How Will I know I'm in Labor?


If I had to pick the one question that every woman asks as she prepares for her birth, it would be a fairly easy choice: How will I know when I’m in labor?

If I had to pick the one question that every woman asks as she prepares for her birth, it would be a fairly easy choice: How will I know when I’m in labor? Even women who have had babies before remember that their bodies send them lots of odd signals that labor is on the way. It can be like you are receiving messages from your body in a secret code. You know that these messages are important but you don’t have the key to decode them. Look upon this article as your own secret decoder ring. Read it and learn how to decipher whatever messages your body sends you as it gears up for the birth of your baby.

On Your Mark

The following signs may or may not signal that you are in a very early stage of labor. Usually they are just signs that your body is preparing itself for the work ahead. Pay attention, but don’t go calling your mother yet.

Nesting Urge:

You might feel a strong desire to tidy things up; doing all kinds of things that yesterday would have seemed way more trouble than they were worth. This might be anything from standing on a chair to organize the spices you haven’t touched in a year to threatening to clobber your husband if he doesn’t finish putting the crib up. Go ahead and nest to your heart’s content, just be careful not to wear yourself out!

Soft Bowel Movements:

You may have several soft bowel movements in the space of a day or two and may be accompanied by mild cramps. We’re not talking diarrhea or severe pain. Clearly, that would be a signal to call your care provider.

Menstrual-type abdominal cramps:

These cramps will be irregular and mild. They will remind you of the Braxton Hicks contractions you’ve been having, maybe just a bit stronger. The pain can radiate down into your thighs, but it shouldn’t double you over.


A low, vague, persistent backache may not be anything new to you at all. If it is, don’t get too excited, it’s probably just the weight of the baby and some practice contractions. See if you can get your special someone to rub your back. If they won’t do it, just about anyone you are vaguely acquainted with will do.

Get Set

These signs may be signaling that you are having some very early labor. Sometimes this can go on for up to a few days, although you may zip through it pretty quickly. You might want to check on where your support people plan to be for the next couple of days, just in case.

Bloody show:

The bloody show is a small amount of blood tinged mucous from your vagina. You are especially likely to see it after a vaginal exam. The key words here are small amount. If it’s anything more than that…go ahead and call your care provider, even if it is two in the morning.

Losing the Mucous Plug:

There is no better way to describe this, really. It looks just like a little plug of pinkish-whitish mucous smeared with a little blood. You might see in the toilet one day since it passes through your vagina having functioned as a barrier in the cervix to keep germs from getting to the baby until now. Losing it is a sign that your cervix has started to dilate. Great news, but don’t start pushing yet.

Prodromal Contractions:

Let’s not have any of that “false labor” talk, if you please. We’re talking very early labor contractions here. They may be regular when you have them but can stop just when you think they are really getting serious and then start again just as you are finally getting some sleep. However, they refuse to really crank up by becoming longer, stronger and closer together. These contractions while they may be slowly driving you mad, are helping to thin and soften the cervix.


Okay, time to really sit up and take notice. These signs doesn’t mean you have to call Ricky, Fred and Ethel and head to the hospital, but you can count on holding your baby in your arms instead of your belly within the next couple of days.

Regular Contractions:

These may start out no stronger than menstrual cramps, but they are regular; meaning that your belly gradually tightens, reaches a peak, then gradually relaxes again. Then you have a break lasting several minutes, then have another contraction. If you have been up and about lay down for a rest; if you’ve been resting, take a walk. If these are labor contractions, the activity changes won’t affect them. The key difference between these contractions and the Braxton Hicks contractions and/or prodromal contractions you’ve been having is that these grow longer, stronger and closer together. Make sure you put the champagne in the fridge!

Gush of water from the vagina:

Fewer than one fourth of all women begin their labor this way, so you’re probably not going flood the produce department at Safeway. But, I’m making no promises. If your water breaks, take time out from dancing a jig to notice what it looks and smells like. Then call your care provider and doula and give them a full report. You may not need to head right off to your birth place, but they’ll appreciate the heads up and you may want your doula to come over and hang out with you, just in case you’re one of the women whose contractions get really intense immediately.

There you go…no more mystery. The messages your body is sending you really do make sense, once you’ve learned to decipher them.

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