According to experts, the birthing process – especially during the first pregnancy – can last for 8 to 12 hours. Some times, even more. With that in mind, there’s no need to go crazy and run to the hospital the moment you feel a sharp pain in your stomach. Many times, fear and stress can elongate this period and make things more difficult, so it’s essential to stay calm. You’ll have enough time to make it to the hospital when the first signs start to show – which, in some cases, start way earlier. Some examples for you to be wary of:

Dropping (or lightening)

This happens when the baby settles, or drops lower, into the mother’s pelvis. It can shrink the belly, also giving the pregnant woman a sense of relief as the baby’s change in position makes it easier to breathe and digest. Besides, you’ll also feel more comfortable when sitting as the pressure on your uterus also lowers. The weight on the lower part of your womb, however, can be uncomfortable and require the use of an adequate waistband.

Baby is less active

No need to fear if, at the end of your pregnancy, your baby stops moving as much. This is perfectly normal considering how it “fits”. He/she will continue to move, but with less frequency. You should only start to worry if you can’t feel the baby moving for over 12 straight hours. In this case, contact your doctor immediately.

“Mucus plug” discharge

This is a secretion that looks a lot like snot, sometimes with a little bit of blood, that’s discharged by the vagnia when the birth is close. The mucus plug is cloudy, clear, thick and sticky and lines the cervix in a way that it forms a barrier between the amniotic sac and the vagina. It is also called a “sign” because it discharges as the cervix begins to dilate, about 10 to 15 days before birth.

Uterine contractions

In the beginning, you’ll notice these are more spaced out and not as painful. As the days go by, they’ll become more consistent and feel more and more like menstrual cramps. Afterwards, they’ll get progressively worse and intense along the dorsal region (back) towards the stomach and hips. During this phase, it’s crucial that you begin counting them every half hour. If, during this time, you have three regular contractions (one every ten minutes), that means you’re going into labor. Another giveaway is if your bump hardens. Don’t panic: tell your doctor and calmly make your way to the hospital. This is just the beginning of the labor process. Important information: the “fake” labor can quickly become real in a matter of minutes, so timing your contractions carefully is a must!