Women's Health

Telltale Signs Predict When Baby Will Arrive (or Not)

Published: May 1, 2021

Then you wait.

You wait for some type of sign. Is that a contraction? Did I feel a trickle? I swear I lost my mucous plug! All signs that baby might be on the way.


Signs From an Exam

Each week during an office visit with their Methodist OB/GYN, many soon-to-be moms look to us for a sign things are getting close. One frequent request is to have a cervical exam…. that somehow a number means the time is near.

The truth of the matter is a number really doesn’t predict the arrival of a baby.

When a cervical exam is preformed your provider is looking for more than dilation of the cervix. Many things need to happen before it’s “all systems go.”


Signs From Baby’s Position

One of the first subtle signals a pregnancy is nearing its end is when the baby settles into the pelvis, also known as engagement. The head “drops” into the pelvis by a couple centimeters. This can happen from a few days or even just a few hours before the onset of labor.


Signs From Your Cervix

Next the cervix softens, going from a consistency similar to the tip of your nose to soft and squishy like your lips.

As the uterus practices contracting, the cervix moves from behind the baby’s head to forward on top of its head, closer to the opening of the vagina. This is referred to as the position of the cervix.

The cervix has to thin out or “efface.” I think of it like a mini-donut that starts out about two inches thick and slowly thins out. A cervix that is 50 percent effaced is about 1 inch thick, while 100 percent effaced means it is paper thin.


Signs of Dilation

Usually the last thing to happen is cervical dilation. As dilation slowly starts, you might lose a collection of mucous sitting at the inside of the cervix, up by the baby. This usually does not have much clinical significance. The "mucous plug" can actually reaccumulate!

What happens with dilation? Visualize the mini-donut again. The cervical opening starts out like a dimple and gradually opens. One centimeter is the size of your fingertip, two centimeters the width of a penny and four centimeters is the size of a Ritz cracker. Ten centimeters, the width of a bagel, is how much the cervix needs to dilate to pass over the baby’s head.

Most of these things occur prior to the onset of labor. Some women are about two or three centimeters dilated when they start to go into  labor, however you may not be dilated at all or sit around for weeks at four centimeters.

The number doesn’t indicate when labor is going to start, but it gives us a little reassurance things are moving forward. For some, it gives some false reassurance things will happen at any time. Others worry it never will.


There’s No Real Answer (Sorry)

So many women focus on all these signs to give an indicator when the time is near. But the truth is, no one knows when labor will begin. When it comes to anticipating delivery, it’s best to just leave the work up to Mother Nature, and time will tell when your new bundle of joy will arrive. He or she will be worth the (much anticipated) wait.


About the Author

Dr. Maureen Boyle believes strongly in building a trusting relationship with her patients. She treats each woman as though they were her mother, sister or daughter, using that rule as a guide for finding the best treatment possible.

You can see Dr. Boyle at Methodist Physicians Clinic in Council Bluffs. 

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