The time is here! Discover exactly how your body prepares itself for childbirth.
WORDS YING MEI
Your body has been changing your entire pregnancy, but in the last few weeks, it goes an extra mile to prepare for D-day. Wondering if your body is ready for labour? Here are some of the signs:
Softening of Ligaments
You have felt your ligaments softening as your pregnancy progressed, but the ligaments between the bones in your pelvis are really opening up late in pregnancy. The hormone relaxin is responsible for this. Produced by the ovary and placenta, you may feel your joints becoming looser because of increased levels of relaxin. You may also feel sore, achy and find that your sense of balance has shifted, leading to increased clumsiness. On the bright side, you may also find yourself able to stretch better and open up more during your prenatal yoga class!
The cervix is the narrow, neck-like passage at the bottom of your uterus. This is one of the many tight passageways your baby is going to have to squeeze through to come out, assuming you have a vaginal delivery. Luckily, your body knows it isn’t easy for you or your baby so it tries its best to ease the way by dilating. If you’ve watched movies or TV shows where a character goes into labour, and the nurses announce that they’re stuck at three centimetres, that’s the cervix dilation they’re talking about.
Your uterus will contract to make the cervix dilate with
the end goal being a dilation of 10 centimetres. Once your
cervix has opened up to the full 10 centimetres, you know
that your baby will be delivered really soon.
Unfortunately, the process of getting your cervix to dilate will hurt. We won’t cherry coat it for you – it’ll feel just like menstrual cramps… only it’ll be the most painful menstrual cramps you’ve ever felt. Good thing is, pain relief options will be available for you at the hospital so feel free to avail of them if you want.
Braxton Hicks Contractions
You should be familiar with Braxton Hicks contractions by now. They’re practice contractions that can start anytime from early to mid-pregnancy. If you feel your uterus, lower abdominal area, or groin tighten or squeeze, and then relax, yep – that’s a Braxton Hicks contraction. They were probably slightly unnerving but painless before, but this late in the game, all bets are off. The Braxton Hicks contractions in the last few weeks of pregnancy can start to hurt as even these practice contractions become more intense. Don’t be fooled though! If the contractions don’t get longer, stronger, more consistent and closer together, it isn’t real labour.
You’re more likely to get Braxton Hicks when you’re
dehydrated, have a full bladder and during physical activity
so use that to clue you in as to whether what you’re
experiencing is Braxton Hicks or the real deal.
Losing the Mucus Plug
Your body created a mucus plug in your cervix to prevent bacteria and other nasty stuff from entering your womb. Late in the pregnancy, your body begins to clear the way for baby to come out, which includes removing this plug. As your cervix dilates, the mucus plug thins and loosens so you may discover that you are passing more mucus during the late stages of your pregnancy. It may even be bloody, but that’s perfectly normal and is not anything to worry about. Just call your doctor if you’re worried. Some women don’t even realise that they’ve lost their mucus plug!
When your baby turns and gets into position, your baby is engaged. Ideally, they will be head down but there are other positions your baby may be in which your doctor will discuss with you if needed. You may feel more pressure in your lower abdomen once the baby is engaged, and breathing is easier as there’s more space for your lungs to expand. People may comment that the “baby has dropped” or your bump looks lower. Unfortunately, there’s more pressure on your bladder so you may have to pee more (yes, even more than you already are!). Engagement could happen any time from a few weeks before labour (for subsequent-time mothers) or when labour begins (usually for first-time mothers). If your baby isn’t cooperating, some massages and exercises may help get the baby into your pelvis.
Your baby is surrounded and protected by the amniotic sac during pregnancy. This is filled with amniotic fluid, a wonderful multi-purpose liquid that not only protects the baby but also facilitates the exchange of nutrients, water and other biochemical products between you and your baby. As your body prepares to push your baby into the world, this liquid isn’t needed anymore. Usually, at the beginning of labour, the membranes will rupture and you’ll feel the amniotic fluid flow out. This isn’t always obvious. It could be a constant leaking of watery fluid from your vagina or a bigger gush. The amniotic fluid could be clear or a pale yellow, making it difficult to tell if it’s the waters breaking or just plain ol’ pee.
When in doubt, check with your doctor. An ultrasound
or a physical examination can tell if your waters have broken.
If it really has, congratulations! Your bundle of joy will probably be here soon. Get yourself to the hospital post haste if it really is your waters breaking. If your waters broke too long before labour starts, your doctor may have to induce labour as it can get dangerous for the baby if the water levels get too low for long.
A woman’s body is capable of doing amazing things, so trust in yourself and your body to do what it was meant to. If any additional help is needed, your medical team will be right there with you to help and guide you through the entire labour process. Keep calm, and before you know it you will be cradling your beautiful new baby in your arms.