Signs of Labor

How will I know when I’m in labor???

Labor is quite unpredictable!  Whether this is your first or sixth baby, there will be a lot of variation within the range of “normal” that is considered healthy and safe for each mother & baby; every mother is unique, every baby is unique, so every labor is different!  In fact, there is no “normal” birth!  Everyone will have their own unique and personal birth story.

That said, your body will usually give hints that labor is near.  Hopefully the following will help you and your partner realize when you are truly in labor . . . and when you are not (thus preventing a disappointing trip to the hospital).

Possible Signs of Labor

*Backache that makes you restless/irritated

*Menstrual-like cramps

*Several soft-bowel movements (however, by itself, this could simply be indigestion)

*Nesting urge!

“Getting closer” Signs of Labor

*Braxton-Hicks contractions (light and variable non-progressing contractions that can be mild to moderate, regular for a time, then irregular for a period of time)

*“Bloody show” (a.k.a. loss of mucous plug that was blocking the opening of the cervix).  It is a blood-tinged mucous discharge.

*Your water breaks (trickle)

Most Certain Signs of Labor

*Progressing contractions (these contractions get stronger, longer, and closer together as time passes).  Changing positions does not make them go away; the mother can no longer be distracted from them (they “take your breath away”).

*Your water breaks (gush) with progressing contractions soon thereafter

Note of caution: consult your caregiver if you are experiencing any of these signs at less than 37 weeks pregnant.


How long will labor last?

A labor could last anywhere from 2 to 24 hours, on top of hours/days/weeks of prelabor (before the cervix starts dilating beyond 1-2 cm).  One of the big wild cards in labor is prelabor.  For some women, prelabor may take a lot longer than anticipated—days or even weeks.  Contractions, sometimes strong and regular for hours, will start and then stop again.  For others (a small percentage), prelabor is seemingly nonexistent and she jumps right into progressing contractions that dilate the cervix.  Then there are those who are somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

It’s important to focus on what is normal and healthy for you, and not “most people.”

It’s impossible to predict what labor will be like for any woman, and it’s best to just relax, go with the flow, and trust your body to birth the baby in its own way and in its own time.

Simkin, Penny. The Birth Partner, Boston: The Harvard Common Press, 2013, pp. 43, 44-47, 61-62, 67-68.


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