When Does Baby Drop? The Scoop On 'Lightening' For Expectant Parents

Lightening 101: When Your Baby Will Drop, And What Happens Next

May 19, 2021 Updated August 17, 2021

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Being pregnant is full of so much promise but so much uncertainty, too. Whether it’s your first or your fifth pregnancy, you’ll no doubt find yourself sometimes worrying, “Is this normal?” Bad news, first-time mamas: That doesn’t stop when the baby is born. As a matter of fact, the thought of keeping a baby alive “in the real world” can sometimes seem significantly more daunting when they’re still inside you — snuggled up safely in a position in your womb that feels like it’s practically under your heart. (Or on your kidneys.) So, in dreaded anticipation of the moment your little one leaves your protective nook, you may be wondering, When does baby drop?

As your due date inches closer, you’ll start to look for signs of your baby’s impending arrival. One possible sign that many people will tell you to watch for and suggest indicates that your little nugg is on the way? The “lightening,” aka when your baby drops further into the birth canal in preparation for birth. But what does that mean exactly? What will it feel like? And is it a sign that labor is coming soon?

We’ve got the answers, Mama. Hopefully, this will lay to rest any laboring (pregnancy pun intended) myths, pregnancy wives’ tales, and personal concerns.

What does it mean when people say the baby “drops”?

While the word “drop” implies a sudden shift in position, it’s a bit of a misnomer. When your baby drops, it simply means that your babe has moved into a position more suitable for delivery. In many cases, this can mean that your baby will shift lower in your body. As in, yes, she might finally do a “somersault” so that her head is down toward your pelvis and ready to enter the world. It can be a sign that you’ll go into labor soon… but not necessarily. Some babies don’t drop until Mama is already at the hospital, in labor.

So, when does baby drop?

As previously mentioned, not all babies officially drop in that significant, noticeable, “here I come” way. However, it seems most babies do drop roughly two to four weeks before they’re born. So, if your doctor has said they expect you to carry to term (40 weeks), you can probably expect your baby to drop sometime around 36 to 38 weeks. Of course, the drop isn’t so much a quick movement as it is a slow progression. Also good to know? It might start as early as 34 weeks.

You could notice the shift right away, or it could take a couple of weeks for you to realize it happened. Heck, you may never notice. If you’re feeling like your baby dropped at 34 weeks and are worried he’s coming early, never hesitate to reach out to your obstetrician. That’s why they’re there, and they usually have an on-call doc to talk to you no matter what. Second, remember that, in most cases, your baby’s lightening doesn’t mean they’ll come into the world tomorrow.

Still feeling like an early arrival is imminent? According to Very Well Family, a babe born between 29 to 30 weeks will most likely be in for an extended NICU stay, but the survival rate is still high. Keep an open line of communication with your OB-GYN so they can walk you through all of your worries.

What will it feel like when baby drops?

You may not feel the physical drop of the lightening, but you’ll certainly feel the after-effects of carrying your baby lower in your body. Signs your baby has dropped include:

  • A bigger appetite and less pregnancy heartburn or indigestion. Your baby is no longer sitting on your stomach, hooray!
  • Breathing easier. If you’ve been short of breath for weeks and suddenly feel like you can breathe deeply again, it’s because there’s no longer a baby pushing against your lungs.
  • A shift in your balance. With a lowered bump comes a new center of gravity. It’ll take time to adjust… again.
  • Pelvic or lower back pain. What? You didn’t think this new position would make everything easier, did you? Now that your baby is in a new position, they’re pushing on different muscles.
  • A visible shift in bump placement. Have you been taking those profile pics since the very beginning? As you get further along, start comparing not just the size of your bump but the placement as well. Some mamas carry low from the beginning, so it’s hard to tell. If you’ve carried higher, though, you’ll most likely notice as your chunk moves lower.

Does lightening feel the same for each pregnancy?

Here’s a fun thing to keep in mind: Feeling your baby drop is often only something you experience during your first pregnancy. It seems after your first kiddo is born, your body is better prepared for the laboring process. While you may not experience lightening during your first pregnancy, you’re even less likely to experience it on the next. This doesn’t mean anything is wrong! It simply proves the point that every pregnancy is unique.

What happens if the baby doesn’t drop into the pelvis?

All babies and pregnancies are different. So if your baby doesn’t drop before labor, that is OK. Whether the baby descends to your pelvis doesn’t affect labor, meaning one can still have a safe childbirth. But it’s also important to keep in mind, some babies drop super last minute, like at the beginning of labor.

Exercises to Get Baby to Drop

There’s nothing wrong with helping baby through the delivery. So, if they haven’t dropped yet, here are a few exercises you can do to get things started.

  • Try pelvic tilts. This is when you get on all fours and inhale and exhale. This is great for boosting hip mobility and strengthen your stomach. The movement of your pelvis can help tilt the baby in your pelvis area.
  • Walking: Take a walk because it helps open your hips which can also encourage baby to drop. Walking up some stairs is also helpful. This automatically puts your body at an angle that helps your baby lower into your pelvis.
  • Squatting: Squatting is also a great way to open your hip up. Make sure you use a steady base to help you get low.
  • Lunges: Lunges are a great way to open your hips and pelvis. Doing this kind of stretch allows your baby to shift and move into your pelvis naturally.
  • Butterfly stretches: This stretches out your pelvic joints, which is an excellent way to induce labor.