Reading the signs of labor can be challenging for expectant mothers, especially those who are carrying their first baby. But there is really no need to become overly concerned about how you will know when you go into labor as your body will give you very distinct signs that labor has begun.
There are different signs that occur before actual labor begins and identifying these signs will give you more than enough time to prepare.
- 1 Twelve Signs of Labor
- 1.1 Signs That labor is Imminent
- 1.2 Signs of Early Labor
- 2 Recap – 12 Signs of Labor
- 3 When Should I Head to Hospital
Twelve Signs of Labor
Below are 12 clear signs that you should look for.
Signs That labor is Imminent
Before you actually go into labor there are specific signs and symptoms that most expectant mothers experience which let them know that they will enter into labor quite soon.
Apart from the usual signs of labor there are often behavioral changes that occur just prior to the onset of labor proper.
Nesting is the term used to describe the strong urges experienced during pregnancy to build a “nest” by preparing your living environment for the new arrival and making it “baby ready”.
While many women “nest” throughout their entire pregnancy some only experience the nesting urge just prior to giving birth.
For those that have not experienced the nesting urge until the ninth month they can take this as as an early sign of labor.
They will experience a strong, overwhelming urge to prepare their home and immediate environment for the arrival of their baby by cleaning, moving household items around and ensuring the home is totally “child-proof”.
Obviously as contractions create more discomfort it is completely natural for a pregnant women to become more irritable.
However, a sudden spike in irritability is often a sign that labor is imminent.
In fact, pronounced changes in any emotional responses to situations and/or people can be signs of early labor.
Dropping is often very noticeable to both the expectant mother and to others.
Dropping in and of itself does not mean that you’re in labor (though it can), or that labor is imminent, but that labor will be “soon”.
As mentioned above early signs of labor can be noticed when your baby drops down to your pelvis ready for birth but this causes additional symptoms that you can also be on the look out for.
The typical heartburn you feel as the acid in your stomach is forced into your windpipe each time the baby pushes upwards is relieved after dropping has occurred.
Because dropping can take pressure off your upper digestive tract bringing relief from heartburn and the ability to eat larger meals.
As you approach your due date, you will notice that you will also start to breathe more easily.
Is diarrhea a sign of pre labor symptoms? Well, while this may sound surprising, diarrhea and labor are associated since the hormones which helps the contraction of your uterus can also cause diarrhea in the hours that lead to childbirth.
Sugary or milk drinks should be avoided during this period in order not to worsen the situation.
It is advisable to drink more water and eat bland food like rice to keep the level of your energy up.
Backache is one of the signs felt as babies rotate into the right position for labor.
It does not happen in an instance and might take some days to complete.
In some instances, this painful experience marks the start of your contractions.
At this stage you can get some relief by having a back rub and taking a warm bath.
Early labor symptoms include having a ‘bloody show’.
This is a jelly-like discharge of the mucus plug which covers your cervix in pregnancy.
Typically, it is colored brown, pink, or red and comes out in one lump or gradually over the course of a few days. You may confirm with a midwife to ensure you are not bleeding.
It is advisable to head straight for the hospital if you notice a bright red discharge or it starts to look heavy.
You Pass Your Mucus Plug
If your cervix begins to efface significantly or dilate as you get close to labor, you may pass your mucus plug.
The mucus plug is the small amount of thickened mucus that has sealed off your cervical canal for the nine months of your pregnancy.
The mucus plug can come out in one lump or as an increased amount of vaginal discharge or bloody show over a few weeks or days.
Swelling of Labia
Signs of early labour include the swelling of different areas of your body including the entrance to your vagina known as ‘labia’.
This is completely normal and there is no need for worry.
As disconcerting as it is, it is normal and causes an increase in your body’s blood volume to areas of your body that need it.
37 weeks pregnant signs of labor includes putting your vagina under more pressure and causing it to swell as the baby moves into your pelvis area.
Signs of Early Labor
“What does early labor feel like?” and “What does labor feel like? ” are two of the regular questions midwives are asked from pregnant mothers.
Below are clear signs that labor has begun and that you should make your way to the hospital or your designated child-birth area.
Braxton Hicks vs True Labor Contractions
Early contractions in pregnancy are weak and only grow in both frequency and intensity as labor approaches.
Braxton Hicks Contractions
Sometimes expecting mothers confuse Braxton Hicks contractions with actual real labor contractions and wrongly believe that these contractions are signs of early labor.
Identifying Braxton Hicks Contractions:
- Braxton Hicks contractions can start as early as 6 weeks into your pregnancy though they are more commonly experienced in the second trimester or third trimester.
- These “false labor” contractions are sporadic and irregular uterine contractions and are much milder than actual labor contractions causing only mild discomfort.
- Unlike Braxton Hicks contractions real labor, or “true labor”, contractions don’t stop when you change your position. So, if in doubt change your position and see if these alleviates the discomfort.
True Labor Contractions
However, although labor contractions feel different to each woman (we are all individuals after all), and often feel different from one pregnancy to the next for the same woman, there are some tell-tale signs that are common among all.
How to Recognize When You Are in Real Labor:
- With true labor contractions the abdomen becomes hard during the contraction but in-between the contractions the uterus will relax and allow the abdomen to become soft.
- These labor contractions very often cause cause a dull ache in your back and lower abdomen and are accompanied by a feeling of pressure in the pelvis.
- Real labor contractions move from the top of the uterus to the bottom in an almost wave-like motion.
- Some women liken real labor contractions to strong menstrual cramps.
- Real labor contractions come at regular intervals. They will normally last between 30 – 70 seconds with regular breaks between but as time progresses they get closer together.
- As the contractions increase in frequency they will also increase in strength.
- Unlike Braxton Hicks contractions true labor contractions continue even if you move or change positions.
Effacement and Dilation of the Cervix
The shortening and thinning of the cervix is called effacement and is measured in percentages from 0% to 100%.
If there are no changes to the cervix, it is described as 0% effaced.
When the cervix is half the normal thickness, it is 50% effaced.
When the cervix is completely thinned out, it is 100% effaced.
The stretching and opening of your cervix is called dilation and is measured in centimeters, with complete dilation being at 10 centimeters.
A strong indicator of labor is cervical movement although it is not discussed that much online.
When labor begins the cervix opens to become soft and forward facing as it moves from a back position to a more frontal position.
Instead of being closed, hard and facing the back of the woman, the cervix becomes soft and takes an anterior position.
This is the rupturing of the sac of amniotic fluid which surrounds the baby. As the amniotic sac of fluid surrounding the baby tears the fluid leaks or gushes from the vagina.
It does not follow the same pattern for every woman as some amniotic sacs rupture immediately while others trickle slowly over a period of days.
The fluid is straw-like in color and has a sweet odor.
However, you should note that not every woman experiences this. In fact only about 10% to 15% of women experience the water breaking before labor according to Ward Murdock, an obstetrician-gynaecologist, the president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.
For most women the water breaking happens during birth and in some instances the baby is actually born in the amniotic sac, while the rest rely on the doctor to break the amniotic sac before the birth.
What does labor feel like when it starts? It becomes difficult to walk as contractions become intense. It is the right time to head to the hospital.
Recap – 12 Signs of Labor
- Behavioral Changes
- Heartburn Relief
- Bloody Show
- You Pass Your Mucus Plug
- Swelling of Labia
- True Labor Contractions (as opposed to Braxton Hicks contractions)
- Effacement and Dilation of the Cervix
- Cervical Movement
- Waters Break
When Should I Head to Hospital
Follow the advice in this article and you will be sure when you encounter real signs of labor.