Labor and Birth: Am I in Labor?

By the time you get close to your due date, you’re probably very ready to have your baby! With every backache or strange sensation in your abdomen, you might wonder, “Am I in labor?”

Hopefully, you already have your bag packed for the hospital or birth center. Most people relate the start of labor with the first contractions, but contractions are only one sign. There are many other signs that will tell you that you’re in labor. Here’s what to look for:


Do you suddenly need to get your house spotless? If you find yourself needing to redo the shelf-paper in your cabinets or organizing your linen closet, you are probably nesting. Nesting usually happens within days of the onset of labor and is marked by a burst of energy and a need to clean and organize.

Cervix Changes

You won’t be able to see how your cervix changes, but your healthcare provider can tell you. During labor, your cervix does two things: it effaces and it dialates. Effacing means that it softens and gets thinner. Your cervix must be 100% effaced in order for you to give birth vaginally. Your cervix also dilates, or opens. When you are 10 centimeters dilated, you are ready to start pushing. Often the cervix starts to dilate days or even weeks before active labor begins.

Bloody Show

Your cervix is blocked by a plug of mucus during your pregnancy. This mucus plug helps to keep bacteria out of your uterus. As your cervix effaces and dilates, the mucus plug will be discharged. Look for a thick, brown discharge, possible tinged with blood.

Your Water Breaks

If your water breaks, your labor is on the clock, even if contractions have not yet begun. Once you lose your amniotic fluid, baby is much more prone to infections. Even if you’re only leaking, let your healthcare provider know as soon as possible. Most likely, labor will begin on its own shortly, if not, your healthcare provider may want to have you induced to prevent infection.


ContractionsYou’ve probably experienced Braxton-Hicks contractions during the last weeks of your pregnancy. These “warm-up” contractions are not an indication that labor has begun. How can you tell the difference? Unlike Braxton-Hicks contractions, labor contractions are regular and last longer than 30 seconds. Real labor contractions will get longer, stronger, and closer together as labor progresses. You and your partner should time and record both the length of the contractions and how far apart they are.

Yep, I AM in Labor. Now what?

Unless your pregnancy has complications, there’s no reason to rush to the hospital during early labor. In fact, they’ll probably just send you home. The best thing you can do during this time is relax, even sleep, if you can. Your healthcare provider should have given you instructions on when to come to the hospital. The general rule is when contractions last a minute or more and are five minutes apart. However, don’t be shy about calling your healthcare provider, especially if you think that something may be wrong. Doctors and midwives are used to getting calls from women in the early stages of labor and if nothing else, it will give her a heads-up that her services will be needed soon!

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