Recognize the signs, what your body is already telling you, and how eating dates can help!
Labor almost never starts like in the movies. Usually your body and baby give you a heads up. While we don’t know what exactly causes the onset of labor, the current theory is that a signal from the placenta tells your body to kick up your oxytocin production. Oxytocin, the love hormone, also released when you orgasm, is responsible for your contractions. Contractions begin and build when your oxytocin levels are high. Your oxytocin levels are high when you feel loved, warm, cozy and safe. Your oxytocin levels are not very high when you’re out and about, on the street, or at work which why labor almost always starts in the middle of the night!
Look for baby to ‘drop’ a couple of weeks before your contractions even begin. This means that the baby is beginning to ‘engage’ and lower into your pelvis. Some will feel the physical sensation of your baby lowering into your pelvis while for others it may not be as evident. You may notice that your belly sits a little lower but more noticeably you’ll be able to breathe a little easier as the baby moves away from your lungs.
As your cervix, (the bottom neck of the uterus) begins to soften, you may lose your mucus plug, sometimes with a little blood. Often called a ‘bloody show’ a rather overexaggerated name for what tends to look like a gelatinous discharge.
Your contractions don’t usually start all of a sudden. Usually you’ll have period like cramps that come and go, often at night. The gradual build of these cramps into timeable contractions may happen over the course of a few hours, days or even a week. During this time, take lots of walks and climb stairs if you’d like to help them along. The more you move, the more your baby is able to move. Sometimes labor is 90% waiting for contractions to build.
As uterine muscles contract and release you’ll know contractions when you feel them. They feel like very intense period cramps but instead of a continuous dull ache, they are intermittent and build in intensity and shorten in intervals. Think of them as period cramps with an agenda and a serious job to do!
The gradual build is an important coping mechanism for our body. Contractions, although painful are very productive and give us important information. They instinctively tell us to pay attention to our body, to turn inward and focus on the work that the body needs to do. Contractions intuitively tell us how to move, their gradual, natural pace offers breaks for recovery and helps prevent injury. Most importantly, once their work is done, they stop.
Due dates are hard to calculate, the length of gestation can vary by up to 5 weeks and only 5% of babies are born on their due date. Studies show that consuming six dates a day from 35 weeks on can bring about spontaneous labor!