Updated: Dec 3, 2020
A few weeks ago I shared the “Am I in labor” blog, but what I really should have done was explicitly name it “Early labor versus Prodromal labor”. After chatting with some of you and some experiences over the last two weeks, it became clear I should probably dive into the topic of early labor a little more.
Early labor is the first part of the first stage of labor. Typically, during the beginning of early labor moms will share that they feel very excited but nervous, a little unsure. Contractions tend to be around 10 minutes apart, noticeable, but can be ignored. As labor progresses, contractions become longer and closer together, and more intense. Soon, mom will be pausing to breathe through them, then she’ll be focusing on them, then she might start changing positions for them… and eventually she might start vocalizing through them. These are pretty “obvious” signs of labor…
But we have some more ubiquitous signs of labor that can leave us confused.
If you’ve been experiencing prodromal labor for a few days (dare I say… weeks…) you might have a hard time identifying signs that “real labor” is finally imminent. And although we talked about this some already, we’re gonna get more specific today.
We’re talking about the “TMI” stuff (Note: I don’t know the meaning of TMI, but I know for most normal people this stuff isn’t dinner conversation... ): mucus plugs, bloody show, broken waters, and what the heck it all means.
What is the Mucus plug?
Your mucus plug is, for lack of better words, a glob of cervical mucus that essentially covers the cervix to provide an extra layer of protection against infection. Many people consider losing the mucus plug to be a sign that labor is imminent. However, you can “loose” your plug weeeeeks before labor begins. Your cervix is constantly secreting mucus and creating more, so the plug DOES regenerate. What does your mucus plug look like?
Do you know what egg white cervical mucus looks like during ovulation? Imagine that x10. You know when your nose is super stuffed at the change of seasons and you sneeze and unexpectedly shoot out a thick glob of snot that is hard to even break free from your nose…? Yeah… that’s similar to a mucus plug. Hey… no one said this stuff was glamorous!
Sometimes your mucus plug will be clear, opaque white, or maybe even slightly yellow. If it’s bright yellow or green contact your provider to rule out infection. Sometimes plug can be tinged with blood also. This is very normal, especially if you recently had any cervical irritation like recent sex or a cervical exam.
What is the bloody show?
I am going to preface this with if you have any disconcerting bleeding, please contact your provider immediately. While some bleeding is normal within pregnancy, some bleeding can be the sign of a bigger problem. If you have any concerns, contact your healthcare provider ASAP.
This blog is for educational purposes only and is not meant to be diagnostic or rule out any conditions.
So… what is bloody show…?
As the cervix changes, sometimes we will see blood. This can be anything from a little blood tinged mucus to lots of blood tinged mucus, and sometimes even fresh blood.
If you’re in early labor, or labor has not started yet and you are experiencing bright red bleeding in copious amounts, contact your provider immediately. Typically, mucus plug will be visible when you wipe, but not pouring out or collecting on a pad in large amounts. Bloody show can be a sign that labor is really close. To be truthful, though everyone is different, all of my clients did not have bloody show until they were in early labor for an extended period of time or in active labor.
When will my water break? Do I have to rush to the hospital?
Who knows.. And no, probably not.
Some women have their “water” start leaking days before birth. The amniotic sac actually has an outer fluid filled layer called the “forewaters” which can break first and leak, with the “hind waters” still intact. Sometimes, when there is a preterm rupture of membranes, the membranes will actually re-seal… however it’s always important to stay in close communication with your provider.
On TV, we always see the water break with a WHOOSH and mom rushes to the hospital and has a baby in five seconds. It’s very rarely like this. In reality, I’ve actually only had about half of my clients experience membrane rupture before labor began. Personally speaking, my water didn’t break til I was in active labor for one baby and broke in early labor for the other. If you have a healthy pregnancy and your water breaks before contractions start, I always recommend staying home for contractions to start, while staying in touch with your provider. Signs of concern would be if the waters are brown, black, or green, have a terrible smell, or mom starts to spike a fever. These could be signs of thick meconium (baby’s first poop, within the realm of normal, but too much can be risky) or infection.
I will write a more detailed “what to do when your water breaks” blog soon because there is so much that could be said on this topic.
Of course there are 7000000 other signs your body is getting closer to labor, including nausea, diarrhea, an overall off feeling, and more… but besides your water breaking and bloody show, most do not mean labor is imminent, however, when you start having many signs of labor at the same time, you can trust that your body is getting closer and closer to labor. Remember that although the last weeks of pregnancy feel long and exhausting, your body knows what it’s doing. In most cases of a healthy pregnancy and baby, it is typically considered safe to be pregnant up to 42 weeks. If you’re feeling “over” being pregnant, you’re not alone! If you’re considering induction, check out my blog about induction options.
I'm Jaimie Zaki, a birth doula, nurse, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and Birth Photographer here to answer your questions about pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. I'm a mother and wife, and have experienced Cesarean Birth, a medicated VBAC in the hospital, and an unmedicated homebirth of a 10pound 4 ounce baby. After nursing through mastitis, tongue ties, thrush and more, I've breastfed my babies over 50 months cumulatively, and I've helped countless mothers reach THEIR birth and breastfeeding goals.