It’s not known what brings labor on, but it’s believed that hormones such as prostaglandins stimulate uterine activity and trigger oxytocin release, softening and thinning the cervix. Your body goes through a series of changes when it’s preparing for labor. Although the signs vary from woman to woman (as well as from pregnancy to pregnancy), once your labor has begun, the strong, painful contractions will ultimately give you a clue that it’s time for your little one to be born.
At first, especially if this is your first pregnancy, you may not know the difference between true labor and false labor signs, making you unsure of what exactly you are experiencing. Becoming familiar in advance with the signs of labor will help you to distinguish the difference when the time comes. If you think you may be going into labor, don’t feel embarrassed to call your doctor or midwife to ask questions, no matter what time of day or night, or go to the hospital.
Diarrhea, Nausea, Increased Energy
Labor can start out with signs as simple as experiencing frequent diarrhea and nausea/upset stomach. Some women find themselves suddenly flooded with energy, when the nesting instinct kicks in full-force. Lower back pain and abdominal cramping aren’t uncommon either.
Rupture of Membranes
If you’re water breaks, that’s a definite sign that your time is drawing near of holding your little one. When your membranes rupture, it can feel like a little trickle or a big gush of fluid. This is the amniotic fluid that has surrounded your baby in the amniotic sac for nine months. Many times, your water won’t break until later stages of labor, or may even have to be broken manually by your doctor or midwife at the hospital. If you think your water has broken, call your doctor or midwife, because they will most likely want you to come to the hospital. The longer between when your water breaks and when delivery occurs, the greater chance of infection. Use a towel or pad to make you feel more comfortable, never use tampons while pregnant.
Loss of Mucus Plug
You may experience the loss of your mucus plug or “blood show” at the onset of labor, although it can occur as early as 2-3 weeks before delivery. This mucus-like discharge may be thick, bloody and stringy. This “plug” is the barrier that seals the opening of your cervix throughout pregnancy, preventing infection. Sometimes it dislodges as your cervix begins to thin and dilate (open). Make sure to let your doctor or midwife know if this happens, especially if it’s heavy and bright red, which could indicate something serious.
Labor contractions start out similar to Braxton-Hicks contractions, beginning mild and relatively painless. But unlike Braxton-Hicks, they progressively get stronger and longer in duration. Also, true labor contractions will not let up by changing positions or resting, which false labor contractions tend to do. They continue and don’t go away, no matter what you do, they may even get stronger and intensify with activity. When you are really in labor, your contractions gradually become more regular and typically develop a pattern. They commonly begin in your lower back and radiate forward, like waves. False labor contractions are usually just centered in your abdomen and stay there. Your abdomen will feel very hard (usually much harder than Braxton-Hicks), like a basketball during these contractions, which you can feel by placing your hand on your belly. And unlike false labor contractions, real contractions will dilate and efface your cervix.
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