Diarrhea may be a sign that your labor will start within 24-48 hours, but there are other more reliable signs that labor is approaching.
Diarrhea may be a sign that your labor will start within 24-48 hours, but there are other more reliable signs that labor is approaching.

Diarrhea during third-trimester pregnancy can be a sign that your labor is going to start within 24 to 48 hours if you're close to your due date. However, this is not as reliable as some other signs that labor is approaching. There could be many reasons for third-trimester diarrhea, and every woman's labor experience is different. But if you're having loose stools combined with other symptoms of impending labor, you may be meeting your baby soon.

Why do you have diarrhea before labor?

Your body naturally produces prostaglandins during labor. This hormone helps soften and prepare your cervix for delivery. It also affects your gastrointestinal tract and can cause diarrhea.

What are other signs you'll go into labor soon?

There's no way to tell exactly when you'll go into labor, but here are some other signs that you may be going into labor soon: 

Cramps

You may feel cramps that feel like menstrual cramps. These cramps are different from Braxton Hicks contractions, which you've probably felt off and on for a while. There's not usually any cramping with Braxton Hicks. Early labor cramps are likely to come and go for hours or days before labor starts.

Loss of mucus plug

During pregnancy, a thick mucus plug forms at your cervix. As your cervix begins to dilate, the plug is pushed into your vagina. This usually happens several days before labor begins or at the start of labor. You might see the whole plug or notice a vaginal discharge that's heavier than usual and clear, pink, or slightly bloody in color.

Like diarrhea, this isn't a sure sign of labor, however. People used to think that if you lost your mucus plug, you'd be going into labor within a day or two. Doctors know now that this "bloody show" doesn't necessarily mean labor is coming. You can lose your mucus plug and still not go into labor for weeks. It may just re-form in the cervix.

Lightening

When your baby drops down from the abdomen, you may experience pelvic or vaginal pressure. This is called lightening. You may have low back pain. Some women experience this before labor begins, but for others, it doesn't happen until the start of labor.

Nesting

You may feel a burst of energy and a drive to get everything ready for the baby shortly before labor begins. This is called nesting, and you may find you have the urge to clean the house, shop for groceries, or organize all of the baby's clothes.

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How do you know if you're in labor? 

If you're having some or all of the above symptoms and having mild, irregular contractions, you may be in early labor. Here are some ways you can tell false labor from true labor:

Regularity

The contractions you feel during true labor have a pattern. They occur at regular intervals and get closer together as time passes, and they usually last for 60 to 90 seconds. False, or Braxton Hicks contractions, come and go and don't have a regular pattern.

Changes with movement

If you get up and move around, Braxton Hicks contractions may stop. If you're moving around when you feel them, try lying down and resting. If they go away, they probably aren't real contractions. True contractions don't go away with movement, rest, or change in position.

Intensity

True labor contractions get more intense and painful as they progress. Braxton Hicks contractions don't get stronger. They may start strong but then get weaker.

Location of pain

You can usually only feel Braxton Hicks contractions in the front of your belly. True contractions, on the other hand, will generally start at your back and move around to your front.

What should you do if you think you're in early labor?

By the time you get near the end of your third trimester, you're probably anxious for labor to begin. However, early labor is the longest phase of labor, so you'll need to be patient a bit longer. Here are some ways to handle the early stage of labor:

Try to ignore it

Naturally, going into labor and having your baby is probably all you're thinking about by this point. But the best thing you can do in early labor is to keep going about your normal routine as much as possible. Your body will let you know when it's time to get serious. Until then, as long as you feel okay, just do what you'd normally do.

Time some contractions

It's good to note what time you started having contractions, how long they last, and the spacing between them. However, don't time all of them. You'll be exhausted before you ever get to the hard part. After you time a few, go do something else to distract yourself.

Rest

This will likely be the last chance you have to rest for a while, so take advantage of it. Try to get a nap or at least lie down for a while. Drink plenty of fluids and have a light meal or snack. You're going to need your energy for giving birth.

Stay at home

Your home is much more comfortable than even the most modern hospital room. Stay at home for as long as possible during early labor. You'll have more freedom to move around and do whatever helps you feel better. Besides, if you go to the hospital too early, you're likely to be sent home disappointed anyway.

How do you know when it's time to go to the hospital? 

When you start having regular contractions, you should call your healthcare provider and discuss it with them. They may tell you to wait at home until the contractions are stronger, or they may want to see you and check your cervix. Even if you're not having contractions, you should call your healthcare provider if you have the following symptoms:

  • Your water breaks. This could be a gush of fluid or a steady trickle.
  • You're bleeding more than what would be considered spotting.
  • You're having constant, severe pain without relief. 
  • You don't feel your baby moving as often as normal.

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Medically Reviewed on 4/15/2022
References
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists: "How to Tell When Labor Begins."

The Cochrane Collaboration: "Intracervical prostaglandins for induction of labour."

Cleveland Clinic: "Signs That Labor Is 24 to 48 Hours Away."

Lamaze International: "What to Do When You're in Early Labor."