Signs of labor

After months of waiting, you may find yourself counting the days until you finally get to meet your new baby. As your due date gets closer, knowing the signs of labor can help you be prepared for what's to come and can ease any anxiety you may be feeling.

You may notice that your baby has "dropped" or moved lower into your pelvis. This is called "lightening." It means that your baby is getting ready to move into position for birth.

You may also begin to feel contractions (labor pains). These contractions happen as your uterus begins to squeeze to help move the baby down the birth canal. Contractions usually start with pain in your belly and lower back. This pain doesn't go away when you move or change positions.

It can be hard to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks (false labor) and true labor contractions. You'll know you're in labor if:

  • You have contractions that come stronger, faster, and between 5 and 10 minutes apart.
  • Your water breaks. It can be a large gush or a continuous trickle.
  • You have a bloody (brownish or reddish) mucus discharge. This is also called bloody show.

If you think you may be going into labor, don't hesitate to call your health care provider, no matter what time of day or night. If your provider tells you that you're in labor, she will want you to get ready and head for the hospital. Watch our video to learn more about the signs of labor.

September 2009

Most common questions

Do I need a birth plan?

You don't have to have a birth plan. But having one is a great idea! A birth plan is a set of instructions you make about your baby's birth. It tells your provider how you feel about things like who you want with you during labor, what you want to do during labor, if you want drugs to help with labor pain, and if there are special religious or cultural practices you want to have happen once your baby is born. Fill out a birth plan with your partner. Then share it with your provider and with the nurses at the hospital or birthing center where you plan to have your baby. Share it with your family and other support people, too. It's best for everyone to know ahead of time how you want labor and birth to be.

What are Braxton-Hicks contractions?

You may feel Braxton-Hicks contractions starting early in your third trimester. They're usually painless but can be uncomfortable. They are different from true labor contractions. Braxton-Hicks don't come in a regular pattern, and they don't get closer over time. They may stop when you walk, change positions or rest. They may happen more often in the evening, especially if you're dehydrated. They may be weak and stay that way, or there may be a few strong ones followed by weak ones. You usually feel them in the lower abdomen and groin. True labor contractions come in regular intervals, get closer together and steadily stronger, and last 30 to 90 seconds. They don't go away, no matter what you do. The pain usually starts in the back and wraps around to the front. If you're having any kind of contractions and think you might be in labor, call your provider.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).