7 Ways to Tell You're in Labor

The signs of labor can be confusing. One of the biggest questions pregnant women have is am I in labor? While you might only have one or two of these or all of them, these are the basics of labor. Here are some of the top signs that labor is either coming soon or starting...

Quiz: Am I in labor?

1
Back Ache

Pregnant Woman Holding Back
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A back ache that seems to come and go may be a sign of labor. Usually this is really contractions that you're feeling in your back. If your back ache becomes constant or changes, you may be experiencing back labor, usually caused by the position of your baby. (See more about Back Labor.) More »

2
You Just Don't Feel Right

Woman resting hand on belly in bed
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Sometimes you can't put your finger on it but something just isn't right. You don't quite feel well, but you don't have symptoms that you could necessarily tick off a list. Or perhaps you feel like you're getting the flu, sometimes this is also how labor starts. Remember that towards the end of pregnancy, resting up and staying well hydrated and nourished is always best, because you don't know when labor will start.

3
Bloody Show

Photo of a Mucus Plug
Photo © Michelle Steele

Bloody show is a pink, brown or red tinged mucous that can be found when wiping while going to the bathroom or sometimes on your sanitary pad or underwear. This is a sign that your cervix is changing by dilating, thinning or moving forward in preparation for labor. Don't be fooled! You can also see this after sex or a vaginal exam in late pregnancy - this isn't the same thing. Time to labor? Varies from hours to weeks. And yes, that's a real picture of a mucus plug with bloody show! More »

4
Mucus Plug

Mucus Plug and Ruptured Amniotic Sac in Childbirth
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The cervix is "plugged" with a thick piece of mucous that helps protect your baby during pregnancy by blocking the entrance to the uterus. As your cervix changes and dilates, part of the mucus plug can be released. How much you see depends on how quickly these changes occur. You might only notice an increase in discharge or you may find the whole "plug" at once during a trip to the bathroom. Time to labor? Weeks to hours. More »

5
Loose Stools

Pregnant woman in bathroom
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Loose stools are caused by the release of prostaglandins in early which causes cervical effacement, softening, etc. Prostaglandins also can cause soft stools or diarrhea. Time until labor? Usually only a matter of a day or hours. More »

6
Contractions

Couple timing contractions
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Contractions are what helps the cervix to dilate and open for your baby to be born. Many women will have contractions throughout the end of their pregnancy. The difference between labor contractions and prelabor are the strength, frequency and intensity of labor contractions. Labor contractions get stronger, longer and closer together. (Read: How to Time Contractions) Some women will have a lot of contractions at the end of pregnancy, so it's important to remember that contractions are not the same thing as labor. More »

7
Next Steps

Anatomical model of pregnancy
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If you still have questions about whether or not this is labor, you can always call your doctor or midwife. Many of them are happy to talk to you on the phone to help you determine what is the best course of action for you. You can also call your doula to bounce ideas off of her as well as get tips on staying comfortable, even if it isn't labor. Remember, contractions do not always mean that your baby's arrival is near. Contractions are only one piece of the puzzle.

Sources:

The Labor Progress Handbook. Simkin, P and Ancheta, R. Wiley-Blackwell; 2 edition.

Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Gabbe, S, Niebyl, J, Simpson, JL. Sixth Edition. More »

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