Are you eagerly awaiting any signs of labor, so you know labor has begun or soon will?
It’s such an exciting time.
You’ve been waiting patiently (or impatiently) for nine long months. Your baby will soon be here and you want to know the signs that indicate you’re going into labor.
Remember, full-term pregnancy is between 37 and 42 weeks.
Only 3-5% of babies are born on their estimated due date.
Around 40% of babies are born in the two weeks before their estimated due date, and 40% are born in the two weeks after.
If you reach 42 weeks, you should discuss a plan of action with your health care provider. Research shows there are varying factors that determine post dates pregnancy and the safety of continuing past 42 weeks.
Signs of labor
It’s important to note signs of labor before 37 weeks need to be checked out by your doctor immediately as they could indicate preterm labor.
Be sure to read Premature Labor – Signs, Symptoms and Management for information about what to look for if you think you’re experiencing preterm labor.
Now let’s get right into it: what signs of labor might you notice?
#1: Is water breaking a sign of labor?
Spontaneous rupture of the membranes is also referred to as your water breaking. When the water breaks, it means the amniotic sac, which is filled with amniotic fluid and surrounds the baby, has ruptured.
The leaking amniotic fluid might come out as a trickle, a small gush, or perhaps an enormous flood.
You could also notice a ‘popping’ sensation as the water breaks.
This is the first sign labor is near for around 1o% of women; it’s not as common as the movies would have you believe.
Read more in Pre-Labour Rupture Of Membranes – When Your Water Breaks.
If you suspect your water has broken, pop a pad on – don’t use tampons – and call your main health care provider, whether it’s your midwife or your doctor.
Indicators your water has broken are:
- You have no control over the flow
- A panty liner is inadequate to absorb the fluid
- The pad is wet more than once
- It doesn’t smell like urine.
Read more in What To Do When Your Waters Break.
#2: Is lower back pain a sign of labor?
Regular contractions are a good sign labor is starting.
Early contractions often feel like lower back period pain, or a lower backache at irregular intervals, like cramps.
Find out more in What Do Contractions Feel Like?.
This lower backache eventually becomes more distinctly like contractions. They will usually be quite mild and won’t interrupt your daily routine.
There’s no need to start timing these mild contractions straight away. Focusing too much on them can lead to disappointment when they’re not progressing as you hoped, in the case of false labor.
For more information, read How Long Does Early Labour Last? What You Should Know.
True labor contractions tend to be irregular at first, but start to become more regular.
Early signs of prelabor:
- Your contractions are irregular
- The contractions aren’t increasingly stronger, or are mild cramps
- A change in position, massage, walking, eating or drinking relieves or stops the contractions
- The contractions are short or might last several minutes.
Active labor contractions will:
- Not stop or slow down, regardless of frequency and your activity
- Follow a fairly predictable pattern
- Become increasingly closer together
- Last longer
- Become stronger (if you can’t talk through a contraction, it’s a sign they’re increasing in intensity)
- Build up, have a peak, then reduce (a very noticeable start, middle, end).
For more information please check out Contractions – Everything You Need To Know.
#3: Mucus plug
As your cervix begins to dilate, the thick mucus plug that sealed your cervix during pregnancy, to prevent infection from reaching the baby, might come loose.
This is one of the signs that labor is getting close and your cervix is slowly opening up.
The mucus plug might partially or completely discharge from your vagina.
The mucus plug is different from vaginal discharge.
It might be watery or sticky and jelly-like in appearance. Sometimes it has a brown, pink, or red tinge to it as it combines the mucus and a bit of blood as when your cervix dilates, small blood vessels may break.
Find out more by reading Mucus Plug – How To Tell If It’s The Plug Or Discharge.
The mucus plug might be released over several days, and can sometimes appear up to two weeks before labor starts but it’s definitely one of the early signs of labor.
If you experience any bright red blood or the discharge is a greenish color, inform your doctor or health care provider straight away.
Find out more in our article The Mucus Plug During Pregnancy.
#4: Is involuntary shivering a sign of labor?
Even if you aren’t cold, you might experience shivering or trembling in early labor.
The same thing can happen when labor begins, and during or after birth. It can be frightening if you aren’t sure why it’s happening.
It’s simply your body’s way of relieving tension and usually lasts only a few minutes. It can be one of the early labor signs.
You can help by doing something relaxing, like deep breathing, or having a warm shower or massage.
Holding your breath to the count of 5 several times consecutively can also stop the shivers.
Another little trick from a healthcare provider is to try to count backwards, in threes, from 20: ‘20, 17, 14, 11, etc…’
Read more in Shaking During Labour And Birth – What You Need To Know.
#5: Is lightening a sign of labor?
At the end of pregnancy, your baby drops and settles deeper into your pelvis, closer to your cervix. You might notice you can breathe more easily than before. This is called lightening.
This is because the pressure on your diaphragm has been relieved. As pay-back, though, you might feel more pressure on your bladder, which means more trips to the bathroom.
Others around you might be first to notice that baby has dropped. You might not even realize that your tummy has changed in appearance.
Some women don’t experience lightening at all and that’s fine, but if it happens it’s one of the signs that labor is getting closer.
If your baby doesn’t drop, it doesn’t mean you won’t go into labor or baby won’t fit. Some good contractions will help with that.
You can read more in Baby Engaged | Meaning, Symptoms, And When It Happens.
#6: Is diarrhea a sign of labor?
In the days prior to birth, the hormone prostaglandin will stimulate your bowels to open more frequently. The hormone relaxin is also responsible for this.
As labor approaches, you might notice loose stools, as your body empties your bowels to make way for the baby.
So yes, diarrhea is one of the early labor signs.
If you experience diarrhea during pregnancy, though, just make sure you don’t have any signs of illness. Talk to your doctor if you need reassurance you’re not unwell.
Some women will pass stools during labor and that’s absolutely fine.
If you’re anxious about this, read our article Pooping During Labour – Is It On Your Ultimate Horrors List?.
#7: Increased Braxton Hicks contractions
Braxton Hicks contractions are also known as ‘practice’ contractions. They can occur quite frequently and range from mild to intense tightenings.
Braxton Hicks don’t act on the cervix, to thin or dilate it. You won’t experience any regularity to them, and they will fade away after a while.
Some women aren’t aware of any Braxton Hicks contractions throughout pregnancy, so don’t be alarmed if you don’t.
It doesn’t mean labor is any further away.
If the contractions aren’t painful but they happen when you’ve reached full term and you can feel a bit of frequency in them, they’re called false labor contractions.
False labor contractions are thinning the cervix, but it hasn’t started to dilate just yet.
Find out more in Braxton Hicks Contractions – What Are They?.
What should I do in early labor?
The main thing is to avoid being too focused on early labor. Just go about your daily life.
If you try to force labor to pick up, you can end up exhausted. You’ll need that energy later – especially if you’re having false labor contractions.
Don’t forget to check out Early Labour – 8 Tips For A Low Stress Early Labour At Home for some ideas on how to help early labor become active labor more quickly.
Telling everyone you’re in labor when it’s in the early stages can also work against you.
Having family and friends texting or calling to see what’s happening or asking whether baby’s arrived yet will make you feel like a watched pot.
When should I go to the hospital?
Experiencing signs of labor is what you’ve been waiting for all this time, isn’t it?
Your excitement can take over when you notice signs your cervix is changing and labor is starting. You might think the sooner you get to the hospital, the sooner you’ll have your baby.
Sometimes, going to the hospital early can have exactly the opposite effect, and you end up with a longer, or a medical, labor.
It’s a very common story. Mothers-to-be go into a hospital during early labor, only to find their contractions have slowed down or completely stopped.
Being in a strange or different environment with so many interruptions can do this, even when a woman has been having regular contractions just a few minutes apart.
The ‘fight or flight’ response raises your adrenaline level, slowing things down until you are in a ‘safe place’.
Going into the hospital too early because you think you’re going into labor could actually delay active labor.
Once you arrive at the hospital
When you arrive in hospital, your activities are restricted, compared with being at home. You might have to stay on the hospital bed for monitoring or vaginal exams, or not move around much in the smaller space.
This could mean you’re less active and your contractions could slow, stall or become more painful.
Restricting movement makes it more difficult for the baby to move through your pelvis, and labor might last even longer as a result.
Most hospitals will send you home if you’re in early labor, but some might offer you the opportunity to stay.
Usually, women want to stay because they’re worried about labor being more intense when they get home.
It can also be disappointing to go home without a babe in arms, especially if you’ve already told family and friends you’re in labor.
At this point, you might feel more inclined to accept interventions, which can get things going but have risks attached.
Augmentation or induction (medically making contractions stronger) increases the risks of having a c-section.
For more information please read Induction of Labour – What Are The Risks Of Being Induced?.
If your water breaks, when you’re expected to go into hospital varies greatly according to hospital policy.
Some hospitals will ask you to come in straight away. Others will tell you to wait until contractions are well established, and quite likely you’ll be asked to call or come in no more than 24 hours later.
Read more in Waters Breaking – What To Do When Your Waters Break.
You should go to the hospital immediately if you:
- Are bleeding
- See your water has broken and the fluid is green, brown, yellow or anything other than clear or pink
- Notice your baby isn’t moving or is moving less
- Feel something is wrong
- Can’t stop vomiting
- Have unbearable pain
- Want to push.
Don’t go to the hospital until, or unless:
- You have spoken to a healthcare provider, such as your doctor or midwife first
- Your water breaks
- It’s your first baby and you are feeling slight bowel pressure
- It’s your second baby and you are wondering why you are doing this again
- You’ve run out of coping strategies, or hot water, at home and need more help
- You are having good contractions, 5 minutes apart
- Peak traffic will be a problem if you wait.