As a doula, when I hear the phrase “Labor Day”, my first thought isn’t barbeques and pool parties. Instead, my mind jumps to the raw, miraculous reality of childbirth. Let’s talk about what to expect when your own personal ‘Labor Day’ finally arrives!
One of the more obvious signs that it’s labor day is your water breaking. This can happen in a trickle, or a gush. The vast majority of those who have their water break prior to contractions starting (PROM) first wonder if they have a leaky bladder, or if their water is indeed breaking. That fantastic, comedic, ‘Hollywood gush’ is not nearly as common, but it does happen. For more information on what to do if your water breaks, check out our blog all about it!
We often encourage clients to do ‘the cough test’ if they are unsure if their water is leaking. The cough test involves squatting over your toilet, tightening your vaginal and pelvic floor muscles (It will feel like you are attempting to hold your urine in) and coughing. If your water is leaking, the force of the cough will typically cause some to trickle out and into the toilet. By consciously clamping down on your vaginal muscles, you can be aware of any urine trickling out as well, and this can help you tell the difference. If you are still unsure, a simple litmus paper test provided by a nurse, OB, or Midwife in your care provider’s practice can tell you if your water is indeed broken or leaking. No matter how it happens, once you water breaks, you can be certain that your baby will be joining you soon.
Another sign to look for when waiting for labor day is the flu. Ok, not the flu exactly, but flu-like symptoms such as achiness, nausea, slight temperature, congestion, and possibly even diarrhea (super fun, I know) are all very common right at the end of pregnancy. All of these symptoms mean that your body is preparing for the monumental task of bringing your baby out and into your arms.
Some people experience what is called “dropping”, when the baby moves lower into your pelvis and engages against your cervix. This can be increasingly uncomfortable, and some describe it as “it feels like there is a bowling ball sitting right on my pelvis” and “I was worried the baby would just fall out, that’s how low they are!” You’ll notice a change in the shape of your bump, and you will feel an increased pressure in your hips, pelvis, and lower back. This sign means that your baby is locked and loaded, and ready to make his grand entrance.
Another, slightly TMI thing to look for as labor day nears is your mucus plug and bloody show. Gross, right? Well, you will notice an increase in vaginal discharge at the end of pregnancy- all of that is normal. Bloody show will often look like spotting, or like ‘snot’ with some blood in it. Your mucus plug can come out all at once, or in pieces over time. It typically has the color and consistency of boogers (I know, I know). Seeing these things means your cervix is beginning to dilate and efface, and that you are nearing the end. However, you can lose your entire mucus plug and have bloody show, and still not go into labor for a few weeks. That is possible. This isn’t a sign that means “it is happening today“, it is a sign that means “it will be happening soon“.
The most obvious sign that labor day has arrived is… you guessed it… contractions. But how do you tell the difference between those pesky Braxton Hicks contractions and when labor is actually starting? The easiest way to tell them apart is to hydrate yourself, rest, and wait it out. Braxton Hicks will never develop a distinct pattern that gradually becomes more intense and closer together. If you drink water and lay down for a nap, and wake up with no contractions, you’ll know it wasn’t labor.
Labor contractions will become more intense and come closer together as time passes. They may start as mild cramps, or they could be obvious from the start. The general rule of thumb is 5-1-1. This means that contractions are at least 5 minutes apart, lasting for one minute each, for at least an hour. Each doctor or midwife will have a slight variation on this standard, so ask your care provider for their guidelines.
Labor Day Will Come
I will leave you with a word of encouragement- no one has been pregnant forever. Your baby will come out, one way or another, whether they choose their birthday or you plan it in advance. So relax, put up your feet, listen to your favorite album, hit the beach, take a nap… breathe easy. You are almost there.
If you have questions or are interested in having someone to professionally support you and provide individualized, detailed attention to your needs during pregnancy, delivery, and the postpartum period, contact us today.