Before you actually go into labor, there needs to be some preparation on the body’s part. The cervix needs to efface (become narrower in thickness) and dilate (widen at the opening) to allow for birth. You may notice a change in your vaginal discharge as this happens—expect to see a pinkish, blood-streaked tinge a few days to 24 hours before labor begins.
The mucus plug that has protected the opening of the uterus will be passed anywhere from a few weeks to a few hours before labor. You may also begin to experience changes in your bowels, resulting in stomach pain and diarrhea. Lastly, your baby will need to drop down into the birth canal, called ‘lightening.’ He or she will be unable to pass through the birth canal unless they’re down in it!
False labor means the pains you’re feeling aren’t going to produce a baby anytime soon. These pains mean the body is getting ready for the big event, and they’re often different than true labor contractions. False labor consists of intense, irregular pains in the lower abdomen and pelvis. They may be relieved by walking or changing position. You may notice a brownish vaginal discharge instead of pink. Your baby may move more during these false-labor pains. If you’re at all concerned or unsure, call the doctor and give him/her a list of your symptoms. They may want to have you come in to the hospital, just in case.
Unlike false labor pains, which are situated more in the lower abdomen, true labor contractions begin at the top of your uterus and spread downward, through the lower back and the pelvis. True contractions are sure to become regular and intensify, though not each one will be necessarily at a certain time and more painful. Walking or changing position doesn’t change the occurrence of contractions and may intensify the pain.
Call the Doctor If…
Your doctor will give you instructions as to when to call if he or she hasn’t already. Usually, they want you to wait until your contractions are a certain frequency, such as 5 minutes apart. You’ll also want to call if your water breaks and you haven’t begun labor at all. Once your water breaks, your doctor has 24 hours to deliver the baby to keep him or her safe from infection. Usually, the breaking of your water stimulates stronger contractions. If you’re in full labor and it’s the middle of the night, definitely call! Don’t wait until it’s more convenient for your doctor—they expect late night phone calls!