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How Will I Know I Am in Labor?

Check For These 6 Signs of Labor


There are many things that happen to your body as you lead up to labor. Some can be hard to miss (losing your mucus plug) while others are more subtle (you've stopped gaining weight as quickly). The biggest question most women have now is, when do you call the doctor? Here are six signs to look for to let you know this is the real thing.

Early Labor

a pregnant mom sleeping in bed

There are three stages of labor: Early, advanced, and transitional. Early labor is the least intense and most confusing part of labor. It can last for hours, days, or even weeks. Mild cramping, diarrhea, and increased vaginal discharge are some of the most common symptoms. This is the time when your cervix is beginning to dilate and thin out in preparation for your baby's arrival. Until your cervix has dilated beyond 3 centimeters you are considered to be in early labor.

  1. You Have Increased Vaginal Discharge
  2. a stained mattress

    As your cervix begins to dilate you'll notice an increase in vaginal discharge. A tinge of blood is normal and is called "bloody show." You might also find a large, thick glob of mucus, which is the plug that has been keeping bacteria and other pathogens from entering your uterus the last nine months. If you have more than a bit of blood, call your doctor immediately.

  3. You're Having Contractions
  4. a pregnant woman having painful cramps

    Having contractions can be painful and a bit disconcerting. You've most likely been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for a while now, so how can you tell if it's the real deal? Drink a glass of water and lie down on your left side; if the contractions don't stop, you're probably in labor. Timing your contractions now is important—if you're in a regular pattern, call your doctor or hospital. They'll likely advise you to wait at home until the contractions are 40-60 seconds long 2-3 minutes apart.

  5. Your Water Breaks
  6. a leaking pipe

    Unlike what you've seen in the movies, labor doesn't often start with your water breaking dramatically. It can sometimes start as a slow leak that is easy to confuse with your bladder leaking from having so much extra pressure on it. It can also come as a big gush. If your water has broken, then you are in labor. 

    Care providers sometimes don't want you to labor for more than 24 hours after rupture due to a chance of infection, so once your membranes have ruptured call your doctor. Many women don't experience ruptured membranes at all, so don't use your water breaking as the only clue that it's time to go to the hospital.

  7. You're Nauseated and/or You've Vomited
  8. a pregnant woman holding her hand to her face

    When you're in labor your body is releasing waves of hormones and the muscles around your abdomen are squeezing you regularly—it's not a wonder that you're going to start to feel a bit sick. A sense of feeling unwell in the early stages of labor frequently changes to actively vomiting during the end of active labor or beginning of the transitional phase. If you've been contracting regularly and start to vomit when you're at home, get to the hospital quickly. Transitional labor means you're most likely at least 7 centimeters dilated.

  9. You Can't Stop Shaking
  10. a pregnant mom sleeping

    The flood of hormones that your body is releasing can cause uncontrollable shaking. While your partner will understandably want to cover you in blankets, it's not uncommon for the hormone surge to make you feel warmer than usual. If you're contracting and start to feel warm and shaky, call the doctor to check in.

  11. You're Feeling Rectal Pressure
  12. a pregnant woman about to go into labor

    As contractions help push your baby into your pelvis you'll start to feel a bit of pressure. It's not glamorous, but many women describe it as feeling like they have to move their bowels. If you begin to feel pressure in your rectum you're getting very close to needing to push. If you're not already under the care of your provider, it's time to hurry. Good luck!

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