As your due date approaches, your body will begin to prepare for you to give birth. In the last few weeks, it is common for the baby to roll over and position himself for birth while the birth canal begins to dilate to allow passage of the little one. The warning signs of these changes may vary from one woman to another, but in general, most pregnant women experience the same signs that indicate that the moment they have been waiting for for months is getting closer.
Changes in the body during the last weeks of pregnancy
During the last weeks of pregnancy , the woman’s body begins to prepare for the moment of childbirth. At this stage, it is common for the mother to experience a greater feeling of tiredness and fatigue due to the hormonal and physical changes that are taking place in her body. Also, many women have trouble falling asleep due to these hormonal ups and downs and the discomfort caused by the belly.
It is also common to increase the swelling of the legs, problems stomach upsets and constant urges to go to the bathroom as the baby further compresses the bladder on its way down the birth canal. In some cases, continuous back pain may appear that is not related to the weight of the baby in the womb but to the fact that the uterus is compressing a nerve in the area. In these weeks, hormonal changes can also weaken the joints and cause increased pain.
At the end of the ninth month, it is usual for the mother’s belly to be lower than normal because the baby has begun to descend into the pelvis. At this stage, the cervix also begins to dilate to promote childbirth and it is common for the mucous plug to detach, a gelatinous-looking substance with a dark color that has the function of blocking the entrance to the uterus and preventing infections. In some cases, the detachment can be total or partial and, sometimes, it can be accompanied by a little blood due to the rupture of some capillaries that irrigate the area.
In this phase many women also experience light sporadic contractions, better known as Braxton Hicks contractions, which are nothing more than a sign that the uterus is preparing for the moment of childbirth. They generally last about 30 seconds, although as birth approaches they appear more frequently and increase in intensity.
Typical signs that labor has begun childbirth
Labour, that phase of preparation prior to birth, manifests itself differently in each woman and can even vary from one pregnancy to another. In some cases labor lasts just a few hours, but other times it can take days. Likewise, there are pregnant women who experience slight signs that may even go unnoticed, while other women have to deal with much more intense and painful discomfort. However, the phases that a pregnant woman goes through during labor are similar in all cases.
1. Dilation of the cervix
Although from the ninth month of pregnancy the cervix begins to dilate, during labor it does so at a faster rate. Although dilation tends to vary from woman to woman, just before birth, the cervix usually dilates between 6 and 10 centimeters, at a rate of 1 centimeter per hour. In most cases, pregnant women do not usually perceive the dilation of the cervix, but sometimes a kind of “relaxation” in the pelvic muscles can be noticed.
2. Cervical Effacement
During labor, the mother’s cervix begins to reduce in length and become increasingly thinner to make it easier for the baby to pass through, a phenomenon known as effacement. At the beginning of effacement, the cervix is usually between 2 and 3 centimeters in length and quite thick, whereas just before delivery, it has practically disappeared. In most cases, effacement is only detected through a physical exam.
3. More frequent and regular contractions
Labor contractions are different from what a woman might experience throughout her pregnancy. In this case they usually last between 30 and 70 seconds and, as time goes by, they become more frequent and regular, and can last up to 90 seconds. Unlike the contractions that can occur during pregnancy, those that appear during labor are maintained regardless of the position or activity performed by the woman.
4. Membrane rupture or water break
Inside the womb, the baby is surrounded by amniotic fluid that cushions and protects him. At the start of labor, the membranes of the amniotic sac break and this fluid leaks out. When the water breaks, the pregnant woman may experience an irregular or constant trickle of small amounts of a watery, slightly yellowish fluid, coming out of her vagina. In some cases,the rupture of the source is much more evident and a continuous stream of liquid comes outwhich, a priori, gives the sensation that the pregnant woman has urinated.
5. Pelvic engagement of the baby
During the last weeks of pregnancy, most babies move into position for birth. As the weeks go by, the pelvic engagement of the baby increases until labor begins. At this time, the pregnant woman can feel the weight of the baby’s head on the pelvis, an unequivocal sign that the moment of birth is drawing near.
What to do after the first symptoms of labor?
When the first symptoms of labor begin, it is important that you contact the gynecologist and/or midwife who has followed you during pregnancy. In many cases, especially when it comes to a new mother, it can be a false alarm. However,when in doubt, it is recommended to go to the hospital so that the doctors can evaluate the situation and check the degree of dilation which, ultimately, is one of the most revealing signs that your baby is coming.