signs of labor symptoms of labor

What are the signs of labor? What are labor symptoms?

Labor signs and symptoms include regular, strong contractions lasting over 1 minute and which do not stop when moving. We've all seen the depictions of women going into labor in movies, which usually occur in a very dramatic fashion but the truth is that the signs of labor can be very slight bodily changes that may not be noticeable.

Signs and Symptoms of Labor

  1. Contractions 

    The most tell-tale sign of pregnancy is regular and strong contractions. Labor contractions last usually more than 30 seconds and come regularly and more frequently than every 4-5 minutes. If these contractions increase or charge to a more patterned set of contractions, labor could be starting. WARNING: Labor is normal after the 37th week of the pregnancy. Labor before the 37th week is called premature labor. If you are under 37 weeks pregnant do NOT wait for regular contractions to start but let your doctor know right away if you have ANY contractions, usually more than 4-5 per hour).

  2. Back Pain

    While back pain is normal during pregnancy when labor begins this pain will be more pronounced and could pulse with the contractions. Any change in back pain during the pregnancy should be discussed with the obstetrician.

  3. Feeling Fullness/Pressure

    There is a very clear feeling of pressure when the baby is ready to be born. This pressure often feels like mom needs to have a bowel movement.
    pregnant woman on floor drop

  4. Lightening: Drop of the Pregnant Tummy

    The tummy will clearly drop when the last days of pregnancy arrive. This drop will relieve some of the pressure on the stomach and the lungs so mom may be able to eat more and breathe more easily.

  5. Loss of Cervical Mucus Plug

    The plug that blocks the end of the cervix will fall out before labor but not always. Losing the cervical plug may mean that you are going into labor soon, though it can happen many days prior to labor. This plug will appear the same as ovulation only thicker. Most of the time the plug is lost during a trip to the bathroom but can fall out and appear in the panties.

  6. Leaking of Fluid or Water Breaking

    The amniotic sac will leak or break when labor is about to begin. If there is any fluid leaking from the vagina, the obstetrician needs to be notified immediately. Once this sac is broken, birth is the only option. If there is a green or brown color to the fluid, go to the emergency room as baby may have had a bowel movement in utero.

  7. Cramping or Bloody Discharge

    The first labor pains may feel like menstrual cramps. If there is a slight bloody discharge this could also be associated with the loss of the cervical plug.

  8. Increase in Blood Pressure

    When the body kicks into labor, the blood pressure will rise a bit.

  9. Weight Loss

    Commonly women who are about to go into labor will lose between one and three pounds. This weight is pure water weight.

  10. Nausea/Vomiting

    The female body is one smart thing. Right before labor begins, the body will "feel" something about to happen and may decide to empty all stomach contents. This emptying may appear as diarrhea or vomiting.

  11. Crowning

    For women who have given birth before, the signs of labor may be less hectic than first-time mothers. If mom waits too long, the baby may actually crown on the way to the hospital. Crowning is preceded by dilation and the breaking of the bag of waters.

  12. Sudden Burst of Energy

    The mom may feel like she has more energy than ever before. This increase in energy is often associated with the nesting instinct.

What is labor?

Labor is the act of baby moving from the womb to the outside world through contractions and changes in the cervix. Labor is usually defined as contractions of the uterus that are strong enough to make the cervix change, make it shorter (effacement) and softer and open it up (dilatation).

Can I tell when I will go into labor?

It's very difficult to predict ahead of time when labor will start and exactly when you will be in labor. As the pregnancy gets closer to the due date, there are early signs and symptoms you can look for in order to recognize the beginning of labor.

During the last trimester of the pregnancy, the changes in the body of both mom and baby are happening at a lightning pace. Baby is gaining more weight every day and this weight gain is paired with the body preparing for the birth of the new baby.

How can I tell if I am in labor?

Labor symptoms may not be the exact same for all women and recognizing if you are in labor is not always easy. Labor can differ from one woman to another. Even if you have some of these signs, you may actually not be in active labor and it still may be weeks away.

Take this interactive quiz to find out if you are in true labor!

Braxton Hicks Contractions

In order to prepare for labor, the uterus will take some time to practice the art of the contraction. These contractions are often mild and do not mark the start of active labor. These early contractions are called Braxton Hicks contractions and some can be felt while others are simply lost in the aches and pains of being in the latest weeks of pregnancy. Braxton Hicks contractions after 37 weeks of pregnancy are normal, but if they happen before 37 weeks (more than 3 weeks) before your due date,  then you should immediately call your doctor because they may signal premature labor.

Can I tell the difference between true labor and false labor?

False labor and true labor can overlap because they are usually associated with contractions that are more or less strong.  The single most important information you must be aware of is that any strong and regular contractions or pain prior to 37 weeks of the pregnancy *more than 3 weeks before the due date* is not normal. Labor is only normal after the 37th week of the pregnancy. Labor before the 37th week is called preterm or premature labor. If you experience premature labor, you should let your doctor know right away or go directly to the hospital. Do not try to guess if your pain or contractions before 37 weeks are true or false labor. Get checked out and find out what the pain or contractions are coming from.

After 37 weeks, true labor is usually identified by contractions that come closer together, are stronger and more painful, and most importantly, lead to the cervical opening (dilation). 

The 5-1-1 Rule

The 5-1-1 rule means that contractions come every 5 minutes, each lasting a full minute, and have been that way for an hour:

  • 5 = Every 5 minutes
  • 1 = Lasting a full minute or more
  • 1 = Lasting for at least 1 hour

However, this rule may not apply to everybody and may be different for women who have their first pregnancy versus those who have had a baby before. More recently, recommendations, especially for those who have their first baby, are 4-1-1 (four minutes apart) or even 3-1-1 (three minutes apart).

From Training to Active Labor

After weeks or months of training, the female body will be ready to kick those contractions into full gear and labor will begin. In order to recognize these new pains and active labor, there are a few labor specific body changes to watch out for.

Read More:
Check out the babyMed Labor Timer Tool!
What Happens in the Third Trimester of Pregnancy
Third Trimester Checklist 

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