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Signs of labor: what to expect and how to deal with contractions.

Think of your labor as a standing-room-only concert you’ve been waiting to see for, oh: nine months. Though you’re holding out for the headliner, you’re just excited to see the opening act appear. We’ve got some info that will help you through that first stage and onto the main event.

“False Labor”

During pregnancy, some women feel painless contractions or a tightening in the abdominal area. These are known as Braxton-Hicks contractions and are a sign of what is sometimes called “false labor,” or practice labor. You’re not really in labor – your body is just warming up. It’s completely normal. Some women never get Braxton-Hicks contractions, and that’s fine, too.

Pre-Labor: When is it the real deal?

Though you’re probably going to expect to deliver right around your due date, it’s actually possible to start labor as early as three weeks before to as late as two weeks after your due date. Here are some signs that those uterine contractions aren’t messing with you:

  • You may see some mucus and a tiny bit of blood coming from your vagina. This is known as the “mucus plug,” or “bloody show.” It usually appears a few days before or right at the onset of your labor, but many women never notice it at all.
  • Your baby will “drop.” This just means that your little tyke is moving lower into your pelvis. This is also called “lightening,” or “engagement.” You may notice that your belly looks a little lower than before or that you can breathe easier because some space has opened up near your lungs. You’ll probably have to pee even more, too, as there’s increased pressure on your bladder.
  • Often women experience loose bowel movements or a kind of “flushing out” sometime before labor starts. This is due to a shift in hormones.
  • Contractions that repeat in regular intervals of less than 10 minutes usually indicate that baby is on its way.
  • Amniotic fluid gushing or leaking from the vagina is another indication that labor is imminent. But unlike Hollywood movies, this is not something that always happens before labor starts. In most births, the water breaks at some point during labor.
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