When it comes to the wellness of your family, no question should feel off limits. In fact, things that you may consider strange or embarrassing are actually quite common. Here, midwife Mirra Nerenberg answers some frequently asked questions about labor.
How will I know I’m in labor?
Every labor starts differently, but usually, it is not like it’s portrayed in the movies! Some women experience a low backache or loose stools right before they start having contractions. Cramping similar to menstrual cramps is also really normal in early labor as the cervix starts softening, or becoming effaced, and readying to open, or dilate.
As the cervix softens and dilates, the small capillaries at the os, or opening, can cause blood-tinged discharge, or bloody show. Sometimes these early labor signs happen all at once and sometimes they happen over multiple days. Some women may not even notice these signs at all! For about 15 percent of women, the first sign of labor will be ruptured membranes, or the bag of waters breaking.
This is sometimes a big gush but often is an uncontrolled trickle of fluid. For the rest of women, the amniotic sac won’t break until active labor or pushing.
One sure sign of labor is the onset of strong, regular contractions that are strong enough to cause the cervix to open. Though mild contractions may start and stop over the last weeks of pregnancy, in early labor, contractions continuously build in length, strength, and consistency as the uterine smooth muscles become more coordinated. Most people are still able to carry on light activity and talk through contractions in early labor. However, as labor progresses and the contractions continue to grow in intensity, they will eventually require all of the laboring person’s attention.
So, what is a mucous plug anyway?
Oh, the mucous plug. So many people talk about it and so few actually see it! During pregnancy, the cervical opening, or os, is protected by accumulated mucus. The plug acts as a barrier to keep bacteria from entering the uterus. As the cervix softens and opens, the mucus plug will come out. Sometimes it comes out as stringy mucus or it can even look like normal sticky vaginal discharge. It can be clear or pink/blood tinged. Some women will lose their mucus plug a week or two before going into labor while others won’t see their plug until they are close to active labor, if at all.
Is it normal to shiver during or after labor?
The quick answer- yes! Most women will experience some shivering, ranging from mild to intense, in labor or during the immediate postpartum period. Often, this shivering makes people feel as if they are freezing cold, although temperature doesn’t have anything to do with these shakes. As the body transitions in labor (or immediately after) shivering is caused by a fast hormonal change and usually doesn’t last more than an hour. The knowledge that shivering can occur and is a normal occurrence can be calming. Light massage, a warm blanket, or skin-to-skin (if baby is born) can also be comforting during this period of time.
Mirra provides comprehensive, holistic midwifery care to women and their families through pregnancy, birth and postpartum. She fiercely believes that nurturing growing families to make informed choices during this vital time in their lives can change communities. She is honored to help with this transformation by supporting women desiring a homebirth, including waterbirth, in the Portland, Oregon area. When not attending births, Mirra can be found hiking with her family, or paddling the Willamette in a Dragon boat.
Learn more at www.portlandnaturalbirth.com