I am a mother who loves to give tips on parenting and how to live a healthy lifestyle.
How Do You Know When You're in Labor?
Like most first time mothers, I was unsure how I was to know if I was in labor or not. I knew that most women suffer from severe contractions as they go through labor, but every woman has different experiences. I asked family and friends who have had children within the last two years, but as I expected, they all had different takes on it. I just wanted a list of signs to watch out for, but instead I got their personal opinions. So I took to researching and thought I'd share my findings and personal experience with other first timers.
There are many signs that will tell you that you're close to going into labor. As I mentioned earlier, every woman is different. So if you don't experience some of the signs or if you experience them differently from how I describe them, don't worry, it's not a bad thing. Like pregnancy, labor and childbirth is very personal. My labor story will not be the same as yours. Even my future labor and delivery stories will be different.
What Are the Very Early Signs of Labor?
According to Leslie Ludka, the director of midwifery at Cambridge Health Alliance, these are the symptoms that can begin to occur prior to the actual big day.
This is a term for the baby dropping further into the pelvis in preparation for labor and delivery. You may notice feelings of pressure or constantly having to pee. This is due to more pressure being placed on the bladder. In contrast, less pressure is placed on the diaphragm, which allows the mother to breathe easily. This will certainly help during delivery. You may not feel anything at all when the baby settles itself lower. I both felt the shift in pressure and was told by others that it looked like my baby boy had dropped.
Braxton Hicks are sporadic false contractions caused by the tightening of the muscles in the uterus. Believe it or not, these contractions actually begin about six weeks into your pregnancy. However, you will not feel them until your third trimester. This symptom can be confusing as it may cause you to think you're going into actual labor. Remember these contractions are sporadic, so they will be random and you may be able to relax them by resting, switching positions, or moving. Labor contractions will be much more intense and less random. Keep in mind that not every woman experiences them at regular intervals. I didn't. Think of Braxton Hicks contractions as practice for your uterus.
The Nesting Process
According to researchers, this symptom can occur at any point in the third trimester, most likely closer to labor. The nesting process is a primal instinct that you cannot control. Nesting is the uncontrollable urge to basically tie up any loose ends. You may clean your house frequently, or organize constantly. You may even do things like checking your email often or even just staying home to feel safe. You may want to put the finishing touches on your baby's nursery. You'll most likely be obsessing over being prepared for the new baby in some way or another. This symptom is believed to serve a protective function and can be a way to prepare bonding between a mother and her child. Women almost always go through this process without realizing it, but some women never go through it. Take notice if you start obsessing over the state of organization in your house. It may just be the nesting process in full effect.
Cramps and Backaches
According to WhattoExpect, you may feel some cramps and pain in your lower back and abdomen. This is due to the muscles and joints stretching and shifting as they prepare for birth.
Unfortunately, those shifting muscles also apply to the ones in your rectum. You may notice more visits to the restroom. This is completely normal, just remember to stay hydrated.
Dilation and Effacement of the Cervix
This is the process where the cervix opens up and thins out in preparation for delivery. This typically occurs within days or weeks before labor starts. Your doctor can actually measure and track your dilation and effacement with the use of internal scans.
Loosening of Joints
The hormone relaxin will loosen your joints throughout your pregnancy. Prior to labor, your joints will feel more relaxed. This is in preparation of opening your pelvis for labor.
Potential Weight Loss
Towards the end of your pregnancy, you will likely stop gaining weight. You may notice an actual drop in weight. According to WhattoExpect, there are a variety of reasons your body may lose weight as the due date gets closer. In general, your level of amniotic fluid is decreasing and your body is getting rid of excess fluid it no longer needs, either through sweating or visits to the restroom.
What Are the Symptoms Before Labor Begins?
There are several symptoms that will let you know you're going into or are already in labor. Some are not quite noticeable and some women won't even experience some of these symptoms. Here are the major symptoms according to the American Pregnancy Association.
This is the most common and certain symptom of labor. At this stage, contractions will most likely not be Braxton Hicks. Those contractions will be at irregular intervals, feel like they come from the front, and may stop by simply chaining your position. Real labor contractions should feel more intense and occur at regular intervals. "If you have intense pain that comes and goes, those are probably contractions," says Dr. John Thoppil, an OB/GYN at River Place OB/GYN in Austin, Texas. "Labor starts with waves of pain anywhere in the torso. Some people can feel it more in the lower back." However, there are many woman who do not have regularly occurring contractions. Mine did not occur at regular intervals. However, I knew it was time to deliver as they were intense and rapid. These are known as progressive contractions because they will occur longer and closer together as you get closer to delivery. They feel like they start at the back and move to the front. A doula would be able to assist with relaxing you during these contractions. You can read this article on telling the difference between Braxton Hicks and real contractions.
Ruptured Membrane/Water Breaking
This is can be spontaneous or it can be brought on by contractions. Some women say they felt a pop when their water broke while others didn't feel it until water was trickling down their leg. Rarely will you see the Hollywood-style gushing when the amniotic sac breaks. "In real life, this only happens first about 10% of the time," says Dr. Thoppil. It will usually be a slow trickle. Sometimes a doctor or midwife may have to break your water for you. Once your sac is broken, contractions will speed up and intensify. Your sac may burst a few days before delivery. Because your baby is no longer protected by the amniotic sac, it may be susceptible to infection. Your doctor will want to induce labor within a day or two. Here is some more information on issues related to water breaking.
Losing the Mucus Plug
During pregnancy, a thick plug of mucus will develop in the cervical canal. It serves as a protector from bacteria. It will be released when the cervix begins to thin and relax. It can be clear or tinged with blood. It could appear minutes or even days before the onset of labor. Not all women may notice this symptom.
What Are Warning Signs During Pregnancy to Lookout For?
If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
According to Dr. Robert Atlas, this could could be a symptom for preeclampsia, which causes retinal swelling. It may also be related to gestational diabetes or hypertension disorders.
A headache during the first trimester can be chalked up to rising hormone levels. However, they are likely related to preeclampsia during the third trimester. This is the result of high blood pressure.
While the third trimester has typical pains as the baby is on its way, any type of strong pain should be examined by a doctor. For example, according to Healthline, severe abdominal pain could be related to a urinal tract infection or a placental abruption.
Bleeding that is more than spotting can possibly be a symptom of a major issue. This can include things like a uterine rupture or the separation of the placenta.
This is basically when labor starts before week 37. "If you have regular contractions or suspect your water has broken before the 37th week, please call your doc," says Dr. Thoppil. A baby is not yet fully developed to survive outside the womb during this period. There may likely be some complications such as developmental issues.
What Are the Stages of Labor?
According to Penn Medicine, labor is broken down into three stages which begin when you start to get regular contractions and ends when you pass the placenta. Labor can last over 20 hours, so there is usually no reason to rush to the hospital. It's important to stay calm, take your time in making sure you have everything you'll need, and know the stages of labor.
- First Stage: This is known as the latent stage. This is when the contractions start to intensify and the cervix begins to thin out. This can last for 10 to 20 hours. You'll experience the usually symptoms of labor that are mentioned above. You should go to the hospital during the more active second stage but should see a doctor if you experience a strong bloody discharge or if you feel your water breaks. You can be prepared by reading this article on how to help labor progress.
- Second Stage: This is known as the active stage. It is here where delivery will begin. Your contractions should be closer and stronger at this point. This period can last for up to three hours. You may even feel the need to push (or not if you received medication for pain). One way or another, you will be directed what to do by your doctor, midwife, or nurse. The second stage is over once your bundle of joy has been brought into the world.
- Third Stage: Beginning immediately or anywhere up to an hour after birth, your doctor, midwife, or nurse will instruct you to give another push so that you may pass the placenta. They may refer to this as the afterbirth. You will probably be so preoccupied with your little one that this won't even phase you. The process may be sped up with the administering of a drug called pitocin. Once the placenta is out, the healing process will begin. You will probably have to stay in the hospital for two or three days. Make sure you have a carriage, carrier, or carseat so that you can bring the new baby home!
10 Symptoms and Signs That Labor Is Near. From What to Expect.
Anderson, M.V., Rutherford, M.D. Evolution and Human Behavior, Volume 34, Issue 6, 390-397.
Losing the Pregnancy Weight. From What to Expect.
Nall, R. The Third Trimester of Pregnancy: Pain and Insomnia. From HealthLine.
Nierenberg, C. (2017, May 19). Is the Baby Coming? | 6 Signs of Labor. From LiveScience.
Signs of Labor. From American Pregnancy Association.
The Three Stages of Labor. From Penn Medicine.
Van Zuidam, J. Blurry Vision During Pregnancy. From The Bump.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: Yesterday I had period like cramps, but a bit more painful, started at night and it kept on all day, and today all I feel is tightening of the stomach and lower back pain. What do my symptoms of cramps and stomach and back pain all mean?
Answer: It sounds like you’re going into labor. If your stomach is tightening and you’re having back pain you may be far along in your labor. I advise you to go to the hospital you’ve chosen to give birth at or call your midwife if you’ve chosen to birth at home.
© 2011 Skylar Spring
Did you find this helpful? Are you prepared for labor and delivery?
sharn on October 06, 2019:
hi im needing to wee more and got baby boy hitting me aswell im 34 +4 today and i need advise on what to do asap
Nicole on September 08, 2019:
Hi I am 35+4 been having some cramping in my lower back and in my pelvic area I have also been having a tighting feeling in my stomach but I don't know if it's my baby girl stretching or moving around. What are your thoughts
Julie sweeten on September 09, 2018:
I will be 37 weeks tomorrow and i am having sharp pains in my h6hips this is my second pregnancy what can i do for the pain i have tried warm shower Tylenol its not working.
Anoop Aravind A from Nilambur, Kerala, India on April 20, 2012:
hi Skylar spring good hub.Thanks for this hub.My wife is preparing to give birth to my baby, this is a good guide for her. I have doubt, can you explain more about Braxton Hicks?
Skylar Spring (author) from New York on October 14, 2011:
Ah thank you for catching my typo. I meant cm.
ardnaxela from United States Of America on October 14, 2011:
Good article. Only thing I found was slightly odd that that you put mm instead of cm. Cm is different then mm. There are 10 mm to 1 cm, and to be able to push in childbirth, a woman would have to be 10cm.