How can I tell when I’m going to go into labor?
There’s no way to predict exactly when labor will start. And even when you notice early signs of labor, your baby’s birth could still be days or weeks away.
Your body actually starts preparing for labor as much as a month before you give birth, so you may begin to notice new symptoms as your due date approaches.
Here are some early signs of labor:
-Your baby “drops.” If this is your first pregnancy, you may feel what’s known as “lightening” a few weeks before labor starts, meaning the baby now rests lower in your pelvis. You might feel less pressure just below your ribcage, making it easier to catch your breath.
-You have more Braxton Hicks contractions. More frequent and intense Braxton Hicks contractions, which is when your cervix starts to thin, dilate, and widen and sets the stage for true labor. (See below.) Some women experience menstrual-like cramps during this time.
-Your cervix starts to change. In the days and weeks before delivery, changes in the connective tissue of your cervix make it soften and eventually thin and widen, or dilate. (If you’ve given birth before, your cervix is more likely to dilate a centimeter or two before labor starts, but keep in mind that even being 40 weeks pregnant with your first baby and 1 centimeter dilated is no guarantee that labor is imminent.) When you’re at or near your due date, your doctor or midwife may do a vaginal exam during your prenatal visit to see whether your cervix has started to change.
-You pass your mucus plug or notice “bloody show.” If your cervix begins to efface significantly or dilate as you get close to labor, you may pass your mucus plug – the small amount of thickened mucus that has sealed off your cervical canal for the last nine months. The plug may come out in a lump all at one time or as an increased amount of vaginal discharge over the course of several days. The mucus may be tinged with brown, pink, or red blood, which is why it’s called “bloody show.” (Having sex or a vaginal exam can also disturb your mucus plug and result in some blood-tinged discharge, even when labor isn’t necessarily starting any time soon.)
Signs that labor is imminent, if not already under way, include:
-Your contractions become increasingly intense. Unlike Braxton-Hicks contractions, labor contractions grow stronger, longer, and more frequent as they cause your cervix to dilate.
-Your water breaks. When the fluid-filled amniotic sac surrounding your baby ruptures, fluid leaks from your vagina. And whether it comes out in a large gush or a small trickle, this is a signal that it’s time to call your doctor or midwife.
-Most women start having regular contractions before their water breaks, but in some cases, the water breaks first. When this happens, labor usually follows soon after.
What happens if my water breaks and I don’t have contractions?
If you don’t start having contractions on your own within a certain amount of time, you’ll probably need to be induced because your baby is more likely to get an infection without the amniotic sac’s protection against germs. If you tested positive for group B streptococcus, your doctor probably would want you to head to the hospital once your water breaks so you can start getting antibiotics.
How can I tell the difference between true labor and false labor?
It’s often not possible to pinpoint exactly when “true” labor begins because early labor contractions might start out feeling like the Braxton Hicks contractions you may have been noticing for weeks.
Sometimes, as true labor draws near, Braxton Hicks contractions become relatively painful and happen as often as every 10 to 20 minutes. But if they remain irregular, then what you’re feeling is probably so-called false labor. It is always best to call your provider if you have any questions or concerns.
True labor contractions, on the other hand:
- Get stronger
- Last longer
- Occur at regular intervals
- More frequent
You may notice bloody show. You’ll also be able to tell the difference by timing your contractions. In the beginning, labor contractions may be as far apart as every 10 minutes, but they won’t stop or ease up no matter what you do. And in time, they’ll become more painful and closer together.
In some cases, the onset of strong, regular contractions comes with little or no warning. It’s different for every woman and with every pregnancy.
When should I call my doctor or midwife?
Toward the end of your pregnancy, your doctor or midwife will most likely give you clear guidelines on when to let them know that you’re having contractions and when you should go to the hospital.
Your instructions will depend on your individual situation – like whether you have a high-risk pregnancy or other complications, if this is your first baby, and how far you live from the hospital – as well as on your caregiver’s personal preference about when to be notified.
If you’re unsure whether the time has come, always call your provider. Doctors and midwives often get calls from women who need guidance about whether they’re in labor. And as a rule, if you have a high-risk pregnancy, they will want to hear from you earlier in labor.
If your pregnancy is uncomplicated, they will probably have you wait to come in to the hospital. Usually you will have contractions that last for about a minute each, coming every five minutes for about an hour. (contractions are timed from the beginning of one until the beginning of the next contraction.)
When you call, your doctor or midwife they will be able to tell a lot by the sound of your voice. They will want to know how close together your contractions are, how long each one lasts, how strong they are and what other symptoms you have.
Call your doctor or midwife right away if:
- Your water breaks or you are having contractions before 37 weeks.
- Your water breaks or you suspect that you’re leaking amniotic fluid. Tell your doctor or midwife if it’s yellow, brown, or greenish because this signals the presence of meconium, your baby’s first stool, and is sometimes a sign of fetal stress. It’s also important to let themknow if the fluid looks bloody.
- You notice that your baby is less active.
- You have vaginal bleeding, constant and severe abdominal pain, or a fever.
- You have severe or persistent headaches, vision changes, intense pain or tenderness in your upper abdomen, abnormal swelling, or any other symptoms of concern.
You should always discuss any concerns you have with your provider. That said, every pregnancy is different and no list can cover all situations: If you’re not sure whether a symptom is serious, or if you’re uneasy and just don’t feel like yourself, trust your instincts and call your healthcare provider. If there’s a problem, you’ll get help. If nothing’s wrong, you’ll be reassured.