Signs of labor
After months of waiting, you may find yourself counting the days until you finally get to meet your baby. As your due date gets closer, knowing the signs of labor can help you feel ready for labor and birth.
You may be close to starting labor if your baby drops or moves lower into your pelvis. This is called lightening. It means that your baby is getting ready to move into position for birth. Also, at a prenatal checkup, your health care provider may tell you that your cervix has begun to efface (thin) and dilate (open). The cervix is the opening to the uterus that sits at the top of the vagina.
What are the signs of labor?
You know you’re in labor when:
You have strong and regular contractions. A contraction is when the muscles of your uterus (womb) tighten up like a fist and then relax. Contractions help push your baby out. It can be hard to tell the difference between true labor and false labor (also called Braxton Hicks contractions). You’re really in labor when:
- Your contractions come about 5 to 10 minutes apart.
- Your contractions are so strong you can’t walk or talk during them.
- You feel pain in your belly and lower back.
- The pain doesn't go away when you move or change positions.
Your water breaks. Your baby has been growing in amniotic fluid (the bag of waters) in your uterus. When the bag of waters breaks, some women feel a big rush of water. Others feel just a trickle.
You have a bloody (brownish or reddish) mucus discharge. This is called bloody show.
What do you do if you think you’re in labor?
If you think you’re in labor, call your health care provider, no matter what time of day or night. Your provider can tell you if it’s time to head for the hospital.
Last reviewed March 2014
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.