Q. What are some things I can do to help myself begin to dilate? Is it true that semen from having sex can soften the cervix? Please give me some advice.
A. Yes. It is true that semen can help facilitate labor by softening the cervix, although it never worked for me. I've found that labor would only start when the baby was good and ready—it wasn’t up to me at all. To encourage labor I tried: taking long walks until my varicose veins were throbbing to the beat of my heart; swimming laps; frequent rough sex; and jumping jacks. The jumping jacks and walking did bring on many bouts of Braxton Hicks contractions, but no labor.
At the end of the ten months of pregnancy (yes, forty weeks equals ten months, at least in my book!) most women are so uncomfortable and desperate for labor to begin they'll try anything. The above-mentioned tactics may or may not work for you. In the meantime, you can take a little time to pamper yourself while you still can. Get a pedicure, have your hair done, or catch up on some phone calls to friends and family before the baby arrives.
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Q. I am 40 weeks pregnant and for the last three days I have been experiencing contractions and a sharp, stabbing, shooting pain in my vagina. The contractions are stopping and starting along with the pain that I just described in my vagina. What is this pain? Is it part of the first stage of labor? Can you give me a medical term for it?
-Anonymous, New York
A. It sounds like you are experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, which are the dress rehearsal for real labor. The sharp, stabbing pain in your vagina could be the baby knocking on the door of your cervix. You probably feel this pain suddenly during a contraction because it squeezes the baby downward.
Braxton Hicks contractions can be very uncomfortable, and even scary or exciting, especially if you cannot tell the difference between them and the real contractions.
Here are a few ways to tell the dif:
- The Braxton Hicks contractions are not as consistent and timely as real contractions. The real ones are usually regular and increase in frequency and severity.
- Braxton Hicks contractions (usually) do not accompany any other signs of labor.
- Real contractions (usually) begin in the lower back and spread to the lower abdomen while hardening the entire uterus. A Braxton Hicks does not completely harden the uterus- and the fundus (usually) remains soft. To check if your fundus is soft, press down on the top of your uterus during the contraction. If it is not hard-as-a-rock, it is most likely a Braxton Hicks.
If you are at all concerned that you may be experiencing real labor, call your doctor to describe your symptoms.
Oh, one more thing-: the real labor pains are definitely more painful than Braxton Hicks. But you wouldn't know that, of course, unless you have already experienced real labor.
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Q. I'm 36 weeks and I'm beginning to have a leakage of fluid. What does it mean?
A. Your water (amniotic sac) may have broken. You should report this to your doctor immediately. If this is the case, your doctor will probably want your baby delivered within the next 48 hours to avoid infection. Once your water breaks, it usually triggers labor within 24 hours.
If your membranes have not ruptured, you may just be experiencing incontinence—involuntary leakage of urine. It's very common for pregnant women to have this late in pregnancy, as mounting pressure on the bladder can be an issue. I cannot tell you how many times I wet my pants while sneezing or coughing! Practicing Kegels exercises does help... a little.
Q. My uterus quit working after I was fully dilated with my seventh child. I did not realize I was that far along, but after about an hour and-a-half I suggested to the doctor that perhaps I should try to push the baby out myself. After I started pushing, my uterus started again. Is this common? Is there anything I can do about it now that I am expecting my eighth child? Will it happen again?
A. I don't think, after full dilation, a stalled uterus is all that common. I know I've never heard of it before. Maybe your uterus thought you had already delivered the baby. Maybe it just needed a little rest. Regardless of what happened, your mother's intuition told you what to do – you decided to push. That's all your body needed to wake up and realize that there was more work to be done.
It probably won't happen again, but if your contractions do cease during labor, you and your doctor or midwife should still closely monitor your dilation in case you need to give your uterus another kick-start.
No matter what complications may arise during labor and delivery, you should listen to your own intuition. After all, you are very experienced in the subject of childbirth.
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Q. I am 34 weeks pregnant with my second child. When I was 30 weeks, I started feeling period-like cramps, so I went to the hospital. I went into premature labor, which they had to stop. They also gave me steroid shots to help develop the baby's lungs. At the time, I was told the baby had dropped. I still feel these cramps and every time the baby moves I feel it in my vagina. I've also had leaking of fluids when this happens and feel lots of dull pain in my lower back. When I have a contraction, half the pain is in my back and half is in my stomach. Should I go to the hospital if I keep getting these symptoms?
A. Since you have had leakage of fluids accompanied by labor-like cramping, I think you should go to the hospital now. It sounds as if you are in labor. The fluids could be from the amniotic sac. If this is the case, then you should deliver within the next 48 hours or so to avoid possible infection.
At your stage of pregnancy, the baby has an excellent chance of survival. Normally, in the eighth month there is a small chance that the baby's lungs may not be fully developed, but since you had the steroid shots, your baby's breathing capacity should be very good.
The worst-case scenario is that you are not in active labor, the leakage of fluids is just urinary incontinence and the doctors will send you home to wait for real labor.
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Q. Can I have a healthy baby at 35 weeks? I've been experiencing some pre-labor symptoms, but don't know for sure. I can literally feel the baby's head between my legs and have constantly achy pelvic bones. It feels like she is going to just fall out! I have diarrhea all the time and a constant backache. Is it too early for this? Do I have to put up with all of it for six more weeks? I'm not having true contractions yet, still just Braxton Hicks.
A. It sounds as if your baby has "dropped" into the birthing position, which would explain the achy pelvis, backache and diarrhea. The baby is now hanging very low, putting a lot of pressure on your cervix, bowels and pelvis bone. I remember thinking it felt as if I had been horseback riding for a week straight.
It's hard to say if you will have to endure your present state of discomfort for another six weeks or not. Be on the lookout for other signs of labor and have your bags packed and ready to go. If you do go into labor now and deliver, your baby has an excellent chance of survival. At this point, the baby's vital parts should all be well developed and she is just putting on a little more body fat.
If you don't go into labor anytime soon, try keeping your feet and lower extremities elevated as much as possible. You'll be more comfortable without the additional weight of gravity adding to the pressure you are already feeling down below.
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Q. I am 38 weeks along and have been experiencing dull lower back pain and some abdominal cramps for about six hours. I experienced this kind of back pain with my first child before my labor began. Could I be in labor? If so, should I try castor oil to help speed up the process? If I'm not in labor, should I try castor oil to help induce labor?
A. This type of back pain and cramping could be a precursor to labor. Taking castor oil may or may not speed the process. I, personally, can't stomach the stuff. I don't think you need to worry too much about your labor not progressing quickly this time. Usually, after one baby the next labor and delivery are considerably faster and easier. My friend Kelly's first labor lasted 48 hours. Her second was five hours. Her third was one hour. You see - there are some physical advantages to having been pregnant!
Q. I am 39 weeks pregnant. I have had two previous successful pregnancies. Ten years later, here I am again. Each time my cervix is checked they give me a different answer. To one person it is 1-2 cm dilated, to another it is 3-4 cm. I was even told that one part of my cervix was dilated to a 4 and a small fingertip portion is dilated to a 1. What does all this mean?
A. It's possible that your cervix is dilating unevenly, small sections at a time. If you picture your cervix as a mouth slowly opening, it will start out with tightly puckered lips. As the puckering loosens and the mouth slowly opens, it may not happen evenly. You may first show one of your eye teeth, as if snarling, while the rest of your mouth is almost shut. Or, you may open wide the bottom half of your mouth, revealing your pink tongue. Eventually your mouth will open all the way and form the shape of one huge "O." Once your cervix becomes this big "O," the baby can be born.
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Q. Can taking castor oil to bring on an early labor be harmful or fatal to your baby?
-Anonymous, New York
A. Taking extremely large doses of castor oil may be toxic, but aside from that, it's probably not harmful to your baby. Although I've never tried it myself, I've heard very mixed reviews about the use of castor oil to induce labor. If your cervix is not ripe and ready to go, taking a dose of castor oil can bring on painful cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. If the timing is right, and you skillfully get it down without making yourself sick, it can bring on contractions that turn into productive labor.
Q. Is it dangerous to take castor oil to induce labor at eight and a half months of pregnancy in order to avoid a large baby?
A. It's probably not harmful to take castor oil at your stage, but you'll most likely only accomplish making yourself sick. (See the other castor oil question for more details.)
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Q. I am 75% effaced and dilated to two centimeters. I have been having around-the-clock cramps for the last two weeks and lower dull back pain. Is labor near?
A. It sounds as if you are on your way to active labor. Unfortunately, it's practically impossible to tell just when it will really kick in. My friend Kelly was 75% effaced, dilated to a three and had back pain and contractions that lasted for two weeks before real labor kicked in. Caroline, on the other hand, was examined at week 39, showed no signs of effacement, dilation or labor and delivered 18 hours later. (See the other labor questions for more details.)
Q. I am 40 weeks pregnant, due any day and I am carefully paying attention to see if I may be in labor. Do babies move during pre-stages of labor? He is not that active, but still moving some. Does this mean labor is near?
A. During labor and delivery you may notice lack of fetal movement because the baby can hardly move inside a tightly contracting uterus. Just before labor or contractions begin, the baby usually squirms around normally, although movement may be a little more limited due to lack of space as the pregnancy progresses. See "labor" for more information and signs of labor and pre-labor.
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Q. I am 38 weeks and two days along in my second pregnancy. I've had what I suspect are some Braxton Hicks contractions for three to four hours straight, for three days in a row. Since this has begun I have noticed that my stomach has become "mushy" and fat feeling. It was very tight just prior to the last few days. My belly button had become an "outie" and all of the sudden it has fallen and become and "innie." Is this any reason for concern?
A. I don't think you need to be concerned about your falling belly button. Usually, right before labor the baby will drop down and the head will become engaged in the pelvis. Once the baby in engaged in the birthing position many women will notice a tremendous relief from some of the strain previously put on the lungs, stomach and navel by the pressure of the baby. That's why your outie has turned innie. Unfortunately, this shift in weight and pressure can present some other discomforts, such as saddle sore, diarrhea, edema in the legs and feet, varicose veins and hemorrhoids. The good news is that labor is near!