When an expectant mom goes into labor is always a gamble. Due dates are just estimates, and the other so-called tell-tale signs--the dilating cervix, the dropping belly, the false contractions--are just hints that childbirth is around the corner.
A more reliable test may be available soon, though. Researchers have uncovered the chemical changes in amniotic fluid that signal when labor is about to begin. The changes all occur at the cellular level--specifically, the telomeres, the cap at the end of DNA strands that acts much like the tip of a shoelace. Scientists believe that telomeres protect DNA from damage when cells divide; as we age, telomeres get shorter and more frayed. Finally, they get so short that the cell cannot divide.
Something similar occurs at the end of pregnancy. The telomeres attached to placenta cells--the organ the body creates during pregnancy to deliver nutrients to the baby-to-be--get shorter and more fragmented until the cells can no longer divide. That chemical change, scientists speculate, act like a signal to the body that it's time for the baby to leave the womb.
Scientists think that this discovery could lead to a test that would detect changes in the amniotic fluid that signal labor and delivery. That in turn might save a woman from thinking her false-labor contractions are the real deal as well as prevent premature labor--and spare many parents the heart-ache of seeing their premature babies stuck in hospitals for weeks.
via Daily Mail