Every child’s birth story is just a little bit different. Mothers of more than one child can tell you that each birth they experienced wasn’t quite the same as the one before. But there are a few things the body typically does to prepare itself for delivery. Not every mom will have all the signs of early labor, but if you do you will know to pack your hospital bag and prepare for your baby’s arrival.


Early Signs of Labor

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1. Your Baby Drops

By the end of your pregnancy, you may feel uncomfortably large. The baby has all but outgrown the available space in your body, which can result in difficulty breathing, frequent urination, and heartburn. But a few days or weeks before delivery, the baby shifts downward into the pelvis in preparation for birth. You may be breathing easier, but feel more pressure in your pelvic area, as well as some cramping.

2. Your Cervix Changes

The dilation of your cervix allows your baby to be born. Losing your mucus plug and the “bloody show” are among the first signals that your cervix is beginning to stretch and thin.

The mucus plug is a sticky, thick substance, not unlike the mucus from your nose, that closes off the cervix. You may notice that the entire plug is lost at once, or you may see pieces over time. As the cervix begins to stretch, you may experience blood loss, typically seen as pink or brown streaks. This small amount of blood close to your due date could be a sign that your body is preparing for delivery. If you see a large amount of red blood, call your doctor or seek medical attention immediately.

3. You Experience Contractions

The uterus is a muscular organ that has cradled your baby for nine months, and its last job is to help you push the baby out of your body. It does this by tightening the muscles, pushing the baby into birthing position.

You may feel your abdomen become tight, or you may experience backaches or cramps. It can be difficult to determine true contractions from the “warm-up” contractions some women experience, known as Braxton-Hicks contractions. You’ll know it’s the real deal if the contractions are regular when you time them, become stronger, and continue even when you drink water or change position.

4. Your Water Breaks

When the fluid-filled amniotic sac breaks, you may experience a rush of fluid or just a slight trickle. Either way, it’s likely a sign that your baby is on its way.

If your water has broken, it’s time to go to call your doctor. Because the sac is broken, it can be more susceptible to infection, so don’t introduce anything into the vagina during this time.

Learn more by delivering the UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital Labor and Delivery webpage.

About UPMC Magee-Womens

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.