Early Signs of Labor in the Third Trimester of Pregnancy

Do you know the early signs of labor in the third trimester of pregnancy?

If not, now’s a good time to find out!

These are things you want to know before you reach your final weeks, so you’re not taken by surprise!

When you’re getting to the end of your pregnancy, you’ll find yourself wondering if every twinge and emotion is a sign that your baby is coming any moment. Some signs of labor are so obvious and “in your face” that you can’t really confuse them for anything else!

For example, when your water breaks, it’s a pretty good indicator that birth is imminent and you should call your midwife or doctor right away.

Other signs, like nesting, are subtler and usually mean that your baby will be arriving shortly, but not right this minute. Even contractions aren’t always a guaranteed sign! So how do you know? Let’s check out some of those early signs of labor that will clue you in that the time is near!

Early Signs of Labor

1. You Start Nesting

Nesting is the term used to describe that feeling you get where you suddenly need to have everything in perfect order, and it is one of the first early signs of labor.  While you may have been too tired to clean and organize throughout the rest of your pregnancy, right near the end it becomes almost a compulsion.

You’re more energetic and rearing to knock off every item on your pre-baby to-do list. The instinct may be a holdover from ancient times, when women needed to ensure their “nursery” was safe from predators, or maybe it’s a psychological impulse because you know they more you get done now, the more you can enjoy your newborn later.

Enjoy this sudden burst of energy and use it to conquer that to-do list, but don’t over-do it. Remember to take plenty of time to relax, and delegate the heavy moving to someone else, even if you think no one could possibly put the crib exactly where it’s supposed to go except you.

►►Related: 5 Easy Ways to Manage Labor Pain Without Meds


2. Your Baby “Drops”-

Shortly before giving birth, your baby will start getting into the ideal birthing position by dropping further down towards the birth canal. Usually, this means that you finally start feeling as if you can breathe a little better because your bundle of joy is no longer crammed up against your lungs.

Unfortunately, it also means your baby is even closer to your bladder than before, so expect more frequent trips to the restroom. Around this time, your doctor will start to pay close attention to whether the baby’s head is facing in the right direction, which is down closer to the birth canal.

If your baby is in the wrong position too close to the time of birth, your doctor may be able to manually move him into the right position to prevent a breech birth. Don’t freak out if your baby won’t cooperate and get into position, though. I was a footling breech baby and I came out fine! My son was also footling, but I had to have an emergency C-section for other reasons.

►►Related: The Truth about Walking When in Labor

3. Your Cervix Beging the Dilation Process

This is one of the signs of labor that means your baby is really almost here. Normally, your cervix, the opening to your uterus, is very tiny and closed. It remains that way throughout most of your pregnancy, until closer to the end.

At this time, your cervix will start to dilate, or relax, in preparation for delivery. Dilation can begin well before your due-date.  Typically, you’ll dilate one to two centimeters a few weeks before the big day and stay that way until closer to delivery. In the final few days, it will dilate to four to seven centimeters wide, and open up the last seven to 10 centimeters right before your baby is born.

4. Contractions…sort of

Remember how I said that even contractions weren’t really among the sure-fire early signs of labor? You would think that gut-wrenching pain (in the most literal sense of the phrase!) would be equivalent to a flashing neon sign that says “incoming baby alert!” Alas, nature has a weird sense of humor and sends you “practice contractions” to get you ready for the real thing.

They’re called Braxton Hicks, and it’s incredibly common for women to rush to the hospital after the first one.  American Pregnancy has a great piece on what they are, what they feel like, and what to do about them (basically, nothing).  This video also does a pretty good job of explaining it:

5. You feel achier and crampier than usual

Aches and pains aren’t exactly uncommon during your third trimester, but as you get closer to your due date, you might feel even crampier and achier than usual. Whether it’s your first or fifth pregnancy, back pain is fairly common towards the end. This is a good time to get yourself a pregnancy pillow if you haven’t already!

You’ll also notice that your joints just feel looser all over. Remember that little toy guy with the arms and legs on strings, and when you pushed a button he’d kind of wiggle all over? It’s kind of like that! Basically, your body is sending out hormones to loosen up your pelvis and hip joints, but that hormone juice is going out to the rest of your joints.

When should you call your doctor?

With so many early signs of labor, including “false starts” like Braxton Hicks, you might find yourself thinking “is this worth calling my doctor over?” The answer to that will always be “yes.” When I was pregnant with my son, one of my doctors told me that if I was even remotely concerned, to give a call. She said you can never over-react when you’re carrying such precious cargo.

Unfortunately, another doctor didn’t agree with her, which brings me to my next point: always trust your instincts. If you feel like something is off and your doctor doesn’t agree, get a second opinion. Not trusting my instincts almost cost me and my child our lives when my preeclampsia went undiagnosed for weeks and my kidneys almost shut down.

Knowing these early signs of labor isn’t going to speed up the process, but at least you’ll have a better idea of when you’re getting close to delivery day!

Already been through childbirth? Tell us how you experienced these early signs of labor!