16 Unmistakable Signs of Labour Plus How You Can Manage This Time of Your Life
I experienced labour pain for the first time almost five years ago. Before this, I’d voiced out my morbid fear of labour pain from the videos I’d seen on YouTube and other places.
My kid sister, who was already a mom to two boys aged eight and five at the time, told me labour pain could be boycotted or at the very least reduced by almost half if you committed to taking daily long one-hour walks from seven months of pregnancy.
I believed her!
As I progressed in my dilation in the labour room, I know I must have said a few unprintable words to her in my head. My poor husband (bless him) who was beside me as each labour progressed, was the worst hit, but that’s a story for another day.
My sister would go on to later reveal she’d only told that fib to allay my fears. However, I’d much rather have preferred to be prepared for the ordeal that lay ahead.
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If you are like most women who would rather know the truth about labour pain, here are some quick facts you should know:
1) Labour pain is extremely painful. This isn’t me trying to be mean, it’s me trying to mentally prepare you for the ordeal ahead.
However, this pain is not something you can’t bear (for the most part) and you will quickly forget it once your baby gets placed in your arms (yea, this is no myth).
2) No two labour pains are exactly alike, even for the same woman.
For my daughter, I felt a sharp pressure at my cervix, and at some point, it felt like it was being ripped off. (I’m sorry I’m being very graphic here. I actually debated if I should provide as much information about this time in a woman’s life and concluded you are better off knowing. I know I would).
3) There’s also the option of relief meds for labour pain which completely (no kidding) kills the pain even as you continue to progress in your labour.
There are two types of labour pain relief available to women:
- Analgesics dulls the pain without you actually losing feelings or muscle movement. These drugs, also known as opioids, are given intravenously.
- Anesthetics which block out most of the pain. Anesthetic labour pain relief can be systemic (affecting your entire body), regional (affecting only a region), or local (affecting just a small part).
These medications include epidural block, spinal block, and combined spinal (CSE) block and could come with some easy-to-manage side effects like itching, nausea, and some slight breathing difficulties.
4) Labour pain differs in severity, even for the same woman. This means my sister didn’t exactly tell a lie when she said it wasn’t exactly all that painful.
While some women might find the entire process extremely painful and might require some pain relief, for a lot of other women, the pain is something bearable, especially if you follow the greathing exercises encouraged during antenatal classes.
Types of Labour Pain
There are generally three broad types of labour pain and you are likely to experience two of these.
1) Braxton Hicks Contraction (False Labour)
Braxton Hicks are false labour pain that comes around the fourth month of your pregnancy. They prepare your uterine muscles for the actual labour as you will experience all that contraction experienced in real labour.
2) Preterm Labour
Preterm labour begins before you hit 37 weeks. They come every 10 -12 minutes apart and are the real deal. Now, since a baby is only termed at 37 weeks, you want to contact your doctor immediately if you start to experience this.
3) Real Labour
This comes from the 37th week when your baby Is already termed. Unlike with Braxton Hicks, the contractions here are stronger, get closer together, and are painful.
16 Signs of Labour to Look Out for
The signs of labour are divided into three broad types:
At this stage, your body starts to prepare for actual labor and delivery itself. The signs you will notice in this stage will range in severity and even the most severe of them is bearable, just uncomfortable.
Some of these early signs of labour include:
1) Your Baby Drops
If you are a first-time mom, you should expect this drop a few weeks before actual labour begins. For subsequent births, however, this drop happens when you are well into labour.
Your baby drops into your pelvic, signifying he is ready to enter the world.
This drop is also called lightening and you will feel a lot more pressure in your pelvic region as your baby settles more on your cervix. You will also waddle a lot more when you walk as it will feel like you have a ball wedged between your legs (I find this walk cute though, but then again, I find every pregnant woman beautiful).
The good side to this lightening is that you will feel a lot less heartburn, since your baby has decided lower, creating more space in your stomach region. You will also find it easier to breathe since your lungs will also have more room.
You will also be able to take in a little more food at a sitting than you previously have in the past few weeks.
2) Cervix Starts to Dilate
Your cervix will also start to dilate (open) and efface (thin out) a few days to few weeks before the actual labour, but it’s unlikely you will feel this happening.
However, your doctor will check to measure your progress during your antenatal visits, which should be a lot more frequent at this point.
3) Cramps and Increased Back Pain
Lower back pain will cause you the most discomfort at this stage. It will feel like someone is sticking a hundred tiny needles all at once at your lower back, and it will be all you can do not to scream.
To manage this pain, I took to moving around with a small tube of hot balm and massand aging it into that spot.
It didn’t matter if I was among friends or en route to a destination. I would excuse myself to a secluded spot and massage the balm to get relief from the pain I craved. The fact I was fully into wearing slightly loose-fitting maternity clothes at this time made this all the easier.
3) Loose-feeling in Your Joints
Along your pregnancy, your muscles and some joints stretch and shift in preparation for your baby delivery.
The pregnancy hormone, relaxin, produced by the corpus lutem in the ovary and also released by the placenta, is responsible for this.
During this early stage of labour, the relaxin works to soften (efface) and widen (dilate) the cervix.
It is an important hormone in pregnancy as it performs other key functions like
- Promote the implantation of the egg after fertilization.
- Regulate your renal and cardiovascular systems, helping your body adapt to the increased demand for oxygen and nutrients at this point.
- Inhibit contractions in early pregnancy to prevent premature delivery.
As these joints and ligaments relax, you experience a loose feeling in your joints.
I never experienced this in both pregnancies, but some women report experiencing diarrhea.
Diarrhea during labour typically comes a day to a few weeks before labour proper and is caused by the release of the prostaglandins hormones.
Experts believe this happens so your body can empty your bowels to allow the uterus to carry out the function of contracting efficiently.
However, sometimes your bowel doesn’t empty completely and you might still have a little bowel movement during delivery.
If this ever happens, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. The doctor and other staff don’t even bat an eyelid since it’s something they are used to.
Heck, you won’t even have the time to be embarrassed since you’d be in transitional labour at this time with contractions bearing down on you.
5) You Stop Gaining Weight
You may even lose a few pounds at this point, which is another good news if you’ve been worried about your continued weight gain during this last trimester.
Another good news is that while you continue to drop these pounds, your baby doesn’t.
7) Fatigue and Nesting Instinct
You are also likely to feel extremely fatigued most of the time. Even a little walk from the bedroom to the living room tires you out.
On the other side of the spectrum are women who will feel a sudden burst of energy called nesting instinct and feel the need to clean and organize everything.
8) Increased and Thickened Discharge
With your baby engaged and lying heavily on your cervix, you are also likely to experience an increase in your vaginal discharge.
9) Some Contractions
You will also experience some mild contractions that last from 30 to 45 seconds.
These contractions might be regular or irregular and be 20 minutes or more apart. You will also start to dilate gradually over a few days, but might not feel this as it comes with very little to no pain.
Active Labour and Transition
This stage is usually a sign your baby is about to make his grand appearance. Labour at this stage could last all of one hour and is called precipitate labour (for women who experience labour that extremely fast) or go as long as 26 hours.
With precipitate labour, your labour signs are a lot more intense, however, the whole ordeal is usually over in an hour or less.
Signs of Labour in the Active Stage
1) Strong and Frequent Contractions
Your contractions will become stronger (a lot more than you felt when you experienced Braxton Hicks). They are intense and last from 30 to 60 seconds.
2) Cervix Opens Up a Lot More
Your cervix will also open from 4 to 7 centimeters. The pain here is a little more intense, but still bearable if you practice your breathing exercises.
3) Bloody Show
A bloody show happens when your body expels the mucus plug. This mucus plug is a mucus-like substance tinged with blood that seals the mouth of the uterus. It only gets expelled when your baby is finally ready to be born.
The bloody show might get expelled all at once, or come out in tiny pieces.
4) Water Breaking
Sometimes, your water doesn’t break until you are well into your labour. It also might not break on its own and would therefore need a little assistance from your doctor or midwife.
This water might also flow out in one large gush or come in trickles.
1) Cervix Dilates Fully
With transitional labour, your cervix dilates ffully going from 7 to 10 centimeters, signifying your baby is about to appear any minute.
2) Much Stronger Contractions
Contractions now are so strong, you will likely forget your breathing exercise at this point.
However, this stage typically lasts from 30 minutes to 2 hours, which means the entire labour process is about to come to an end.
Contractions last 60 to 90 seconds, coming 30 seconds to 2 minutes apart and sometimes even overlapping.
3) Feeling Lightheaded
You might also feel lightheaded and experience some feelings of nausea.
Some women also experience chills, vomiting, gas, or even hot flashes
How to Manage Labour Pain
Certain techniques or tricks can help you manage the pain during active or transitional labour.
Here are a few that helps a lot:
- Take walks across the room. Even taking these walks within a confined space helps take your mind off the pain and discomfort you’d be in at this time.
- Try any of the several relaxation tips like listening to your favourite music, soaking in a warm tub, taking a massage, or trying some gentle yoga.
- Practice your breathing technique. This is especially used during transitional labour when your body gives you the urge to push, even when your cervix is not quite dilated. Pushing before your cervix is fully dilated could cause it to swell, which can delay delivery.
- Change your sitting or standing positions if staying in a spot reminds you of the pain. You could also try kneeling or rocking backward.
- Ask for labour pain relief if you start to find the pain unbearable.