How Long Does Pre-Labor Last?

The Opening Act Before the Main Event

It’s natural to have a long list of questions when you’re pregnant, many of which may center around what labor and delivery will be like. You may be wondering what labor feels like and how you’ll know when it’s the real deal. Although timelines are different for every woman, you can be on the lookout for pre-labor signs that will let you know the big day is growing near.

What is Pre-Labor?

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Pre-labor is the time period typically a few weeks before your baby is born. During this time, there are a collection of signs, some subtle and some a little more obvious, that occur while your body gets ready for delivery. Just as every woman is different, so is every pregnancy. Whether it’s your first baby or your third, the symptoms you experience are unique to your pregnancy and may be unpredictable. However, it’s not unusual to notice some signs of pre-labor anywhere from one to four weeks before delivery.

Signs of Pre-Labor

You may have people begin to comment that your baby has “dropped.” This is a visible sign of pre-labor. It occurs when the baby has lowered into your pelvis. You may also have a more frequent urge to pee if the baby is pressing on your bladder. For some women, the baby drops weeks before actual labor and for others, it can occur just a few hours in advance.

As you approach delivery, your cervix will begin to thin out, which is known as effacement, and to open, called dilation. Your healthcare provider is able to measure these changes to your cervix. You may begin to efface and dilate weeks before delivery, and it may be a slow process. Or, your cervix may not begin changing until days before delivery. Again, every pregnancy is different. You may also notice that your mucous plug has passed, which is a thick discharge that can be clear, pinkish or streaked with blood.

During pre-labor, you may notice your joints loosening. This is typically not a cause for concern and is simply another way your body prepares for your baby’s exit. You may also experience diarrhea, which, while unpleasant, can be simply a result of your muscles loosening.

Towards the end of your pregnancy, you will stop gaining weight and may even lose a bit of weight. This is a normal occurrence as the level of amniotic fluid drops. Your trips to the bathroom can also contribute to weight loss.

Some women experience “nesting” in the days or weeks leading up to delivery. This is a compelling urge to clean and organize. It may result in very tidy linen closets, immaculate floors and baby clothes that are organized by size and season. Whether nesting is a true sign of pre-labor is anyone’s guess. It could mean the baby is coming soon or it could mean you just want a clean and organized house before life becomes very busy!

When to See a Healthcare Provider

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While many symptoms will run their course and are not a sign to rush to the hospital, it’s important to know when you should contact your healthcare provider. If your water breaks or if you begin to experience consistent contractions that are only a few minutes apart, it’s time to call your healthcare provider. If you experience bleeding that is more than spotting, severe swelling, changes in vision or a headache, these are also signs that you should consult with your healthcare provider. At any point, if you are questioning whether you’re in labor or if everything is okay, a call to your doctor or midwife can help put your mind at ease and give you information about next steps.

Determining when your baby is going to arrive is certainly not an exact science. Although it may be frustrating to be without clear cut signs, you can tune in to a few pre-labor symptoms that will help you know the end is in sight.