The final weeks of pregnancy are awash with anxious anticipation and a few -- or more -- bodily discomforts. Your baby's shift in position as he drops in your pelvis may make a noticeable change to your baby bump. While he was recently occupying the space just beneath your rib cage, the majority of your bump may now rest below your waistline. His new position stretches the uterine and pelvis muscles in preparation for birth, while often creating the trademark pregnancy waddle.
As delivery day approaches, your baby moves downward -- or “drops” -- in your pelvis to prepare for the upcoming birth, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. This process is also known as "engagement" or "lightening" and generally takes place within two weeks of delivery for first-time mothers, but can happen as much as four weeks early.
In subsequent pregnancies, engagement often doesn't take place until labor has begun. Your baby's descent in the pelvis helps to prepare for childbirth by stretching the pelvic muscles.
Signs of Engagement
While your baby’s increasing size has probably made it difficult to take deep breaths, once engagement takes place, his lower position relieves the pressure on your diaphragm so you can breathe easier, the American Pregnancy Association explains. You may also experience heartburn less frequently now.
Along with new-found relief comes new symptoms to mark the last weeks of pregnancy, such as increased pressure from your baby’s weight on your bladder and the sensation of increased pressure on your pelvis. A combination of your baby's size and his new position can also lead to lower backaches.
Pre-Labor and False Contractions
Once your baby has dropped in your pelvis -- or sometimes even before -- you may notice irregular uterine contractions. These pre-labor contractions -- also known as Braxton Hicks contractions -- are not a sign that labor has begun, but rather they are your body’s way of getting ready for the big event. While not strong enough to get labor underway, these contractions begin to thin your cervix in the weeks leading up to delivery.
To differentiate these contractions from the real deal, take note of a few striking differences: There is no consistent timing to Braxton Hicks contractions and they do not come closer together or consistently stronger with time, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Braxton Hicks contractions subside or lessen in intensity when you move around or change positions; whereas, labor contractions remain consistent in intensity regardless of your position. The location of the contractions is also different. For example, real contractions generally wrap around your body from back to front; Braxton Hicks contractions are focused entirely in the front, explains the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
As your baby moves lower in your pelvis he also begins to move into position for delivery. His increased size and new position means it no longer feels like an acrobat is occupying your uterus. Monitor your baby's activity by counting the number of movements or "kick counts" in an hour. You should feel a minimum of 10 movements during this time, according to the March of Dimes. If you count fewer, try again in a few hours. Contact your health care provider if you do not detect an adequate amount of movement.
If you feel your baby “drop” more than four weeks before reaching full term, but experience no other signs that labor is imminent, mention it to your health care provider. As labor nears, it’s normal to notice pink or brown-tinged mucus as your cervix begins to soften and thin in preparation. However, if you notice this prior to full term, or there is more blood than mucus or it resembles a menstrual period, contact your health care practitioner immediately.