Your body getting ready for labour

Every woman is different but there are signs that your body is getting ready for labour. If this is your first baby then these changes could be taking place in the weeks prior to delivery.

  • Your baby ‘drops,’ in the pelvis.  This means that the babys head is engaged in position for labour.  This can happen up to four weeks before birth but can also happen as you go into labour.  You may notice that you can breathe easier as your bump is not so high but there may be more pressure on your bladder so you may need to pass water more often. (see below for more information on this, effacement and dilation)
  • Vaginal discharge – you may get increased secretions as your cervix softens.  This discharge can be pink or white in colour.  If it is yellow or frothy then it can be an indicator of infection and you should tell your doctor.
  • You may shiver or tremble which is caused by a change in hormones as growth approaches.
  • Braxton-Hicks – these are the practice contractions that your uterus has prior to labour.  They may become more frequent and intense before labour as your body prepares the cervix for opening. 
  • You may have premenstrual feelings as your body releases the hormones it needs to birth your baby.
  • Nesting. You may have a burst of energy and want the house tidy, all the food prepared for the weeks after birth.  Just be careful to save some energy for the labour itself.
  • Diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea are all signs that things could be starting to happen.  If you have these symptoms make sure you rest. Call the hospital if these symptoms persist for more then 24 hours or if you are concerned.
  • You may have a show.  This is where the mucus plug from your cervix comes away.  It may be pinkish with blood which is fine but if it is more blood then mucus call your doctor immediately.
  • Back ache. Keep active. Have a bath or shower  or apply a hot water bottle to relieve the discomfort.  If it comes and goes then it may be contractions.
  • Your waters may break.  This could be a trickle or a gush and means that the amniotic sac holding the baby has broken (the rather stark term is your membranes have ruptured).  If the water has a smell or is not transparent but dark green or black then it means that there is meconium (the baby has done a poo) and you should head to the hospital straight away.  Its worth noting that for most women waters break naturally at 8cm dilation, also waters don’t always break in a gush – it could be a trickle or you may not even notice they’ve gone! If contractions haven’t started within 24 hours of the waters breaking naturally – head to the hospital. 

Dropping, effacement and dilation

The pelvic stations

Ok so a little biology lesson here.

Baby has to move down in to your pelvis in to occipito-anterior position or head down facing your back, so that their back is towards your tummy. When doctors/midwives/nurses check you for baby’s positioning they are looking for a station or in other words how high your baby is inside you.

Example:-3 station baby is still sitting pretty high above your pelvis. 0 station baby is engaged in pelvis, and +3 station baby is crowning or about to be delivered!

This step is very important, because baby’s head puts pressure on your cervix to efface and dilate. If he/she is not engaged in your pelvis yet none of the next 2 steps can happen or happen very slowly and don’t forget that first babies can often not engage until you are in labour.

Effacement happens when baby’s head puts pressure on your cervix and it begins to thin out or “melt” to allow baby to drop in to your birth canal. During pregnancy and prior to labor your cervix measures 4cm in length and is completely closed. It is sealed off with a mucous like plug that you will expel in early labor as dilation begins (this is your show). As effacement happens your cervix will also begin to dilate or open as the baby’s head continues to apply pressure to the cervix.

Effacement is measured by percentage. Example: in early labor you may be 50% effaced and station -2. When it is time to meet your baby you will be 100% effaced and station +1 crowning at +3.3.

Dilation or the opening of your cervix happens after baby’s head has engaged enough in your pelvis(station) to thin out your cervix and apply pressure to your cervical opening. This is measured in cm. During labor a women will go from closed or 0cm dilated to 10cm and pushing.

When to go to hospital

  • If your waters break at home then call the hospital, they may ask you to go in and have a check.
  • If your contractions are strong and you are no longer feel comfortable at home.
  • Your waters have broken and you have lost fluid from your vagina.
  • There are signs of bleeding
  • If you are not feeling comfortable at home and feel like you need more support.
  • You have noticed that the baby is moving less or not moving at all.
  • If its your first baby and you are having regular contractions then they may ask you to wait at home until
    • you are having regular contractions
    • your contractions are strong
    • they are about five minutes apart
    • they last between 45-60 seconds