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Q&A: Can labour start weeks before birth?

by Jerri Colonero, RN, BS |
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Q. Can a woman be in labor for weeks? I'm currently 39 1/2 weeks and was told last week that I'm 4 cm dilated. I have contractions some days for an entire day then the next day nothing. It's been going on like this for 3 weeks now. I'm starting to feel like I'll never actually have contractions that are 5 minutes apart so I can go to the hospital. I feel like I'll go to my regular clinic appointment and my doctor will tell me I'm 10 cm and to start pushing. I know that sounds crazy but it's how I feel now.

A. I assume that this is your first baby, because you are following a very normal pattern. The Braxton Hicks contractions actually began around your 12th week of pregnancy (even though you did not feel them then)and got strong enough to feel around the 20th week. They can actually be quite uncomfortable and even painful in the last month of pregnancy. Although these contractions are not strong enough to deliver your baby, they do begin the process of effacement (thinning out) of the cervix and dilatation (opening) of the cervix. It is not unusual for a woman having her first baby to be 3 cm dilated and 70 or 80% effaced before going into labor.

Don't be discouraged, the contractions you are having are getting work done now gradually. That is less work that needs to be done to get your cervix to fully dilated once you go into labor. Because the process and discomfort of labor are so variable, be sure to call your obstetrician or midwife if these contractions become regular, more painful, or a change from what you have been having.

Relax and have fun. Your body knows what to do and has already begun the process.

Jerri Colonero RN

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