After months of waiting for the big event, the end of your pregnancy is near. This time can be filled with feelings of joy, anxiety, discomfort, or frustration. Most women have some fear of labor, whether related to the pain of childbirth or the anxiety of figuring out what to do when you bring home your baby. But one thing that seems to be universal is the desire to hand your child an eviction notice (from your womb) and hold her in your arms for the first time. So as you mentally prepare yourself for the end of this journey and the beginning of the next, consider the following things you might not expect during labor and delivery.
As your due date creeps closer and closer, you might notice an insatiable urge to clean, organize, wash, cook, and get your house in order. While this is a normal part of preparing for a new baby, "nesting" is more of an obsessive behavior. You might find yourself waxing the floor, ironing the curtains, washing loads of already clean clothes, polishing silverware, or other household chores that you previously never thought of. Nesting can start anytime in pregnancy, commonly occurs after the fifth month of pregnancy. Scientists aren't exactly sure what causes this behavior, but theorize that a combination of your body's emotional response to stress and other biological or hormonal factors are responsible. Some people may think that nesting itself is a sign of impending labor, but that is not the case. Always be sure that your nesting habits do not lead to exhaustion. You'll need all the strength you can gather for the labor ahead.
Most first-time moms wonder what labor will feel like. As the weeks tick down and the anticipation builds, many women experience at least one episode of false labor. But the term "false labor" is misleading. You may feel cramps or Braxton-Hicks contractions at increased intervals or intensity levels that gradually decrease or go away entirely. When that happens, it's normal to feel a little deflated if you thought it was the big event. Don't stress! All contractions--even mild ones--are purposeful and help prepare your body (and baby) for labor. Often, real labor begins the same way as false labor--with possible lower back pain, menstrual-like cramping, and contractions. If you suspect labor is coming on, take a warm bath or shower and lie down on your left side. If it continues to increase, it might be the real thing! When in doubt, a call to your doctor or midwife is entirely appropriate.
Losing Your Mucus Plug (or not)
Your mucus plug plays an important yet often underappreciated role in your baby's health. In a nutshell, it is a collection of mucus that acts as a seal to your cervix, providing much needed separation from your womb and the outside world (i.e. germs and bacteria). As your cervix dilates towards the end of your pregnancy, you may notice a "bloody show," which is the loss of your mucus plug. It may be stringy, streaked with pink, red, or brown, resembling the appearance of a Kleenex after blowing your nose. Delightful, huh? As unappetizing as it may sound, it's a good thing to see. While it doesn't necessarily mean labor is eminent, it does mean you are dilating, and that's a good sign. No two pregnancies or bodies are alike, and some women never notice the loss of their mucus plug, as it might happen gradually.
Your Water Breaking (or not)
Only about 10 percent of labors begin with the breaking of the amniotic "water" sac. This may be surprising to learn since popular movies, books and TV shows reinforce the idea that every pregnant woman's water breaks, resulting in a pool of water all around her. In reality, some doctors or midwives have to break a laboring woman's water during delivery because it hasn't happened on its own. When that happens, you can expect up to six cups of amniotic fluid to come gushing out. Occasionally, a bag will rupture (with or without assistance) and the baby's head will act as a plug in the cervix, allowing just a tiny trickle of fluid out. In these cases, the sac will try to replenish itself until the baby is delivered, so expect some sogginess--up to a cup an hour--until your baby is in your arms. Unlike urine, amniotic fluid smells sweet and appears translucent. If you think your water has broken, be sure to call your doctor or midwife. But don't be embarrassed if it turns out that you've just wet your pants a little. Doctors see it all the time!
"I Birthed an Alien!"
For some first-time moms, the only exposure they've had with newborns has been through television and movies. When you think of seeing your beautiful baby for the first time, you probably envision a pink, squirmy, little version of yourself and your partner. In reality, that's what your son or daughter will look like at around three or four months old. But straight from the womb, newborns have characteristics that you might not think of when dreaming of your baby: a cone-shaped head from traveling down the birth canal; puffy or bloodshot eyes; a fuzzy lining of hair called lanugo (especially common in pre-term babies); and a thin cheese-like coating called vernix. Rest assured that your blob of a baby will morph into the cuddly infant you always imagined you would have in a matter of weeks.
Don't feel cheated if you don't experience all of these oddities. While common, there certainly is no rule book or checklist for a "normal" experience before or after delivery. Remember that "due dates" are estimates. If you are past your expected due date, be patient. Your baby knows when the time is right. Trust your body and listen to it. It won't fail you!