As you probably already know, a typical pregnancy lasts around 40 weeks. Considering that there are 52 weeks in a year, that's a long time to be growing a human inside of you. Between dietary and exercise restrictions to watching your body swell every which way, it's safe to say that you're ready to not be pregnant anymore by the time that ninth month rolls around. You're also eager to meet the little bundle of joy that's been taking up residence inside of you for all this time. So when do you know that glorious day is on the horizon? Sure, your doctor has provided you with an official due date, but babies don't adhere to any kind of organized schedule. They come when they are good and ready, which can make knowing when you're about to go into labor tricky to predict. Luckily, there are a few milestones to be on the lookout for — including some weird things that happen before labor.
Of course, some signs of labor are pretty commonly known and have been featured in various forms of pop culture. Braxton Hicks, for example, indicates that real contractions shouldn't be too far behind. (Remember on Friends when Rachel had them and thought her baby was coming?) Having your water break is another major labor sign that many people know to look out for. However, a few unexpected — or even bizarre — things can happen before going into labor that you may not be aware you should anticipate.
If you're feeling a little anxious and wondering when the heck your baby is going to make its debut, here are a few possible ways your body might try to tell you.
1. Loss of the Mucus Plug
Yes, the term itself sounds kinda gross, but the concept is pretty straightforward. Your mucus plug is simply a buildup of mucus located over the opening of your cervix. Its primary function is to serve as a barrier between your baby and any bacteria that may exist outside of your uterus. But if your cervix begins to open (in preparation for giving birth), the mucus plug could start to come out. Because it's frequently streaked with blood, it's often referred to as "the bloody show." Sometimes, this can signify that labor is only a couple of days away.
However, don't panic if it takes longer than that, as OB/GYN Jonathan Emery, MD, is quick to point out. "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," Emery explained to the Cleveland Clinic in 2021. "You can lose the mucus plug, not go into labor, and the mucus can even re-accumulate in the cervix."
You may have thought you'd escaped the pain of menstruation cramps for nine months, but this painful sensation can reappear before labor commences, giving you a little teaser of what contractions will feel like. "These cramps are different than Braxton Hicks, which are usually painless false contractions that happen when the uterus tightens," Emery stated. "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."
3. Changes in Vaginal Discharge
Even without losing the mucus plug, there's a chance you could notice a change in your vaginal discharge in both consistency and color. Explained Emery, "It can become more watery, stickier and thicker, or maybe a little pink before labor begins or at the early stages of labor."
4. Pelvic Pressure
Instead of cramps, you may begin to feel a significant amount of pressure coming from your pelvic region. This is most likely due to "lightening," which is when the baby drops down lower in preparation for birth. Alas, it may also manifest itself as lower back pain.
5. Tummy Issues
Unfortunately, waves of nausea and diarrhea can actually be signs of impending labor. NHS midwife and founder of The Bump to Baby Chapter, Beth Kitt, recently told Cosmopolitan that "it is common for women to report loose stools in their early labor." She continued, "As the uterus starts to contract, the bowels can become irritated, resulting in loose stools. Some women notice their loose stools first and then clock on to the cramps that have started." This can seem especially weird if constipation has haunted your pregnancy. On the plus side, your body getting rid of everything in your bowels could minimize the chance you poop during labor and delivery. (Totally not a thing if that does happen, though!)
6. Changes in Your Pet
If you have a dog or a cat around the house, watch for signs of its behavior toward you changing, which could signify that labor is on its way. "Pets often seem to know when a baby is coming and will have a distinct change in behavior," Liz Halliday, Deputy Head of Midwifery at Private Midwives, told Cosmopolitan in the same interview. "A cuddly pet might suddenly leave you alone, whereas a pet who has been a bit stand-offish during pregnancy might be found constantly at your side." Talk about spooky!
7. Loosening Joints
When you spend nine months adjusting to all the new aches, pains, and stiffness in your growing body, you don’t exactly expect things to start feeling more relaxed before birth. But that’s precisely what happens — you’ll notice your joints feel looser. You can thank the hormone relaxin for this, which is softening your ligaments to prepare for active labor and delivery. A secondary side effect? You may feel clumsier than ever since those loose ligaments can make your grasp (and footing) less firm.
8. Emotional Shifts
Believe it or not, your mood swings could prove to be one of the biggest foreshadowing factors of all, according to Halliday. "As hormones rise in preparation for labor, women might experience an emotional response which can manifest in tears, anger or simply feeling down," she said. "This is perfectly normal and can often be helped with a bit of TLC. However, if a low mood is ongoing, do call your maternity health care provider for advice."
Your body temperature tends to run a bit higher during pregnancy. So if it's a warm day and you suddenly find yourself feeling cold and shivering, that may indicate your baby is almost here. "The change in body temperature is caused by labor hormones," Cheryl K. Baker, founder of Los Angeles Birth Partners, told Fatherly.
If you’ve been exhausted — like, bone-tired — for most of your pregnancy, it’ll throw you for a loop when you all of a sudden get a third-trimester burst of energy. Even stranger? You probably want to use that energy to clean and organize. This overwhelming desire to get things ready for the new baby is known as nesting, and it’s perfectly normal (even when it doesn’t feel normal).
In the end, every pregnancy is different, which means it's always difficult to say with absolute certainty what is or isn't a sign of labor. Still, it never hurts to be on the lookout for any of these signs that could hint at the long-awaited arrival of your little one.