Labor and Childbirth: Your Body Prepares

Labor is the series of uterine contractions that dilate (open) and efface (thin) your cervix for birth. Your due date is a guide to when labor will begin, but babies often come days or weeks before or after due dates. Even so, labor need not take you by surprise. In the last weeks of pregnancy, you or your healthcare provider may notice changes that mean labor is near.

 Pregnant woman sitting in chair reading. Baby is visible inside. Placenta and umbilical cord send nourishment to baby. Amniotic sac (bag of water) holds fluid that surrounds baby in uterus. Perineum is area between vaginal opening and anus. Uterus (womb) holds baby as it grows. Mucous plug helps keep bacteria out of uterus. Cervix is narrow opening of uterus. Pubic symphysis joint lies between pelvic bones and allows baby to pass through. Vagina is birth canal.

Changes in your body

Physical changes often signal that your baby will soon be born:

  • Discharge from your vagina may increase and become thicker. You may notice a pink or brownish discharge called the bloody show.

  • The mucous plug may break down over a few weeks or all at once. Losing the plug doesn’t mean that labor will start right away.

  • You may feel Braxton Hicks contractions (false labor). These irregular contractions start to soften and thin the cervix. Many women mistake these contractions for true labor. They may be more noticeable towards the end of the day.

  • Feeling like the baby has dropped lower. In preparation for birth, the baby's head has settled deep into your pelvis.