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Prelabour and Engagement

What is prelabour

Prior to labour, the cervix undergoes a process, sometimes called ripening, in which it becomes thinner (effaced), more pliable and slightly dilated. The beginning of cervical effacement and dilation is known as prelabour. This can precede labour by a full month or even just a few hours if it is your second pregnancy. In your ninth month, the doctor looks out for certain signs of imminent labour. These are signs that you might even be able to see for yourself

What is "engagement" (sign of prelabour)

In first time pregnancies, the foetus begins its descent into the pelvis, two or four weeks before the onset of labour. This is 'engagement'. In subsequent pregnancies, this could take place just a couple of hours before real labour begins.  Besides this, your breathlessness will considerably decrease as the foetus moves down, away from the lungs. You will automatically feel an increased pressure in the pelvis and on the rectum.

You won't gain much weight after this. In fact, some women have been known to even lose a couple of pounds. You will find a marked change in your energy levels. Some women get increasingly tired because of the excessive weight and others experience a sudden spurt of energy in preparation for the arrival of the little one (called the 'nesting instinct').

What is "lightening" or "dropping".  Is it the same as engagement

Lightening or dropping is the descent of the baby into the pelvis in the latter weeks of pregnancy.  This is not the same as engagement where the baby's head (unless it is breech, in which case it is the buttocks) moves down to the level of the ischial spines and gets "engaged".  Lightening is accompanied by less shortness of breath, decreased pressure in the stomach, and the feeling that the baby has "dropped".  It also increases pressure in the pelvis and backache, leads to more frequent urination and constipation, the initial appearance or aggravation of haemorrhoids and varicose veins in the legs.  Many women also complain of swelling of the legs and feet, and possibly more difficulty in walking.

If my baby hasn't yet "engaged". Will my delivery be delayed

The term for the foetus moving into the birth canal is known as "engagement". In a first time pregnancy, this engagement takes place 2 or 3 weeks before delivery.  In subsequent pregnancies, it may occur just before the onset of labour. If this is your first pregnancy, then it is quite possible that engagement might have occurred without your realizing it. Your doctor will be checking for this engagement through an internal examination. Since engagement and dilatation of the cervix can occur anytime over a few hours or even a few weeks, not having your baby's head engaged in the cervix is not indication that you will go past your due date.

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