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How Will I Know I’m in Labor?

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Is it active labor or Braxton Hicks? Every woman’s experience is different, so knowing when it’s actually time to head to the hospital can be tricky. We have tips to help you.

Labor is a Process

While your body almost always gives you signals to recognize that labor is approaching, it’s always better to be prepared and know the common signs. It’s also important to remember that it is a process and that even after signs of labor start to appear, it could be hours or even several days until your baby arrives.

Common Signs That Labor is Approaching

Early labor can easily be misread as active labor, especially if this is your first baby. In terms of duration, it’s pretty unpredictable and really up to your baby and body to decide. Until you notice more consistent contractions, try your best to stay relaxed. If you are in early labor, you’re almost there as it’s the first step to active labor!

3 Common Signs of Early Labor

  • Increased vaginal discharge or “bloody show”
    • During pregnancy, a thick plug of mucus protects the cervical opening from bacteria entering the uterus. When the cervix begins to dilate, it pushes this mucus into the vagina. This leads to what’s considered “bloody show”, because the discharge can be pink, brown or slightly bloody. It can appear hours or even days before the onset of labor and not all women notice this sign.
  • Breathing becomes easier again
    • The feeling the baby has “dropped” or shifted down in your uterus relieves some of the pressure on your diaphragm. This allows you to not be so short of breathe. You might also notice more frequent trips to the restroom, as the baby presses on the bladder.
  • Mild contractions
    • Contractions are when the muscles of your uterus expand and the signs that your body is beginning to push the baby out. These can occur in intervals of 10 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 2 minutes, etc. They are irregular and unpredictable. The pressure or pain that began in your back starts to move down to your abdomen.

Common Signs of Active Labor

By the time active labor arrives, your cervix is most likely dilated 6 to 10 centimeters and you will notice stronger symptoms as time passes. Active labor can range from 4 to 8 hours, and sometimes even longer. This is when things begin to truly happen, and you should head to the hospital. As always, if you’re unsure of what steps to take, call us.

5 Signs of Active Labor

  • Strong and consistent contractions
    • When regular and predictable uterine contractions begin, it’s the strongest sign that you’re in active labor. As soon as this starts, you should begin recording the exact time each contraction begins and how long they last. When contractions are consistently 5 minutes apart, it is time to call your OB/GYN.
    • If you’re experiencing the following with your contractions, you are in labor:
      • They are 5 to 10 minutes apart and become stronger and come in shorter intervals as time passes.
      • You’re unable to walk or talk because the contractions are so strong.
      • Moving or changing positions to relieve pain in your lower back or abdomen doesn’t help.
  • Your Water Breaks
    • When your water breaks, that’s an indication that the fluid-filled sac that surrounded your baby has ruptured. You may feel a discharge of watery fluid that can come in a trickle or even a gush. Your water can break several hours before labor or even during labor.
  • Back pain
  • Leg cramps
  • Nausea

False Labor

Knowing you’re in labor can be hard, especially when you feel your uterus contract, but true labor hasn’t begun. This common feeling is called “false labor” and these contractions are called Braxton Hicks contractions.

Communicate With Your Doctor

When it comes to labor be sure to explain all your symptoms and concerns. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

If you’re still unsure or have any doubt, call our office. If you are experiencing pain or need immediate attention, go immediately to Labor and Delivery at the hospital.

Be Prepared for Your Precious Bundle of Joy

It’s normal to feel a wave of emotions during this time. From feeling excited, to disbelief or even apprehension. Just try your best to stay calm and breathe.

It’s very unlikely that you will go into labor without warning as your body will let you know when you’re approaching the big day. Stay prepared and have your hospital bag packed so when the time is right, you’re ready to leave. Being as prepared as you can will help reduce anxiety when those first signs appear. You’re almost at the end and will be holding your baby in your arms before you know it. You got this!