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Signs of labor: Know what to expect
Do you know the typical signs of labor? Understand the changes your body will go through as you prepare to give birth.By Mayo Clinic staff
On television, babies are often born with a rush of emotion and swift action. The mother doubles over from the pain of a single contraction, and the baby appears before the commercial break. In reality, however, labor usually begins less dramatically. Find out common signs of labor and what they mean for you and your baby.
Effacement: Ripening of the cervix
One of the first signs of labor is your cervix softening and thinning, or effacing. Most of the effacing happens in the last weeks before delivery and you won't feel this preparation for labor happening. Instead, your health care provider might check for signs of cervical change with vaginal exams.
Effacement is often expressed in percentages. The cervix starts out about 4 centimeters (cm) long. When you're 50 percent effaced, your cervix is half its original thickness, or 2 cm. Your cervix must be 100 percent effaced, or completely thinned out, before a vaginal delivery.
Dilation: Opening of the cervix
Another of the early signs of labor is your cervix beginning to open, or dilate. For most women, some dilation occurs before labor. Your health care provider will measure the dilation in centimeters from zero to 10.
At first, these cervical changes can be very slow. In fact, some women are dilated 2 to 3 cm for days or even weeks before labor actually begins. Dilation isn't a good indicator of when labor will begin, but rather a general sign that you're getting ready for labor. Once you're in active labor, expect to dilate more quickly.
Bloody show: Loss of mucous plug
During pregnancy, a thick plug of mucus blocks the cervical opening to prevent bacteria from entering the uterus. When your cervix begins to thin and open, this plug may fall out. You might notice stringy mucus or a thick discharge. It's typically brown and sometimes tinged with blood.
Losing the mucous plug is among the telltale signs of labor, but it's not a guarantee. Labor may still be days or weeks away.Next page
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