All About You
Having odd dreams? That's common! So is "nesting" behavior, though this tends to kick in strongest right before labor begins. Watch out! If you have a sudden, unbearable urge to scrub the grease from behind the stove, you may be heading for the hospital soon!
You've now entered the final month of pregnancy—congratulations! You're probably anxious to meet your new baby and be rid of the discomforts of pregnancy. Heartburn may be a constant complaint. As your stomach is pushed upward by your ever-expanding uterus, acid from the stomach may leak back into your esophagus (acid reflux). Slow digestion caused by pregnancy also worsens the affects of heartburn since food sits in your stomach longer.
Am I in Labor?
Seems like you'd know when you're in labor, right? Not necessarily. You may be one of the fortunate few who break their water to know for certain labor has begun. Yet for most women, figuring out when they're in labor is no easy task.
Even doctors aren't sure exactly what triggers labor. While they know the brain releases the hormone oxytocin to stimulate contractions in the uterus, they have no idea why it happens when it happens. The prevailing theory, explains Dr. Joanne Motino Bailey PhD, and a certified nurse midwife, is that the uterus and cervix gradually become more and more sensitive to the effects of oxytocin (which the brain releases throughout pregnancy) as delivery day approaches. "I often describe it as a hormone cascade," says Dr. Bailey.
While you can't see or feel when the brain releases pregnancy hormones, you will be able to notice other signs delivery day is coming—soon. You may feel like the baby has "dropped." At some point before delivery, your baby-to-be will move down into your pelvis. You may or may not notice this movement, called "lightening." This movement can happen weeks or hours before your baby's birth. According to Dr. Bailey, although there is no hard evidence that women feel this event, many first-time mothers seem to be more sensitive to if and notice it more.
Your cervix stretches: While you won't be able to tell on your own if your cervix is stretching—known as dilation—your doctor will check for this at weekly office visits as you near the end of pregnancy. You'll likely be pleased to hear your cervix is opening in preparation for delivery, but remember that this process can take weeks. You may be dilated to one, two, or even three centimeters for a while before your body begins real labor. (Once your cervix is stretched to 10 centimeters, you'll be ready to have your baby).
Your cervix thins: In addition to dilation, your cervix also thins to make way for your baby. As the cervix thins—known as effacement—you may notice some blood and increased vaginal discharge. Occasionally, as the cervix thins, this blood discharge can be enough to make you wonder if it is what's called a "bloody show." This isn't always the case. As Dr. Bailey points out, the capillaries in the cervix can rupture as the cervix thins. So a woman may notice some blood. But sometimes it can be hard to distinguish whether the blood comes from cervix thinning or mucus plug coming apart. Be sure to speak with your doctor if you have any concerns. She can help you discern the cause and the best course of action.
You lose your mucus plug: A mucus plug sits at the opening of the uterus. This thick chunk of goo comes out at some point before your baby's birth. The plug may come out all at once or gradually. You may not even notice when you lose your mucus plug. Sexual intercourse and your prenatal exam can loosen the mucus plug . Losing your mucus plug doesn't mean you're in labor; it can be hours or days before labor begins, says Dr. Bailey.
You have a sudden burst of energy: Besides what's going on inside your body, you may notice other unusual signs your baby's birth is near. Many women find they have bursts of energy, called the nesting instinct, in the days leading up to delivery. Women report doing deep cleaning, baking, or something else that will prepare their homes for Baby's arrival.