractions at 5 pm and we arrived at the hospital at 2 am so it can be awhile before you actually leave for the hospital.
What to do while waiting for labor to start?
In addition to searching the internet for signs that baby will arrive that day, here are some ways to really help time go by. I spent so much time waiting and could have totally utilized that time to make baby’s arrival more enjoyable.
Make Freezer Meals
This is not frozen food from the frozen section of the supermarket. Freezer meals are a type of recipe where you prep everything beforehand, freeze and then cook day of. Once your newborn arrives, eating healthy will be hard simply because you don’t have time to chop and prep. With freezer meals, all of that prepping is done so all you need to do is toss it into the crockpot or oven. I would have never lost my baby weight without eating healthy.
I use the Family Freezer’s Freezer Meals Cookbook because it not only has yummy recipes but also grocery lists. You can make 7-30 meals in one afternoon with the shopping list for all of these meals premade for you. I am also a big fan of her meals because they utilize inexpensive ingredients making these meals money savers, which is a big deal since babies are not cheap.
Stock the House
Shopping is not easy after baby arrives. It is hard to go anywhere since you need some time to rest and recover. Not to mention, all baby will want to do during those first few weeks is nurse constantly to increase your milk supply. The best way to guarantee a good supply is to spend as much time nursing as possible.
To ensure, you don’t have to run crazy number of errands, limit them by stocking up on non-perishables. This is everything from toilet paper to spaghetti. For more ideas and a more complete list, check out Alli’s guide to bringing baby home.
Take a Birth Class
If you haven’t already, I would take a birth class. I didn’t the first time around and really regret it. Both my husband and I were clueless on how to help me manage pain during labor. My main issue with taking a birth class was that I didn’t want to attend a scheduled class in a group setting. I also wanted my husband to attend so that would mean having to have the time work for him too.
If I had to do it over again, I would have taken an online birth class. There are so many good options and you can pick one that is specific to the type of birth you want. I would have picked one that had a focus on how my husband could have helped me. It would have been a fantastic way to prepare for baby. We could have watched the course in the evenings on our own time with popcorn, pausing when we wanted to discuss something in more detail.
Ensure you have an Announcement and Visitor Plan
There are a lot of questions that surround birth on who you plan on telling, what you plan on sharing and when. For example, who will you tell when you go to the hospital? Are you going to give labor updates? How do you want to share the birth of your baby?
It is also hard to update many people during labor and delivery, so an idea is to have your partner tell one person. That person’s job is to inform other people on the updates. You should give that person a list of people to inform.
With this, you want to have a social media policy already in place, so no one posts before you share with everyone that you wanted to personally.
Lastly, decide on if you want visitors at the hospital or at home. We didn’t have visitors at the hospital so that I could utilize that time to learn about baby, visit with lactation consultants, learn to breastfeed and rest.
I had a lot of visitors that first week and then none in the weeks after. That was really hard on me. It meant that after that first week, I felt very lonely because it is so hard to get out of the house with baby.
If I could do it over, I would have done a sip and see so everyone could meet baby and then had spaced my big visits out.
Hang in there mama!
I know just how frustrating it can be in those final weeks. Pregnancy is long and that last week can seriously feel longer than the whole pregnancy.
While you look for signs of labor approaching such as contractions, mucus plug, water breaking or just a change in how you feel, remember to use this time wisely. Before you know it, baby will be here.
Lastly, double check your hospital bag with our thorough list for mom’s labor bag, mom’s recovery bag, dad’s bag and baby’s bag.
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Dr. Trina Fitzpatrick is a wife, mom, blogger, and a breastfeeding advocate. She is the co-author of the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook. She attributes her success at breastfeeding her own children into toddlerhood with working with lactation consultants in the hospital in the early stages and on a weekly basis afterwards. By writing at MomSmartNotHard, she educates mamas-to-be on all things pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Read more about Trina.