If you've never given birth before, you may think you'll just know when the time comes. In reality, it isn’t always easy to know when you’re going into labor. The steps leading up to labor can drag on for days.
Keep in mind that your due date is just a general idea of when your labor may start. Normal term labor can start any time between 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after this date.
Most pregnant women feel mild contractions before true labor begins. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions, or “false” labor. Unlike true labor, false labor won’t cause the cervix to dilate, or open.
False labor, contractions:
If you are having false labor, take a warm bath and drink plenty of fluids to ease your discomfort.
As you near the end of your pregnancy, you may have false labor.
Your doctor or midwife will be able to tell if you are in labor by checking your cervix to see if it has thinned and dilated.
Lightening: This happens when your baby's head "drops" down into your pelvis.
Bloody show: If you have bloody or brownish discharge from your vagina, it may mean your cervix has begun to dilate. The mucous plug that sealed the cervix for the last 9 months may be visible. This is a good sign, but active labor may still be days away.
Your baby moves less: Women often notice that their baby is less active the day before labor begins.
Your water breaks: When the amniotic sac (bag of fluid around the baby) breaks, you will feel fluid leak from your vagina. It may come out in a trickle or a gush.
Diarrhea: Some women have the urge to go to the bathroom often to empty their bowels. If this happens and your stools are looser than normal, you may be going into labor.
Nesting: There's no science behind the theory, but plenty of women feel the sudden urge to "nest" right before labor starts. If you feel the need to vacuum the entire house at 3 a.m., or finish your work in the baby’s nursery, you may be getting ready for labor.
In real labor, your contractions will:
Your doctor or midwife can talk you through these changes and decide if you need to come in for an exam. You may be asked:
In general, women in labor should go to the hospital when their contractions:
If you have questions or are not sure what you should do, talk with your doctor.
False labor; Braxton Hicks contractions
Kipatrick S, Garrison E. Normal labor and delivery. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2012:chap 13.
Updated by: Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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