You're in the home stretch, mama-to-be. The nursery's decorated, the onesies are washed and waiting, and you've taken a tour of the hospital. But do you really know what to expect from labor? No doubt you've heard some I-wish-she-hadn't-shared-that birthing horror stories, as well as tales of moms who seemingly flew through labor (it's okay to secretly hate them). Just as every pregnancy has its own quirks, every labor is unique in its own way. But our step-by-step guide will help you navigate the stages of labor, tell you what you can expect and give tips on how to sail through each step.
The Stage: Prelabor
You'll know you're in it because: Your baby may "drop." Some moms, especially first-timers, notice a definite downward belly shift as their babies settle into the pelvis in the final weeks of pregnancy (meaning you may be able to breathe a little easier as baby stops crowding your lungs). Vaginal discharge also increases and many moms have loose stool -- a good thing, as it may mean there's less of a chance that you'll poop during delivery.
How long it lasts: Some moms have no prelabor symptoms; others experience prelabor for a few days or (eek!) a few weeks.
How to deal: Relax! Wear a panty liner to stay clean and dry, and make time for frequent bathroom breaks.