It's somewhere around 40 weeks after you first became pregnant, and time's finally run out! Whether it's week 38, week 40 or week 42 of your pregnancy, you and your little one are finally ready to work together to get this thing going. And while you're no doubt relieved that you'll get to meet your baby and get back to your normal self again, there's still a long road ahead, and that road's called labor and delivery. Here's what you can expect during this exciting time, whether you're a first time mother, a single mom or a seasoned veteran.
Signs you're going into labor
It helps to know what you should be looking for in terms of going into labor, that way you won't ever be caught off-guard! While there's no way to predict when this will happen, as due dates are merely points of reference, there are definitely signs that indicate labor is near.
Lightening – Lightening is when your baby drops into your pelvis to get ready for delivery. You might notice that your baby bump looks lower and have an easier time breathing now that your lungs aren't being compressed. However, you might also have to go to the bathroom more, as your little one will be pressing harder on your bladder.
Bloody show – It may sound like a horror movie, but bloody show is actually when your mucous plug falls out of the opening of your cervix. It stayed there throughout your pregnancy to protect your uterus from harmful bacteria. You can expect this in the form of sticky mucus or thick discharge that's usually brown and possibly tinged with blood.
Water breaking – This one you've probably heard about. It's when your amniotic sac ruptures or leaks at the start of labor. Most women go into labor within 24 hours of their water breaking, and if they don't, a doctor will likely induce them to prevent delivery complications and infections.
Contractions – This is somewhat of a gray area, as not all "contractions" signify labor. Braxton Hicks contractions occur when your uterus tightens and relaxes, and they can happen anytime within the last few months of pregnancy. To tell if your contractions are the real thing, look for a regular pattern that gets closer together and more intense as time passes.
The 3 stages of labor and delivery
Did you know that labor and delivery are separated into three stages?
The first stage is divided into three sections: latent, active and transition. The latent stage happens first, and it's the least intense of the three. In the latent stage, your contractions get closer together in an effort to relax your cervix so it can dilate in preparation for delivery. This is when you'll likely head to the hospital.
During the active stage, your cervix will further dilate and you'll start to feel more painful and intense contractions. You might not like having to wait to push, but your doctor will probably tell you it's necessary so your cervix can fully open up.
Finally, the transition stage is when your cervix is totally ready for delivery and your contractions are very frequent and most intense.
In the second stage, your doctor will tell you that it's okay to start pushing. This, along with your contractions, will help push your baby out of the birth canal. His or her head will come first, and then you'll need to push more to get the shoulders and the rest of the body out. But you're not done yet!
In the final stage of labor, you'll deliver the placenta, which is what has been nurturing your baby while he or she was in your uterus.
Surprises you might not know about
No matter how many natural pregnancy tips you've read and how much help for pregnant women you've gotten, you might be in for a few surprises when it comes to your labor and delivery. Some of them are pleasant, while others are decidedly less so!
One good thing that some mothers notice is that labor isn't as bad as they thought it'd be. You might hear lots of negative stories of women going through what they describe as hell, but your experience might be totally different! With the right pain management techniques and support, you could have a much easier labor and delivery than you expected!
Some less positive surprises include little accidents that might happen while you're pushing or right after you've delivered your baby. Some women find themselves going to the bathroom unexpectedly, whether it's liquid or solid. If this happens, don't worry – doctors have seen it all! You might also pass some gas along the way, but again, this isn't a big deal.
Even your baby might have an accident! Meconium has been collecting in his or her intestines for months now, and he or she might not be able to control when it finally releases.
When it comes down to it, you can never be fully prepared for when labor will happen or how delivery will pan out, but with a good attitude and plenty of new born preparation, this will be one of the most exciting and rewarding times in your life!