How does labor begin?

Labor is the act of baby moving from the womb to the outside world through contractions and changes in the cervix. A woman's body naturally plans out the entire 40 weeks of gestation and when the body says the time has come for baby to leave the womb, the process of active labor begins. A series of changes occur and the brain releases signals that cause oxytocin and prostaglandins to enter the bloodstream. These hormones cause labor contractions to begin, but how do you know for sure if labor is beginning?

What are the signs of impending labor?

While regular contractions that become stronger and closer together (lasting over 30 seconds are coming every 4-5 minutes or less) may be the biggest sign of labor, there are several other labor signs that may go unnoticed because they are slight. These include back pain, pressure, cramping, nausea, a feeling of fullness, and weight loss. Other signs like loss of mucus plug, water breaking, or leaking fluid are more apparent signals that labor is on the way.

Very painful contractions could be a sign of labor, but not always. If the contractions are regular, less than 3-4 minutes apart and getting stronger, then it may be time to let your doctor or midwife and the hospital know. Real labor contractions are painful to the point that you stop talking because of the pain.

Could it be a false alarm?

Braxton Hicks contractions which occur in false labor can occur in the last few weeks of pregnancy as your body gets ready for labor and delivery. They are normal and can be difficult to tell if they are signs of true labor. If you have any doubts, it never hurts to call your doctor or midwife and let them know what's going on.

Are you in labor? Could your symptoms be labor signs? Take this quiz developed by Dr. Amos Grunebaum to help you find out!