As a pregnancy draws to an end every woman wants to know how much longer the pregnancy will last. While everyone likes to think that the due date is a reliable indicator, the truth is that the average human gestation period is anywhere from 38 to 42 weeks. Knowing the signs a baby is coming may save you and your family a lot of frustration by establishing realistic estimations and expectations.
About a month before its arrival the baby will face head down and drop lower into the abdomen. It is this time that many friends and family members may notice a change in your profile and claim that the baby has “dropped.” Those mothers who experience the less-than-amusing rib tickling of the last trimester will likely find some relief from their discomforts at this point. However, the Mayo Clinic warns that lightening is not always a visually noticeable change. A pediatrician will be able to tell you if the baby has dropped into position as the due date looms.
When you become pregnant, a mucous plug begins to form around your cervix. Between 2 and 6 weeks before giving birth this mucous plug typically falls out as the cervix begins to dilate. Sometimes the mucous plug sheds into the panties, where it looks like a dime-sized white-, yellow- or light-green-colored gelatinous ball. Often, however, this appears to be a normal discharge and goes unnoticed. Occasionally, there is a “bloody show” associated with the loss of the mucous plug. Usually only a few drops of blood will appear. Other times there will be heavy and sudden bleeding. While any heavy flow of blood during pregnancy should be immediately assessed by a physician, bleeding associated with the loss of the mucous plug is very normal and harmless.
Around 2 weeks before labor begins the cervix will soften and begin to dilate in preparation for giving birth. In all, the cervix will dilate from 0 to 10 centimeters. It is common for you to be dilated 1 or 2 centimeters for 2 weeks before active labor begins. However, it is also not unheard of for you to be dilated to as many as 5 centimeters for a week before giving birth. If any dilation has occurred, then the baby is on its way–likely within the next few weeks.
While Braxton-Hicks contracts are normal for months before baby comes, they will grow more common and intense as the due date nears. However, a sign that the baby is coming occurs when the contractions manifest into real contractions. Real contractions can be felt as a low, dull backache or in the lower abdomen as a feeling of tightening, pulling or even bloating. As dilation increases the contractions will grow more intense, more frequent and they will fall into a pattern. When these regular contractions start and persist for hours, it is likely only 48 hours or less before the baby arrives.
Immediately before labor begins most women experience a natural cleansing of the body that is rarely recognized as one of the signs that baby is coming. As early and mild contractions begin to settle into a pattern, you may feel the need to go to the restroom more frequently without reason. Additionally, any stools passed will be loose and often plentiful. This is your body’s way of allowing for a baby’s clean entrance into this world.
While Hollywood makes a woman’s water breaking seem like an epic flood, it should be known that only rarely will your water break suddenly, as a gush, before labor begins. Many women will experience their membrane rupture as a slow leaking of fluids while others will have to have their membranes ruptured manually only shortly before giving birth. Nevertheless, it should also be noted that membrane rupture is a surefire sign that a baby is coming. According to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, 90 percent of women begin labor within 24 hours after their water breaks. However, if you do not go into labor naturally within that time period most physicians will induce labor in an attempt to prevent an infection.