39 Weeks Pregnant Feeling The Urge To Poop But Nothing Comes Out (Is This A Sign of Labor?)

Bladder and bowel problems are normal parts of pregnancy that most women go through. Constipation, diarrhea, incontinence, and even urinary tract infections are common nuisance. A small percentage of women may even struggle with hemorrhoids throughout the pregnancy. If you feel the urge to poop but nothing comes out, it might or might not be a sign of labor. It mainly depends upon the accompanying signs and symptoms. Sometimes regular uterine contractions can cause constipation as if you are unable to empty your bowel. 

So, is that an ordinary bowel problem accompanying pregnancy, or are you experiencing the onset of labor?

Here is how to tell the difference.

Bowel problem or labor?

The end of pregnancy will bring many changes in your body that are sometimes hard to discern.

And when you are close to term at 39 weeks, every twinge can spur both excitement and anxious anticipation.

You may experience trying to strain to poop with the urge but nothing comes out. Chances are, it might be the usual constipation problem, or you are nearing labor. 

Pregnancy constipation

At some point during the pregnancy, constipation can become an annoying problem.

A pregnant woman is sitting on the toilet frustrated because she's constipated

Its occurrence varies and some women may struggle with it in the first or second trimesters. But it is also very likely to happen in the third trimester when the fetus is at its heaviest.

Straining to poop in pregnancy is caused by:

1. Progesterone/hormonal changes

Constipation in pregnancy is expected because the baby will put more pressure on the bowel.

However, as the baby nears its delivery date, your muscles will start to relax to prepare for it. The body will produce more progesterone to relax the body’s processes.

As the digestive tract relaxes, food can travel slower and remains in the bowel longer. It will become hard to pass even if you feel the immediate need to poop. 

Sometimes though, the opposite happens and moms will get labor diarrhea instead.

It is more common on days before delivery as the mom’s system works to squeeze waste out with little effort. 

2. Iron from vitamins

The iron that you take from prenatal vitamins can also cause difficulty in breaking down food.

Too much iron and the gut bacteria need to work harder to break it into pieces. The waste can dry out and becomes harder to pass.

But, pregnancy constipation because of iron supplements can easily be remedied by drinking plenty of fluid and water.

3. The growing fetus

As the uterus expands, it squeezes through most internal organs like the bladder and digestive system.

The extra pressure on the baby can cause incontinence and constipation in moms. You may not be able to empty your bowels, so you feel the frequent urge to poop.

The pressure of the fetus also lets you feel the sensation of pooping even if you have nothing more to pass.

Labor pain

Some women describe the onset of labor as the biggest pooping sensation they have ever got in their whole lives.

The pelvic pain and pressure may present themselves as an urge to pass bowel or strong waves of diarrhea cramps.

You may feel the need to poo during contraction with the uncomfortable and dull pain you cannot pin where.

But, labor pain is only considered true labor when its accompanying symptoms are also manifested:

  • Lower back pain
  • Water breaking
  • Mucosal or bloody discharge
  • Strong and regular contractions

In some cases, women may feel a false contraction of Braxton Hicks sometimes during the third trimester.

But, you can identify the false contraction from true contractions judging from their strength and measurable intervals.

How to manage pregnancy constipation

Bowel problems happen in every pregnancy and can get worse near term. Some lifestyle changes beginning early in the pregnancy can save you from hassles.

It might include:

  • Introducing more fiber into your diet
  • Drinking plenty of water and juices
  • Including physical activity in the daily routine

When the labor drags on, eat only food that is easy to digest but can give you energy during delivery.

Your sluggish digestive tract can affect you for up to three weeks after delivery. You are bound to suffer from constipation until your body picks up its normal process again.

Take some light foods like toast, hot cereal, soup, jelly, or honey.

Finish it off with plenty of water and juice to keep yourself hydrated and energized for the final push. 

See more tips on cleaning off your system before labor in this post.


Is colace safe in pregnancy?

Stool softeners like colace are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women as temporary constipation relief.

However, you still need to consult your doctor, especially if you have pregnancy complications.

I have diarrhea instead of constipation. Is it a sign of impending labor?

Every pregnancy journey is different, and signs and symptoms present themselves differently.

Yes, some women may experience loose stool instead of constipation in the days leading up to baby delivery. 


An urge to poop in the latter part of the pregnancy can induce anxiety for most moms. But, the sensation is a normal thing that can either mean labor or not.

If you experience it along with strong and regular contractions, contact your OB or midwife. They will be able to assist you and tell whether you are going into labor or just experiencing a false one.

Don’t worry and hesitate to report false contractions you think you need to. Health care providers receive a lot of false labor alarms, and your concern is not new.

It is better to identify and act on it earlier for a smooth delivery when it is time. 

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Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She experienced handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also trained in labor rooms and pediatric wards while in nursing school - helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.

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