Dropping: Why it Means Nothing

One of the pet peeves I have as an Ob/Gyn is when patients come in inappropriately worried and fretting over something a friend, family member or stranger told them. There are usually two main things that inspire their worry: Either, “You look too small/big to be as far along as you are,” or the dreaded— “Oh honey, you’ve definitely dropped.”

So I’m going to discuss the phenomenon of dropping here.  My ultimate goal is twofold:

  1. For people to stop making ANY commentary about how a pregnant woman looks and,
  2. For people to collectively alter how they think about “dropping”.

Why? When telling a pregnant woman she looks huge, about to pop, that she looks like she is carrying twins or that she is way too small for her gestational age, it makes her feel uncertainty and angst all because of some subjective blather that has no medical substantiation.

Look at any pregnancy photo gallery website and you’ll see that every one of us carries babies differently and looks different at different gestational ages. Just because a woman looks large, doesn’t mean her baby is 15 pounds. This may be her 2nd or 3rd pregnancy, in which case, it’s predictable that the uterus will shift outward more quickly and they may appear more pregnant, earlier on.

Other times, people can look minimally pregnant just based on their body type, even when their sweet in-utero-parasite is growing just right.  Comments about fetal and maternal size only serve to make a mom worry: What if there’s something wrong?  What if my baby is too big/too small?  When can I find out if everything is OK?!?!  The cyclone of worried thoughts gets set off so easily in a pregnancy.  Commentary would be best limited to things like, “How are you feeling?  You look great!”

So, regarding dropping, the same cyclone of angst gets initiated. What I see is this— my patient is worried.  Wringing her hands or faking being calm, my patient says, “so umm, do you think I’ve dropped? I saw so and so the other day and she and 17 other people all told me that the baby has dropped.”

Dropping or “lightening” refers to a baby moving a bit lower in the pelvic canal.  As the baby settles into the pelvic canal, this can sometimes be visually appreciated with the top of someone’s uterus (the fundus) looking like it’s farther from someone’s breasts.  This can make women feel like they need to pee more and simultaneously feel like they can breathe more easily.

That’s it!

Dropping carries no predictive value. It’s not a signal of labor or any positive or negative outcomes. Similar to a mucus plug, which can happen hours or weeks before delivery, dropping or lightening can also happen hours or weeks before delivery. Let me repeat, dropping carries no predictive value.

Imbuing “dropping” with as much meaning as the random strangers at the shoe store will have you think it has, is problematic.  It’s akin to someone reading their friend’s horoscope in the Onion, calling them up, with a furrowed brow, pursed lips, stressed tone of voice, and saying, “you saw your horoscope, RIGHT?  You know what that means, RIGHT?”

The logical reply is, to thank this well meaning friend for their magical thoughts and concerns, and to go about your life without a second thought toward checking the Onion’s sarcastic words of wisdom.

Just as the horoscope is not predictive of anything with any certainty, nether is your mucus plug, your cervical dilation or your dropped baby.  Isolated from the larger context of labor, they are small pieces to the puzzle that make up the pregnancy experience, but they don’t mean anything in particular.

However, in contrast, when you have the combination of a strong contractions every 5 minutes for an hour, +/- breaking your bag of water, +/-a bunch of mucus comes out, +/- your baby feels lower in your pelvis, you definitely could be in labor or heading that direction soon.

So, let this be a PSA for the world: If someone tells you that you or your baby have dropped, pay them no mind, smile, say “Thanks, you’re right!” and don’t let it bug you.  If you are tempted to tell a pregnant woman that her baby has dropped, please take a deep breath, count to 50 and come up with something else to say.  “You look great, how’s it going?” is almost always appropriate.

Related: Your Vagina Is Not A Crystal Ball

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  • Thank you so much for writing this Dr. Angevine! I lean towards the smaller, all belly pregnant body type and with my first child even one of the doctors in my OB/GYN practice made me feel like I was starving my baby (luckily I saw a different one at the next appointment who reassured me that everything was all right and I didn’t need to binge on chocolate cake). Now in my second pregnancy, I know not to worry, but I’ve still had plenty of people comment on how small I am. I don’t understand why it’s socially acceptable to comment on a pregnant woman’s belly since you wouldn’t comment on anyone else’s belly size. Thanks for advocating the change!

  • Thanks for the great post! I agree that people really shouldn’t be commenting on how a pregnant woman looks. I truly dislike being on the receiving end of it – feeling eyeballed by someone trying to judge whether or not I’ve "dropped" is really unpleasant. Even worse is when they ask if I’m dilated! So inappropriate! And not for casual conversation! Why people (men as well as women are guilty of this) feel it’s ok to comment on someone’s most intimate parts is really mind boggling to me. Perhaps next time I’ll ask in return how their prostate is doing. . . or note that they look bloated.

  • This came at a perfect time! Today I had my 36 week ultrasound and, though I haven’t had many contractions nor have I felt like my baby has dropped or had any comments towards that, my OB said that the baby is very low. Now I’m sitting here wondering if this means I’ll be having this baby next week during Thanksgiving.

    The most interesting comment I had was, at 29 weeks when I needed to have a non-stress test done, the nurse told me that the baby was neurologically developed at 37 weeks. I left that hospital worried that meant I was going to deliver way too early.

  • I definitely heard a lot of this, but I was a little lucky in that my OB told me when she could tell the baby had dropped before anybody else, so she was able to communicate that it was just a "huh" thing and not anything to give a second thought to. Also, my kids dropped at 31 and 30 weeks, so it would’ve meant they were going to be very premature if dropping meant anything, and I knew there wasn’t any reason they weren’t going to be born anything like that early. (They were born at 39+5 and 40+3, respectively.)

  • When I saw my pregnant dental hygienist today, I didn’t tell her that she looked like she was going to pop! (I wouldn’t have done that anyways, but I did tell her about your post.)

  • SO True! It is never helpful to tell a pregnant woman anything about what you think the position/size/shape/consistency of her pregnant belly foretells. Unless that is, you are her doctor! During my last pregnancy I had to laugh at how many contradictory statements I heard during the course of any given day. I wish I had written them down! They only serve to confuse and stress (or maybe entertain just a little).

  • I love this! If think that if you’re going to tell a pregnant woman something, it should be something that won’t make her worry. There is WAY too much worrying that you can do while pregnant. And most of it is crap. Thanks for the post!

  • Great read! Excellent point that so often even well intended commentary (from friends, family and/or strangers!) can provoke needless anxiety and worry during pregnancy….good advice on keeping comments light and positive if any at all!

  • I totally agree! I myself dropped with my oldest two weeks before he was born, but didn’t drop at all (or did during delivery) with my last two!! Also, I carried all three differently. My oldest was low, middle was high, last was right in the middle (and they were all boys, and as you know so many want to predict sex based on where you carry). And I’d like to add that our body types do absolutely have a lot to do with when and how much we show! I wore my pre pregnancy clothes up until 7 months, then I exploded!!! Lol! But some women show at 3 months!

    • Renae– Thanks for writing in. I think it’d be lovely if upon finding out one was pregnant, they were told these universals about body type affecting how the uterus sits, leans and looks in different women. Then maybe there would be less angst about looking low, small, big, etc.

    • Cara! Thanks for taking time to read. We should make a list of common courtesy and etiquette surrounding pregnancy and see if we can get it integrated into the curriculum of schools starting with elementary schools.
      Or maybe that’s overkill. I appreciate your kind comments!

  • I love this article. I too had these issues as a first time mom!!! Especially because I work in the hospital. Love that I can relate to this. Great article!!!!

    • Jamie– thanks for reading and commenting! Lordy be, what is it with people at hospitals and their filter being off when they talk to pregnant ladies? I appreciate your sweet words!

  • Being pregnant for the first time I have come across so many people who make rude comments. I’m 7 months pregnant and for the last 2 months I have gotten comments such as, ‘Wow, You’re so big!" "Are you having twins?", "Are you ready to pop yet?" on a daily basis! Drives me crazy! I don’t care if people don’t mean it in a harmful way or if they are just trying to make conversation, it’s rude. Before a woman announces she’s pregnant everyone knows it’s taboo to ask if she’s expecting but once she announces, it’s like the flood gates have opened for all sorts of insensitive comments about her weight! I feel like I’m doing pretty good. I sleep through the night every night, I don’t waddle, I played tennis last night and I’m 29 weeks today! People started talking about me dropping already and I just roll my eyes and walk away!

    • Sam– Those people are nitwits aren’t they?? The flood gates of schmuckiness and jerk behavior DO open when people find out you’re carrying a baby inside your uterus. It brings up everyone’s expert anecdotal assessments that MUST specifically apply to any pregnant woman in their path, no matter how uncanny that and how unsubstantiated their comments may be. I’m glad you are doing well at 29w! Congrats and keep up the good work with rolling your eyes and walking away. Just be careful not to roll your eyes too many times or too forcefully. You know, because I heard, like, that makes the baby near sighted when they grow up. All that dangerous eye rolling is serious, I’ve seen it happen to my sister’s friend’s teacher’s kid who now is, like, 25 years old and has to wear glasses. Thanks for writing in!

    • Amanda– of course, my pleasure! Similar to the entire tone of the Pregnant Chicken site, it saddens me to know there is so much confusing info and commentary to wade through during pregnancy. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment! If you have questions, feel free to share any other things you’re currently hearing a lot about.

  • Great article Dr. Angevine. So much wisdom you have to share and your ease of communicating sound advice is a breath of fresh air. Simple, straight up information that I wish was available when I was pregnant. Keep on blogging!

  • Great article for those expecting or not! It’s always better to think before you speak and especially when speaking to a pregnant woman about how she looks! Also as an L&D RN its helpful to inform patients of this before they get worked up about it and need to make an unnecessary triage visit! Hope to read more articles soon!

    • Kristen– Indeed, it’d be swell if people would always think before they spoke, in general. Seems like it’d be a simple thing to give patients a list of the top ten things that you DON’T have to worry about and DON’T have to go to triage at 3am to get addressed. Maybe it could be a part of the discharge from triage paperwork packet. Thanks for reading!

  • I love this and have to say I hadn’t realized that dropping was as non-predictive as the waters breaking. This also had me thinking of comments I may have said to a friend that may not have been helpful. Kristi is right. "You look great" is how I’m going to go from now on.

    • Linda– you are definitely not alone in that sentiment! I like the idea of spreading, "You look great!". Thanks so much for taking time to read this!

    • Erica– If I had a dollar for all the unnecessary worry that comes after some random person says some random thing to a patient, well, I’d have a lot of cash stashed away. Thanks for reading!

    • Lauren, I’m glad you read it! Feel free to reach out if there are other topics in your pregnancy that you wished had been discussed differently. I have a running list of common pregnancy concerns to write about. Thanks for writing in!

    • Arianna– Ahh, I love it! An out loud chuckle makes my day. Pregnancy should be filled with them. Glad you liked it. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  • Pregnancy advice abounds! When I was pregnant someone told me not to lift my arms over my head, for fear that I might strangle the baby. I always wondered how I was supposed to brush my hair. Great article. Please keep the common sense coming, we could use a lot more of it.

    • Brandy– agreed! Pregnancy advice does abound, but, I will say, that my pregnancy advice is the best advice ever. For everyone. Always. Ha, ha! It floors me to hear how much certainty and know-it-all-ness people infuse into their pregnancy (and parenting) advice. How the hell would one brush their hair?? I suppose all those well coiffed people are the reason for the 15% rate of nuchal cords we see. Thanks for reading and writing in!

  • Great article! It’s amazing what people will say to a pregnant woman! I got sick of hearing, "you’re gonna pop!" And I was only 31 weeks along… With my second… Hopefully, lots of people will read this.

    • Thank you for reading, Brooke! People say the most appalling things to pregnant women sometimes. I hope it is read by legions of people across the lands as well.

  • Sadly, everybody’s granny and great aunt and third cousin twice removed has a comment to make…and it’s usually something new and exciting for them to worry about.
    Thanks for the great advice! We need more people like you in the world! 🙂

    • Beth– I agree! It always seems like the more random and removed a person is and the older a person is, the more forward their remarks about a pregnant lady become. Thanks for reading and leaving such kind comments!

  • Love it! Hope this gets a lot of reads. Very good information, reassuring to first time moms or repeats! Also…what a great reminder to everyone: kind commentary is always best!

    • Ashley– Kind commentary IS always best. Unless you’re family or a best friend, there’s really no room for anything other than sweet comments. Even as an Ob/Gyn, I never ask people how far along they are; you just never know what someone’s back story is– they might not be pregnant, they might have just delivered, they might not be happy about being pregnant, they might have just miscarried…Thanks for reading!

    • Dana– Yeah they do! No need to add ore to their plate with oblivious comments that just worry them more. Thanks for reading!

  • Yeah, but what do you know, Dr. Angevine? You just went to school for 40 years and actually studied this stuff. 🙂
    It would be really amazing if more people would look to science and their physicians for answers to their questions and worries rather than Google and other less reliable sources. Great article, keep’em coming!

    • Thank you for the smartypants reply, Dr. Carter! I agree– except that the 40 years part of your comment makes me feel a little older than I want to feel. Dr. Google scares the shit out of the best of us, especially at 2am. I’m optimistic that, in the future, there will be easier, better ways for people to get really solid medical, scientific info. Thank you for reading the article!

  • Awesome article!! Love love how it addresses some worries that a new mom to be might have. I also love the suggestions on that to say to someone when they are pregnant. Great way to help the new mom keep calm and feel great!


    • Sylvana– great to see your reply! Calm, ease and peace of mind are much better than feeling high strung during the most vulnerable time of our lives (pregnancy!). Thanks for reading.

  • Thanks for this! When I was pregnant with my first, I was "too small" and then, with my second, I was "too big". I love the advice to take a deep breath, count to 50 and think of something else to say. It’s also nice to have an OB/GYN tell it like it is 🙂 When my second dropped, people were looking nervously at me all the time. They were POSITIVE that I was about to make a noisy mess of their shop/public pool/home… and they weren’t afraid to comment. I wish they had seen your article!

    • Keri-Ann– I appreciate you chiming in! The "too small" and "too big" comments crack me up and drive me crazy. People definitely remove their social filter when it comes to sharing their point of view on pregnant women’s size. Thanks for reading the post!

    • Brittany– I think sometimes people in medicine can be the worst (unless they work in labor and delivery or with antepartum/postpartum patients, and then they are usually smartly conscientious!). My take is that once people have a little bit of expertise in a related field, they deem themselves pregnancy experts, too. Thanks for reading!

  • Amen! Why in the world do people insist on telling pregnant women all this confusing nonsense – when I was a first time mom, it was overwhelming to hear it. Thanks for being an advocate for new mamas and especially advice to just tell us all how great we look!

    • Racheal– You said it perfectly! Why DO people say such confounding and anxiety producing comments to pregnant women??! Most must be oblivious to the impact of their chatter. Here’s to a future where the norm of pregnancy small talk is positivity and encouragement. Thanks for being the first to comment!

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