Signs Labor May Be Starting

Possible Signs that labor may begin in the next few days or weeks.

  • Backache: Not the type of backache you have in late pregnancy that changes when you shift position, but an on-going dull ache that makes you restless and irritable.
  • Cramping in your lower belly that is mild to moderate in discomfort.
  • Nesting Urge. A sudden irresistible urge to clean, or do projects to prepare for baby or PMS symptoms: crabby, irritable.
  • Frequent, soft bowel movements or diarrhea. Flu-like symptoms.

If you have these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean labor is going to start right away. It may be days or weeks before labor begins. These symptoms are just a good reminder to make sure you have everything prepared for labor and birth, and to make sure you know what other signs to be watching for. Don’t get overly excited, just continue your normal routine, get lots of rest, eat and drink well, and take care of yourself.

Preliminary Signs that labor may be about to begin.

  • Bloody show. During pregnancy, cervix contains mucus, which may be released in late pregnancy. May be a thick ‘plug’ of pinkish mucus, which might come out when you use the toilet. May be thin, mucousy discharge on toilet paper. If there is more blood than mucus, call caregiver. (Note, it’s common to have a brownish, bloody discharge within 24 hours of a vaginal exam, or intercourse. Don’t mistake this for bloody show.)
  • Trickle of fluid from vagina:
    • This could mean your bag of water has broken. (See below.) But if it’s just a little mucousy fluid, it may be mucous plug. Or it might be urine.
    • Typically your care provider will ask you to come into the office or the hospital to have the fluid checked to see if it’s amniotic fluid.
  • Braxton-Hicks Contractions. Also called “pre-labor” or “false labor” contractions.
    • Some women never experience these, some women may have them for weeks before labor begins.
    • Pre-labor contractions don’t progress: they stay the same length, strength, and frequency. May last for a short time, or for several hours. Some women even start to develop a pattern: with contractions every 6-7 minutes for 2-3 hours, which then stop again. Or they may be irregular.
    • Discomfort is mostly felt in the front of the abdomen, as muscles tighten up. May feel like your belly is as tight as a basketball.
    • Contractions may stop if you walk, change position or change activity, eat, drink, or empty bladder.
    • ‘False Labor’ doesn’t mean they don’t hurt, and it also doesn’t mean that they’re not doing anything. Although the contractions aren’t dilating your cervix yet, they are helping you to progress in other ways: moving the cervix to an anterior position, ripening and effacing the cervix.

These are all signs that your cervix is starting to change. You may go into labor that day or within a few days.

Positive Signs that Labor has begun.

  • Gush of amniotic fluid from vagina: your bag of water breaking
    • Pay attention to what time it breaks, write down its color, odor, etc.
    • Call your doctor. Usually (80% of the time), you will go into labor on your own in the next 24 hours.
  • Progressing contractions: Get longer, stronger, and/or closer together with time. Are usually described as ‘very strong’ or ‘painful’, felt in the abdomen, back, or both. May start in the back, and radiate around to front. Usually increase if you walk.
  • Dilation of cervix seen in vaginal exam.

These are the clear signs that you are in labor.

Read more about stages of labor or listen to my podcast about stages of labor. Learn more about birth in our book Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn.

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