"Oh hunny, you'll just know when real labour contractions start." I can still hear my [then] co-workers eye-roll as she uttered these words to me. Pro tip: this statement isn't helpful.
You would think that a person that has laboured and birthed a child would be able to explain the ins and outs of child labour, but many of us can't. In fact, our body produces certain hormones that sometimes make us forget about the challenging components of our birth story including pain and intensity. So here it is; the early signs of labour.
In my Labour Crash Course, we play a game that helps us determine the difference between a) NOT IN LABOUR b) POSSIBLY IN LABOUR and c) DEFINITELY IN LABOUR. It's a way for us to learn about how different each labour is (between people but also between pregnancies) and the many different ways that labour can start.
1. Water Breaking: This is what we always see in the movies right? Flood of water breaks, a handful of contractions happen and BAM, baby is born. Unfortunately, this is not generally the way that labour starts. In fact, only about 10% of birthing people will have labour start with their water breaking. More likely: your water is more likely to break when you are in transitional labour (7-10cm)!
2. Progressing Contractions: In early labour, your contractions are likely somewhere between 6 and 20 mins apart (I know, thats quite the gap). These contractions will continue to get longer, stronger and closer together as you transition from early labour to active labour. Remember the 5-1-1 rule: this means that contractions are 5 mins apart, 1 min long (60 full seconds), and this pattern stays the same for 1 hour. In early labour, contractions may come fast and furious but taper out again after 30-45 mins. This is completely normal as your body prepares for childbirth!
3. Loose Stool: Some people may experience diarrhea or loose bowl movements before going into labour. This is because your body is flooded with hormones as it prepares for your baby's grand entrance. A hormone called Relaxin is released in this mix to help soften parts of your body including your pelvis to make room for your baby. Sadly, Relaxin doesn't just target the places that need extra wiggle room which may result in additional trips to the bathroom.
4. Mood Swings: we are all aware that pregnancy can bring on certain emotional extremes. However, most pregnant people will notice that their mood swings plateau in the second trimester. If this is true for you, and you start to experience vast changes in your emotional well being including drastic highs and lows; its likely that your body is prepping for labour (thank you additional hormones).
5. Nesting: Most of us want to get things ready for the baby. Most of us want to be prepared for when they are brought home. This is a really normal and instinctual behaviour that parents go through in the later stages of pregnancy. However, nesting is a little bit different. By definition, nesting is the irrational need to get something done. Let me give you an example: At 36 weeks I NEEDED to wash the legs of my kitchen table. Would this help make me a better parent? Absolutely not. Were the legs of my kitchen table that dirty? Nope. Did it have to be done? 100% YES. Not everyone experiences the Nesting Instinct but many do!
6. Mucus Plug: The mucus plug is exactly what it sounds like - a plug of mucus. Think of it like the gate keeper; if the mucus plug doesn't come out, the cervix cannot dilate and your baby cannot descend. But, the mucus plug is capable of some pretty strange things! In fact, you can lose it at any time because it has the ability to grow back (so don't fret too much if you think you may have lost it early but don't have other early labour symptoms). In addition to that, some people lose their mucus plug all at once (it looks like a big sneeze that is often clear but may be flecked with blood), while other people lose it in pieces over several days or even weeks. Because of this, you may not even realize that you have lost it!
So! The major point is that labour can start in MANY different ways. In addition to that, contractions can start and stop throughout early labour and it doesn't necessarily mean that something is wrong. Your best bet in early labour is to find a great balance between REST, DISTRACTION & NUTRITION. Early labour is generally the longest stage of labour and the only phase where you can actively walk and talk through contractions without them demanding your attention. Use this time to store energy, fuel your body with great food and think about all the things that make you excited about parenthood.
As a doula, I serve the Haldimand-Norfolk, Brantford, Brant County, Oxford County & surrounding areas. In addition to this, I'm connecting with people everywhere virtually over Zoom for prenatal classes and postpartum support. If you're looking for more information about your pregnancy, labour or life with a newborn; don't hesitate to reach out!
Thanks for reading,
Owner/Doula - The Doula Tree