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Labor Signs (cont.)


What are pregnancy labor signs and symptoms?


  • Also referred to as the baby "dropping", the term "lightening" refers to the descent of the baby downward into the pelvis.
  • Often, women experience less shortness of breath, as the diaphragm extends downward and the lungs have more room to expand.
  • A feeling of heaviness or pressure may be felt in the pelvis, and the frequency of urination may increase.
  • With the first term pregnancy, lightening usually occurs several weeks prior to the onset of labor.

Bloody show

  • As the cervix thins and begins to dilate in preparation for delivery, small capillaries burst and cause a pink or brown vaginal discharge. The cervix begins to soften in anticipation of labor ("ripening").
  • Cervical mucus, produced by glands lining the cervix, is expressed as the descending fetal head exerts pressure on the cervix. Blood-tinged mucus (i.e. the "mucus plug" or "bloody show") may be discharged from the vagina due to pressure from the fetal head on the cervical glands.
  • Bloody show can occur anywhere from hours to several weeks prior to the onset of labor.
  • If bleeding from the vagina is profuse, there may be a problem with the placenta, and the provider of obstetrical care should be notified immediately.

Nesting instinct

  • Some women notice a burst of energy a few days prior to going into labor.

Nausea and diarrhea

Braxton Hicks contractions

  • Several weeks prior to the onset of actual labor, the woman may develop irregular contractions of mild intensity. They tend to increase in strength and frequency as the onset true labor approaches.
  • Braxton-Hicks contractions are also called "false labor pains," as they do not cause any change in cervical dilatation or effacement (i.e. thinning).

Rupture of the membranes ("water breaks")

  • Rupture of the membranes refers to disruption of the amniotic sac that surrounds the baby, usually resulting in leakage of the amniotic fluid from the vagina. This fluid may be expelled as a sudden gush or as a slow trickle. Although most women will be contracting when the membranes rupture, in some cases it may occur prior to the onset of labor. In these latter cases, labor usually ensues shortly after the membranes rupture. If spontaneous leakage of fluid from the vagina occurs, the designated obstetrical care provider should be notified immediately.

When to call a health-care professional for pregnancy labor and delivery

  • If you suspect rupture of your membranes
  • If you have vaginal bleeding (more than bloody show), fever, or severe abdominal pain
  • Any time that you have signs of labor or pre-labor before 37 weeks' gestation
  • If you have severe headaches, changes in vision, or abnormal swelling.
  • If you notice a sudden decrease in fetal activity.

Medically reviewed by Wayne Blocker, MDl Board Certified Obstetrics and Gynecology

REFERENCE: Funai, E.F., MD., et al. "Management of normal labor and delivery." UpToDate. Updated: Aug 24, 2016.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/3/2016
Medical Author:

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