Before labor, the woman can experience obvious signs that can call forth the onset of labor. All pregnant women should learn how to recognize these signs.
During lightening, or descent of the fetal presenting part into the pelvis, occurs approximately 10 to 14 days before labor begins. These changes the woman’s abdominal contour as the uterus becomes lower. Lightening provides the woman some relief from the diaphragmatic pressure and shortness of breath she has been experiencing and thus “lightens” her load. With lightening, however, abdominal pressure increases, and this may result in reports of shooting leg pains from the pressure on the nerves, increased amounts of vaginal discharge, and urinary frequency from pressure on the bladder.
Increase in Level of Activity
A woman may wake up early in the morning of labor with so much energy, in contrast to her feelings during the previous month. This increase in activity is cause by an increase in epinephrine release that is initiated by a decrease in progesterone manufactured by the placenta. Additional epinephrine would set the woman’s body for the challenges of labor ahead.
Braxton Hicks Contractions
In the last week or days before labor begins, the woman usually notices extremely strong Braxton Hicks contractions, which she may interpret as true labor contractions. A woman may be admitted to the labor section of the hospital or birthing center because false contractions so closely stimulate true labor. It is discouraging for a woman who is having what seem like contractions to be told as she is not in true labor and should return home.
Ripening of Cervix
Ripening of the cervix is an internal sign seen only on pelvic, examination. Throughout pregnancy, the cervix feels softer than normal, like the consistency of an earlobe. At term, the cervix becomes still softer and can be described as “butter-soft,” and it tips forward. Ripening is an internal announcement the labor is close at hand.