Of all the new experiences of your nine months, pregnancy labour is the one that fills most women with dread. Knowing what to expect can help enormously so attending your antenatal classes is very important. It's also important to recognise the first signs of labour when it happens so as give yourself enough time to alert your partner and get to the hospital.
In the weeks before labour your body will undergo some changes. As the baby engages (when the head descends into the lower part of the uterus) any problems you've had with heartburn will disappear and you'll stop feeling so stuffed after eating. Engagement usually happens two to four weeks before labor with a first child and often just before labour with subsequent children.
The new pressure on your pelvic area means you'll need to urinate more frequently and may make your pubic bones and back ache. As the cervix softens you may experience increased vaginal secretions, and as the uterus prepares for the birth you may experience Braxton hicks (practice) contractions. You may also feel the urge to tidy the house, clear out drawers and closets and prepare the 'nest' for the baby.
As pregnancy labour becomes imminent your waters will break. The fluid is generally clear and odourless. You should call your doctor and note the time. Most babies are born within 24 hours of the waters breaking. If you feel anything pushing against the vagina at this time you should speak to your doctor and head for the hospital immediately as it may be a prolapsed cord.
True labour is characterized by regular contractions that intensify with time. False labour signs are irregular contractions that don't get any worse with time. These early contractions stretch the lower uterus in preparation for the birth. As soon as contractions become rhythmic you have entered true labor. This stage of the birth can go on for hours, and it's best to stay at home if you're not in true discomfort. When you've been having regular 45- to 60-second contractions five minutes apart for over an hour it's time to go to the hospital. Intense contractions, less than three minutes apart mean that the birth is very near. Speak to your midwife throughout the early stages of labour and he or she will give you the best advice on when to go to the hospital.
Remember to take your pregnancy records with you, stay calm and let your pregnancy labour continue into the next stage in the safe hands of the professionals.