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When you’re approaching your baby's birth, there’s a lot you will need to remember. But as far as what you can expect, every woman is different, and every woman's experience is unique. Signs that indicate your body is getting ready for labor include:

  • You may begin to “nest”—energetically prepare for the baby’s arrival.
  • Your baby will move down lower into your pelvis. It is often said that the baby "drops," giving your cramped lungs and stomach a bit more space.
  • Your vaginal fluid may become thicker, you may lose your mucous plug, and notice a blood-tinged pinkish or brownish vaginal discharge.
  • You may notice a change in your bowel movements, even diarrhea—your body is cleaning out your bowel and preparing for delivery.
  • Your membranes rupture—this means that your “water breaks.” This may happen anytime during labor. If you are at home when this happens, call your provider.
  • Contractions.

Although you have been having contractions throughout your pregnancy, changes in your contractions may be a sign that you are beginning labor. It’s important to know how to identify an early labor contraction from what are known as practice contractions. Labor contractions will become more regular, stronger, last longer and get closer together. Be patient as you wait for all of these changes to signal true labor. Labor contractions usually start as an aching in the lower back, moving around to your lower abdomen. Ask your provider for advice on when to call once you think you are in labor, and when to plan on arriving at the hospital. If you can’t tell if your contractions are indicating true labor, you should call your provider.

There are times that your care provider may recommend starting your labor artificially. This is called an induced labor. Labor may be induced when there are concerns for the health of the mother or her baby. Ask your provider to explain the reasons for induction and how your labor will be induced.

Warning Signs During Labor
Be sure to ask your provider about signs to watch for that may indicate problems in labor.

Your Birth Care Plan
Each mother, and sometimes her partner, has expectations about the birth of her baby. In order to help those who will be with you in labor, you may want to put these expectations in writing as your “birth care plan.” You can give this document to your provider so that she or he can review your wishes. Items you may want to include in your birth care plan are:

  • Personalizing your delivery environment (music, pictures, pillows)
  • Who will be present for delivery (partner, older children, doulas)
  • Pain relief measures (including "hydrotherapy"—using warm water to help relieve tired or sore muscles)
  • Cesarean birth
  • Breastfeeding immediately after birth
  • Circumcision
  • Baby’s care provider
  • Immunizations

Click below to read about related topics.

What to Expect
Pain & Pain Relief
Cesarean Delivery
Breech Birth
Premature Labor & Delivery