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    Having a bun in the oven is a wonderful experience. You have a life growing inside you, and you'll be ushering that life into this world soonit's a privilege, as well as a responsibility not to be taken lightly. But as beautiful as pregnancy is, it can also be the most complex experience a woman can ever have. Think hormones that give you mood swings. Or, the uncertainty of not knowing what to expect, especially when your due-date nears. 

    When you're near term, the list of questions in your mind only gets longer: When do you go to the hospital? What are the signs that tell you you’re actually giving birth? Is it normal for your tummy to tighten? Does it mean something’s not right?

    Inhale. Exhale. OB-Gynecologist Marie Victoria Cruz-Javier, M.D., who holds clinic at the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City and at St. Luke’s Global City, gives her expert advice on what signs you should watch for when you're about to give birth. There are three most common:

     

    1. Contractions
    This a bit tricky as contractions or belly cramps during pregnancy can be alarming, especially to a first-time mom-to-be. But just because you feel your belly tightens doesn’t mean you’re about to pop. Cruz-Javier explains, “There is a thing called 'Braxton-Hicks Contractions' or false labor contractions. These are relatively painless and irregular contractions that can occur even months before your due date.”

    The true labor contraction, she says, are those that come in regular intervals. That’s why it’s crucial to monitor these. “Say, for example, you first felt your contractions every minutes or so. As your labor progresses, the intervals of the contractions should shorten—every 20 minutes, then every 10, every 10, every five, and so on. The duration of the contractions also become longer,” she says. True labor contractions are also much more painful, and the intensity of pain will only get stronger over time.

    If you feel you're having contractions, you need not panic at once. You may still have time to spare until you begin active labor. “Contractions are just one of the signs of labor. Usually, you should experience another symptom of labor to really seal your trip to the delivery room,” Dr. Cruz-Javier stresses.

     

    2. A bloody show
    This is one of the two other signs of labor that can come with true labor contractions. “For active labor to start, your cervix should begin to dilate. When your cervix starts to open, there will be passage of blood, or what we doctors call a ‘bloody show,’" Cruz-Javier says.

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    She adds, “This can be any tinge of red [liquid]. Your cervix is opening and the mucus plug that covers it is released. This plug is what protects your uterus from bacteria.” If you notice a pink or brown discharge, give your doctor a heads-up and she'll more likely ask you to head to the hospital. When you arrive at the hospital, a doctor will then measure your cervix to see how far long along you are into delivering your baby. The bigger the opening, the higher the chance that you’re going to see your little one soon.

    The time it takes for youtr cervix to dilate varies. A cervix that is fully dilated (10 centimeters) is enough to send you to the delivery table. Get ready to push; it’s only a matter of time now until you see your baby.

     

    3. Watery discharge
    You may have seen this in movies—a strong gush of water comes out of a very pregnant lady. This is a sure sign that you’re about to give birth. However, for some moms, the water bag doesn’t break as we think it should and needs be punctured so that the water would come trickling down slowly.

    “Watery discharge is different from leucorrhea or the whitish discharge during pregnancy. That is brought about by the hormones in your body during pregnancy. There’s no need to be alarmed; it’s normal. It’s not a symptom of infection or labor,” says Cruz-Javier. “However, an involuntary passage of water (you can't control it no matter what) is a tell-tale sign that you're giving birth as soon as possible. I usually liken its consistency to coconut juice—not exactly clear, but not exactly white in color, too.”

    A watery discharge should send you hurrying to the hospital,  Cruz-Javier adds. Depending on the progress of your labor, it’s important that your water bag, or the amniotic sac of the baby, doesn’t run dry, as it could cause complications or infections for mom and baby. “If you have a ruptured water bag, you really have to give birth ASAP,” she stresses.

     

    Note that the presence of two out of the three signs mentioned above will tell you that you’re about to give birth. You could have contractions and a bloody show or a watery discharge. If you have a watery discharge, you should go to the hospital even if you don’t feel any contractions or if you don't have a bloody discharge yet.

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     Cruz-Javier also warns pregnant women to seek their doctor’s advice when they have the following symptoms:

    • decrease in the frequency of baby’s kicks or movements
    • severe headache
    • blurring of vision
    • pain in the upper part of the belly that’s radiating from the back

    “These are early signs of labor that can lead to complications,” Dr. Cruz-Javier says. It’s best to tell your doctor if you experience any of these signs, especially if you’re nearing term. While it could be just the pregnancy taking its toll on your body, it's still better to be safe than sorry. No two pregnancies are the same, and your doctor, who knows your medical history and your pregnancy, can best advise you on what to do.

     

    Related: The 4 Possible Causes of Premature Labor

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