False labor; Braxton Hicks contractions; Prodromal labor; Latent labor; Pregnancy - labor
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 3 weeks before and 2 weeks after this date.
Most pregnant women feel mild contractions before true labor begins. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions, which:
This stage is called "prodromal" or "latent" labor.
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 your 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: If you feel less movement, call your doctor or midwife, as sometimes decreased movement can mean that the baby is in trouble.
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:
Call your doctor or midwife right away if you have:
Call for any other reason if you are unsure what to do.
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: Cynthia D. White, MD, Fellow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Group Health Cooperative, Bellevue, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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