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Pregnancy

6 Ways to Know if you’re in Labor

Jennifer Lincoln, MD, IBCLC, Board Certified OB/GYN
January 3, 2019 . 15 min read

1. There\’s not just one way to know

When it comes to going into labor, everyone always says, “When it happens, you’ll know.” The truth is that labor happens differently for every woman, and sometimes even between the same woman’s different pregnancies, so they aren’t too far off the mark. If you are a pregnant woman or are thinking of having children, though, those answers aren’t very comforting. However, there are some signs that can help you decide when it is time to make your way to Labor and Delivery.

2. Strong and consistent contractions

You may have had Braxton-Hicks contractions already as your body’s way of rehearsing for the real deal, but when the real contractions come they tend to be more painful and consistent. If you aren’t sure which type of contractions you are experiencing, you can time them: if you’ve been having contractions that last for one minute, every five minutes over the course of at least an hour, you might want to grab that overnight bag. If your doctor or midwife told you to watch for contractions that come farther apart than five minutes, due to a previously fast labor or other birth, be sure to heed that advice.

3. Water-like fluid leakage

If you feel water leaking that seems like you are urinating (even though you aren’t), your water may have broken. It may come as a surprise that this event wasn’t more like a river dam breaking, but more often than not, when your water breaks, it will feel more like a slow trickle. If you aren’t sure, you can call your obstetric provider or wear a pad to see if the leakage continues. Of course if you determine that your water is indeed broken, it’s time to get to set your birth plan into motion.

4. Mucus discharge

You may find that you have released a pink or red mucus; this is known as the “mucus plug” (and sometimes the “bloody show”), and it is basically cervical mucus. The more you dilate, the more mucus discharge there will be, so things are likely progressing. However, this sign is not usually a reason to jump in the car, but you should look for other indications of labor and call your doctor or midwife if you need help distinguishing the signs.

5. Vaginal bleeding

If you experience any bright red vaginal bleeding, it is time to call your obstetric provider. This bleeding may indicate a potentially serious issue, like a placental abruption, or it may simply be a sign that your cervix is dilating—the only way to know for sure (in most cases) is to see a doctor.

6. Intense pressure in your pelvis

You may begin feeling increasing pelvic pressure as you near your due date, but as your baby descends into the birth canal and labor begins, that pressure may intensify tremendously. Much like mucus discharge, this sign isn’t a reason to rush to Labor and Delivery. Try taking a warm bath to see if that alleviates the pain; if not, or if you are in more pain than you can handle, call your doctor or midwife to get his or her opinion. Your baby might be on the way!

7. Persistent back pain

Another common discomfort during pregnancy is back pain, but if it won’t go away, it may be a sign of labor. For some women, contraction pain occurs only in their backs (usually due to how the baby is positioned in the uterus), so if the pain is intense and won’t go away, it could be a sign of early labor. At this point just check in with your doctor or midwife to determine what to do.

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