Throughout your pregnancy, one thought will often be at the forefront of your mind: what is the moment you give birth going to be like. You’ll most likely spend a lot of time thinking about how you’ll feel at the time, where you’ll be, and if you’ll know that it’s coming well in advance.

The good news is, your body is very likely to actually prepare you for the big moment.

Fake contractions

From the beginning of the third trimester, many women start to experience what is known as Braxton Hicks contractions. These are fake contractions that are simply a practice run for both mother and baby.

You should be able to spot these contractions because they aren’t rhythmic and generally happen far too early in the gestational process. If you’re not sure about the contractions, always contact your doctor. They’ll be able to examine both you and your baby, and put your mind at rest.

Your baby will move into birthing position

Also in the third trimester, your baby should shift position into vertex presentation. This is when the head is pointing down towards the birth canal and the feet are up towards your rib cage. This is the most normal birthing position, but not all babies make this shift. Breech position is when the feet remain facing down towards the birth canal. Many babies have been born like this, or arms first, or even bum first, and been completely healthy.

Just before the shift happens, some women report feeling their baby being incredibly active. They then feel a sudden, big shift before their baby’s movements decrease significantly. At this point, your baby is sitting very snuggly in your uterus and now doesn’t have much space to move it arms or legs. It’s quite normal for your baby to not move much for the weeks leading up to childbirth. However, if you don’t feel any movement at all in a 24-hour period, consult your doctor.

IMPORTANT: When a baby stops moving in the uterus, it can be a big cause for concern. Always try to encourage your baby to move before contacting your doctor.

Once your baby has shifted into its birthing position, labor can occur at any time. You may also start to experience other symptoms that aren’t specifically associated with childbirth, but can be a good sign that it’s coming. These include lower back pain, diarrhea and heartburn.

The main signs that childbirth is imminent

The signs of approaching childbirth can often get missed by the anxiety or stress of the period. However, there are certain signs that are very clear and quite difficult to miss. These are:

  • Discharge of the cervical mucus plug – When you fall pregnant, a plug forms over the opening to the cervix. This usually stays in place until the end of the gestational period and then comes out as you start to dilate. The plug can come out as either a solid piece or as a thicker-than-normal discharge.
  • Your water breaking – We’ve all seen the moment in the movies where the pregnant women has a watery liquid gushing down her legs and she has to get rushed to hospital to give birth. Real life isn’t quite the same, but your water breaking is a clear sign that labor is about to start. Essentially, this moment is when the membrane of the amniotic sac ruptures and the liquid is released. Sometimes this will come out in a gush, and other times it may be an irregular trickle. Either way, it isn’t like a normal discharge and you will notice it. Once this has happened, you should contact your gynecologist to let them know that you could go into active labor at any point now.
  • Contractions – This is the clearest sign that you will be giving birth to your baby in the near future. They will start off weak at first and quite far apart. Some women barely feel them to begin with and don’t realize what the discomfort is until they get much stronger. With each contraction, you’ll feel your abdomen harden and the muscles will all tighten before relaxing again. They will get more and more intense as time goes on. Once the contractions become rhythmic, you have reached active labor. The smaller the gap between contractions, the closer you are to childbirth.
  • Baby moving less – As mentioned above, at the end of the third trimester, your baby will start to move much less. This is because there is far less space in the uterus for arms and legs to move around. The closer you get to the start of labor, the less your baby is likely to move. There should still be sporadic movements every now and then as the baby shifts to get more comfortable.

What to do once you realize you’re in labor

Now you know how to spot the early signs of labor, it’s important to know what to do. The first thing on your check list should be to call your gynecologist. Let them know that labor has started and report all of the details that you can. Your doctor will then recommend when the best time to head to the hospital or maternity home is.

When you head off to the hospital, don’t forget your maternity suitcase. This should have been packed at the beginning of the third trimester so that you’re ready for this moment.

Once you’ve been admitted and labor is moving along, your doctor will examine you. They will check the baby’s heart rate and the intensity of your contractions to see how far along you are. They will also do a physical examination to check your dilation.

Readers’ questions:

What is the most obvious sign of childbirth?

Contractions have to be the most obvious and easily recognizable sign that you are going into labor. They start off as a light tightening of the muscles in the abdomen
and occur at irregular intervals. As they get stronger and closer together, it’s a clear sign that the birth of your child will be coming soon.

Is back pain a symptom of childbirth?

Back pain is all part of pregnancy, and especially so in the third trimester thanks to all the extra weight you’re carrying in your abdomen. However, in the final stretch, you’ll find that your back pain can get worse. It will also be exacerbated when contractions start.

Are there signs to look out for before contractions start?

There definitely are plenty of signs you can look out for. You may experience diarrhea or heartburn in the days leading up to labor. Your water should also break. This is the membrane holding in your amniotic fluid. This will rupture just before labor begins in most pregnancies.