As you approach your due date, you may feel that the baby has dropped, settling deeper into your pelvis in preparation for labor and delivery. This natural step in carrying a child is called lightening.

Lightening may be noticeable to you. The profile of your abdomen may change — your belly may seem lower and tilt more forward. You may find that it's easier to breathe, as the baby moves down and relieves pressure on your diaphragm. Eating a full meal may become more comfortable with more room in your upper abdomen. In exchange, though, you'll likely feel increased pressure on your bladder from the weight and position of the baby. You may feel twinges of pain as the baby bumps up against your pelvic floor. Your center of gravity may feel lower, throwing you off balance slightly.

Some women, such as those who are already carrying their babies low, may not notice any changes.

If this is your first pregnancy, lightening will probably occur anywhere from two to four weeks before labor starts. With subsequent pregnancies, the babies may drop into position just hours before the onset of labor or even during labor itself. Lightening is rarely an indication of impending labor.

Your baby's position and station

As the end of your pregnancy nears, your health care provider may talk to you, in medical terms, about the position and station of your baby.

Position refers to your baby's placement in the uterus, for example, facing left or right, headfirst or feet-first. Throughout your pregnancy, your baby floats in your uterus and changes position somewhat freely. But, usually between the 32nd and 36th week of pregnancy, the baby rotates to — ideally — a headfirst position, settling into place for labor and delivery. The headfirst position is called the vertex presentation. However, babies may descend feet-first (breech presentation) or lie sideways (transverse lie) within the uterus. As your due date nears, your health care provider may check your baby's position by feeling your outer abdomen and, at times, by examining you internally or using an ultrasound.

In vaginal deliveries, your baby must pass through the bony cavity of the pelvis as it journeys downward from the uterus into the vagina (birth canal). Station refers to how far your baby's head has moved into the pelvic cavity and is measured in centimeters. Each station is 1 centimeter. A baby high up in the pelvic cavity is said to be at a -5 station. A baby at 0 station is midway through the pelvis.

Once actual labor begins, the baby's head continues through the pelvis to +1, +2 and +3 stations. At the +5 station, the baby's head crowns, emerging from the vagina and completing its passage through the pelvic cavity.

For most women experiencing their first labor, the baby will already be at 0 station at the onset of labor. At 0 station, the baby are said to be engaged in the pelvis, as the largest part of the baby's head has now entered the pelvic inlet. In women who are having their third or fourth babies, this may not happen until labor has progressed for several hours.

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