39 weeks pregnant signs of labor approaching

39 weeks pregnant signs of labor approaching

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Many pregnant moms have wondered how labor will feel, how long it will last, and how to know whether it’s the real deal or a false alarm.

Every birth is different, so it’s hard to predict the answers to all those questions. But knowing the signs of labor to look out for will help provide clues that it’s almost time to meet your baby, including:

  • Strong, frequent contractions

  • Bloody show

  • Belly and lower back pain

  • Water breaking

Other, early signs labor is close (anywhere from a month to mere hours away from active labor) include:

  • Baby drops

  • Cervix begins to dilate

  • Cramps and increased back pain

  • Loose-feeling joints

  • Diarrhea

  • Weight gain stops

  • Fatigue and the nesting instinct

39 weeks pregnant signs of labor approaching39 weeks pregnant signs of labor approaching39 weeks pregnant signs of labor approaching
39 weeks pregnant signs of labor approaching

What is labor?

Labor is the process of childbirth, starting with contractions of the uterus and cervical dilation, and ending with the delivery of the baby.

As you get closer to your due date, you may begin to notice some subtle physical signs that labor is coming soon. Then you may see signs of early labor anywhere from hours to days before you transition into active labor and baby arrives.

Signs of labor

You have likely gone into true labor if you’ve noticed the following signs, but always check with your practitioner to be sure:

Strong, frequent contractions

You’ll know you’re experiencing actual labor contractions by assessing the pain’s frequency, intensity and location. If you’re unsure, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are the contractions evenly spaced? True labor contractions are spaced at regular intervals and become more frequent as time goes on.

  • How long do the contractions last? Real labor contractions last for 30 to 70 seconds each.

  • Are the contractions strong? Actual labor contractions get stronger over time and don’t ease up, even when you change positions. You may not be able to walk or talk through labor contractions once they’ve progressed.

Bloody show

You may notice the loss of your mucus plug — the cork sealing off your uterus from the outside world. It can come out in one large piece (it looks similar to the mucus in your nose) or lots of little ones, though you may not get a glimpse of it at all (and some women don’t lose it before delivery).

In the last days before labor, you’ll likely see increased and/or thickened vaginal discharge. This thickened, pinkish discharge is called bloody show and is a good indication that labor is imminent.

Belly and lower back pain

You may feel like you’re having strong menstrual cramps, stomach upset or lower abdominal pressure. You could also have pain in your lower back that radiates down into the legs. This pain won’t go away if you change positions.


Water breaking

While movies would have you think you’ll learn you’re in labor only when your water breaks (in the middle of a romantic dinner date at a busy restaurant, of course), that’s a very unlikely scenario.

For most women, membranes rupture and amniotic fluid leaks after other labor symptoms have already begun. And you won’t necessarily lose it all in one big gush, either — for some women, water breaking feels more like a trickle.

Your water breaking is actually one of the final signs of labor most women experience — and it happens naturally in only around 15 percent of births or fewer. So don’t count on it as a definite sign of labor.

39 weeks pregnant signs of labor approaching
39 weeks pregnant signs of labor approaching


Signs That Labor Is 24 to 48 Hours Away

When you’re close to your baby’s due date, each day that passes can feel like 100. Time becomes relentless — just like calls from well-meaning loved ones asking if you’re still pregnant. You need a sign (anything!) to signal that labor is near. But do signs that labor is 24 to 48 hours away exist?

Dr. Emery says there are four early signs of labor that may just happen to you.

Four early signs of labor

Signs that labor is imminent are a bit of a moving target. There’s no step-by-step list of how it all goes down, and the only thing you can count on is that your experience will be unique to you.

“The frequency and intensity of contractions determines labor,” says Dr. Emery. “But there are some physical symptoms that happen during that time.”

1. Cramps

Some women feel the type of cramps that usually happen with menstruation. “These cramps are different than Braxton Hicks, which are usually painless false contractions that happen when the uterus tightens,” explains Dr. Emery. “These period-like cramps may be the beginning of mild contractions. They’re not too painful, but they’re noticeable. They may come and go over hours or even a couple of days.”

2. Pelvic pressure

You may start to feel pressure in your vagina or pelvis. “This may be due to ‘lightening,’ which is when the baby drops down from the abdomen. Some women feel lightening as pelvic pressure or even low back pain,” says Dr. Emery. “But keep in mind that some women don’t experience this drop until they’re in actual labor.”

3. Loss of the mucus plug

Some women notice a change in their vaginal discharge, which may signal the passing of their mucus plug. The mucus plug is an accumulation of mucus that forms a seal over the cervix’s opening. It helps protect the baby from unhealthy bacteria outside of the uterus. As the cervix starts opening in preparation for labor, you may lose the mucus plug (also called bloody show) in one blob or gradually.

“Decades ago, people used to think that if a woman passed her mucus plug, it meant that she would be in labor in a certain number of days. But now we know that bloody show can be nonspecific. You can lose the mucus plug, not go into labor, and the mucus can even re-accumulate in the cervix.”

39 weeks pregnant signs of labor approaching
39 weeks pregnant signs of labor approaching

4. Changes in your vaginal discharge

Even if the mucus plug stays intact, you may notice other changes to your vaginal discharge. “It can become more watery, stickier and thicker, or maybe a little pink before labor begins or at the early stages of labor,” says Dr. Emery.

Other signs labor could be near

Dr. Emery says that while there are other potential signs of labor, they have less real science to back them up. These signs of labor include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Lightning crotch pain (sharp, burning or shooting nerve pain in your pelvis caused by your baby’s position).
  • Loose stools or diarrhea.
  • Sudden burst of energy (which Dr. Emery says is often associated with nesting, or the strong desire to get your home ready for baby).

“One or more of these labor signs might happen for some women, but there’s no clear evidence that they’re related to pre-labor or early labor.”