If you are late in your last trimester of pregnancy, you are probably eagerly awaiting any sign of labor.
So what might you notice in early labor?
Be sure to read our list below if you’d like to know what the first signs of labor are.
Some women might experience just some of these early labor signs or none of them.
If you reach 42 weeks and the early labor signs you’ve experienced haven’t developed into real labor, you should discuss a plan of action with your healthcare provider.
Signs labor is approaching
You might wonder whether you will experience false labor before the real thing starts.
Also known as prelabor, false labor is when your body starts to gear up for the main event, which is early and active labor. But there’s nothing ‘pretend’ about false labor, even though it might take some time to progress.
When labor nears, you might start to experience some labor signs. Over time, labor progresses from mild, early signs to more intense and obvious ones you can’t mistake.
Here are some early signs of labor that could indicate true labor is just a few hours away. Signs Of Labour
Signs Of Labour #1. Spontaneous rupture of membranes (SROM)
Commonly known as the ‘breaking of the waters’, this happens when the amniotic sac (which surrounds the baby) ruptures, resulting in amniotic fluid trickling or gushing from your vagina.
True (and false) labor will most likely get a big boost after the water breaking, as prostaglandins present in the amniotic fluid will help with the cervix dilation.
Water breaking is one sign of labor. Sometimes the water breaks before strong and regular contractions begin to appear. This sudden burst of the amniotic sac, without regular contractions, happens in about 1o% of births.
When your water breaks, you might notice a slow trickle of fluid; sometimes it can be a sudden gush that feels like an enormous flood. Some women also notice a ‘popping’ sensation as their water breaks.
Amniotic fluid can leak for days with no other signs of labor; even after the sac has broken, the fluid will still be replenished.
If you suspect your water has broken, put on a pad (don’t use tampons) and call your healthcare provider for professional medical advice. You will be asked a few questions to help determine what has happened.
It might have been a bladder leak but don’t feel embarrassed if this is the case, as it’s quite common in the later stages of pregnancy.
If you think your water has broken, stay calm.
For more information, read Leaking Amniotic Fluid – Signs, Causes And Treatment to find out what you should do.
If you are unsure about your water breaking but you’re less than 37 weeks pregnant make sure you contact your healthcare provider, to make sure you’re not going into preterm labor.
Signs Of Labour #2. Contractions
Contractions at regular intervals are a good indicator that you’re in labor. In the early stages of labor, contractions feel like period pain. They usually last a short time, like menstrual cramps; then they get progressively longer.
You might experience lower backache at irregular intervals. Sometimes you might feel contractions radiate from back to front, or vice versa.
There’s no need to start timing contractions straight away; if they are mild contractions, ignore them. If you feel there has been progress with early contractions – for example, they are getting stronger, longer and closer together – then time 5 contractions and see how they’re panning out. Time another 5 when you feel there has been further progress. Leave at least an hour before timing them again. Try not to place too much importance on early signs of labor, or get too tired before labor begins.
To time your contractions, count how many seconds there are between the start and the end of the contraction. You can also time how long it is between contractions by counting the number of minutes between the start of one contraction and the start of the next contraction.
True contractions are regular and long lasting.
Our article, Contractions | Everything You Need To Know, will help you understand how your uterus works at the different stages.
Signs Of Labour #3. Mucus plug
In the early stages of labor, your cervix dilates (opens), and the thick mucus plug that sealed it off during pregnancy might come loose and partially or wholly discharge from your vagina.
This vaginal discharge could be watery or sticky and jelly-like in appearance; sometimes it has a brown, pink or red tinge to it. Some describe it as looking like a blob of semen. It could be as big as a 50 cent coin or larger.
The mucus plug might come out over several days and sometimes you can lose your plug up to two weeks before labor starts. Don’t worry if you notice your mucus plug a couple of weeks before your due date.
Most women who notice the mucus plug will go into labor some time in the following few days. Some women won’t notice the plug at all until they are in established labor.
The mucus plug might come accompanied by what’s called ‘bloody show’.
You can read more about colourful vaginal discharge like the mucus plug and the bloody show in Mucus Plug- Interesting Facts About Losing The Mucus Plug and Bloody Show – 8 Facts You Need To Know.
Signs Of Labour #4. Shaking before labor starts
If you are looking for signs of labor, shaking before labor starts is a big sign of labor approaching.
Even if you aren’t cold, you might experience shivering or trembling as one of the early signs of labor. The same thing can happen during or after the baby’s birth, and it can be frightening if you aren’t sure why your body is reacting that way.
It’s simply your body’s way of relieving tension and it usually lasts only a few minutes. Try to stay calm and do something relaxing, such as having a warm shower or a massage or by doing some deep breathing.
Holding your breath to the count of 5 several times consecutively can also stop the shivers. Another little trick you can try is to count backwards in threes from 20 (20, 17, 14, 11…)
Signs Of Labour #5. Lightening
When your baby drops deeper into your pelvis, you might notice you can breathe a little more easily than before. This happens because your baby moves further down the birth canal and it relieves some of the pressure on your diaphragm. This is called ‘lightening’.
On the other hand, you might then feel more pressure on your bladder, which means more trips to the bathroom.
Sometimes, other people are the first to notice baby has dropped, as your tummy changes in appearance, which you might not have realized.
Some women don’t experience ‘lightening’ at all and go into labor anyway. If your baby doesn’t drop, it doesn’t mean you won’t go into labor or the baby’s head won’t fit through the birth canal. Don’t worry. This is completely normal. Some good contractions will help with baby’s arrival.
Signs Of Labour #6. Diarrhoea
One of the early signs labor is near is an increased production of prostaglandin, which stimulates your bowels to open more frequently. As labor approaches, you might notice diarrhea; the body is naturally emptying the bowels to make way for the baby.
A common fear among women is they’ll open their bowels during labor. You might find emptying your bowels prior to going into labor will prevent that.
Sometimes there can be some passing of stools during labor. Some women don’t even notice it. Keep in mind, though, that the midwives are used to this and it is very normal.
Anxiety in labor can slow or stall contractions, so if this is something that concerns you, have a chat with your healthcare provider.
Be sure to read Pooping During Labour – Is It On Your Ultimate Horrors List? to help calm any anxieties.
Signs Of Labour #7. Increased Braxton Hicks contractions
Braxton Hicks contractions, which you might have felt already during pregnancy, can occur more frequently and be more intense and painful.
If they don’t develop into true labor contractions, this is known as false labor. Some women don’t feel any Braxton Hicks contractions throughout pregnancy so don’t be alarmed if you haven’t. It doesn’t mean labor is any further away.
Remember how to distinguish the different types of contractions: labor contractions need to be getting stronger, more regular and closer together and they do not stop. If you pay attention to the changes in contractions you will know when active labor begins.
For more information, read Braxton Hicks Contractions – What Are They?
When do labor shakes start?
As you might know, there is a difference between early and active labor.
Yes, it’s quite likely that you will get the shakes during active labor, when you are experiencing true labor contractions as labor progresses, but is it also a sign that labor is approaching?
Yes, getting the shakes is one of the common signs of labor not being far away. Women getting the shakes during labor has been researched widely; however, more research with regard to shaking before labor begins is necessary.
How do you feel 24 hours before labor?
Many women say that, at the end of the third trimester, they can sense labor is approaching. Some women even feel this when they’re pregnant with their first baby.
They feel different from usual – especially at night when everything is calmer – and the vast majority feel more aware of any changes in their bodies.
Because you can’t predict the exact date active labor is going to start, you should try to rest as much as possible.
There’s more information about this in 7 Signs That Labor Is 24 to 48 Hours Away.
What should I do in early labor?
You might be looking for some ideas on how to help this stage of labor pass more quickly.
Don’t forget to check out our article Early Labor Tips & Suggestions.
The main thing is to play things down, keep everything as normal as possible and, if the pain levels allow it, ignore any contractions you are having.
Many women go into hospital too early, because they’re anxious and concerned about coping or knowing what to do. This can disrupt the flow of hormones needed for effective contractions that lead to active labor. It can often lead to interventions or, more often, having pain relief when they didn’t intend to.
Find out more about this process in Undisturbed Labour – What Is It And Why Aim For One?