Signs of Labor

Know how to recognize labor pains

Know how to recognize labor pains

Are you really going into labor or just experiencing some discomforts of pregnancy? It can be difficult to tell, especially if this is your first baby. 

Below are the most common signs of going into labor, as well as definitions for Braxton Hicks contractions and preterm labor.

Common labor signs

Baby sinks a few inches lower into your pelvis

When this happens, it might alleviate some of the pressure under your lungs. This is called lightening and it can occur anywhere from a few weeks to a few hours before labor begins. After lightening, you may need to urinate more frequently because your baby is putting more pressure on your bladder.

Gastrointestinal problems start

You may develop some gastrointestinal problems just before labor, including frequent diarrhea.

Mucus plug dislodges

This is a thick piece of mucus that has been blocking the cervix to protect the uterus from bacteria. As your cervix begins to thin and stretch, the mucus plug (sometimes called a “bloody show”) is loosened and discharged.

Water breaks

This is a sign that your baby is ready to be delivered. It means the amniotic sac that has been protecting your baby has ruptured and the fluid has been expelled. Many women don’t experience their water breaking until they are already in active labor; in some cases, their health care provider breaks the amniotic sac in preparation for the delivery.

If your water does break — even if you don’t have any contractions — it’s important to go to the hospital. Most obstetricians advise that your baby be delivered within 24 hours of your water breaking to prevent infection.

Braxton Hicks contractions

Many women experience sporadic uterine contractions, known as Braxton Hicks, that can be confused with labor but are not, in fact, labor contractions. Braxton Hicks contractions typically feel like a tightening in the front of the abdomen. While they can be uncomfortable, Braxton Hicks contractions are normal.

Here are a few differences between Braxton Hicks contractions and true labor:

True labor

False labor

Contractions occur at regular intervals and gradually become more frequent

Contractions are irregular and follow no pattern

The intensity of the contractions increases

The intensity of the pain is consistent

Contractions are not alleviated by walking

Discomfort is reduced or alleviated by walking

Pain radiates to the back and lower abdomen

Pain is primarily in the lower abdomen

It’s important to have any discomfort or abdominal pain checked by your doctor. If your pain is severe, call your obstetrician immediately.

Signs of preterm labor

Preterm labor is labor that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm labor symptoms include:

  • Four or more contractions in one hour
  • Change in vaginal discharge: bleeding or leaking of fluid
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Low, dull backache that comes and goes
  • Cramps that feel like your period
  • Belly cramps with or without diarrhea
  • Fever, sudden swelling or severe headache