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Am I in Labor?! (Signs & Warnings of Labor/Birth)

Updated: Aug 8, 2019

Women across the world who are pregnant with their first, second, third, etc. ask themselves and medical providers the same questions as their due date approaches: How will I know I am in labor? What do contractions feel like? Will my water break? Is ______ a sign of labor?

And the list goes on!

So, I want to provide some practical, real and researched information in order for you to be fully ready if/when you go into labor. The list below specifically describes spontaneous labor for spontaneous vaginal delivery.

Sudden Rupture of Membranes

In other words, "My water broke!" This is the classic "movie scene" start to labor. A gush of water comes out of a lady and she immediately begins to have contractions and is rushed to the hospital. First of all, let me just say that this CAN happen to anyone. BUT, it won't always happen like a big gush of water and immediate contractions. It could trickle out over several hours. It could also make you trick yourself into thinking you are peeing your pants. If it is coming out slowly and you are unsure if your waters are broken, empty your bladder & then lay on your side for 15 minutes. If you get up and water comes out, that is a good indication your water is broken. Call your medical provider! If you have a gush of water, it is clear and you're pretty certain it is water broken, call your medical provider then as well. You'll probably hear "time to head to the hospital/birthing facility to get checked out!" If your water does break, pay attention to the C - color, O - odor,  - amount, T - time. This will be important information to relay to your medical provider. 

Loss of Mucus Plug

The mucus plug blocks the opening of the cervix to prevent bacteria from entering the uterus. The loss of this plug is a strong indicator that the start of labor is near. This could happen days or hours before labor begins or it can be lost during active labor. The mucus plug is a mucus-y discharge that you might find when wiping after using the bathroom. Some women lose it in one big clump but others will lose it a little bit at a time. If it has pink or red it in it, it is most likely due to a broken capillary- nothing to be concerned about. If you see this, I would complete any last minute projects on your to do list! 

Early/"False" Labor 

During the early labor phase, you might feel crampy, have inconsistent contractions, Braxton hicks, contractions in your back, loose/soft stool or even achey/flu-like symptoms. If you are having contractions in your back, it could be because the cervix is moving from posterior position to anterior (another way your body is getting ready for active labor and birth) & then your contractions will move to the front of your body. The reason why flu-like symptoms might occur is because your body has a ton of water in it and could be clogging your sinus'. If you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, there probably isn't a need yet to call your medical provider. If you have a Doula, this would be a good time to call her and be communication about ongoing symptoms you have as your body prepares for labor. As a Doula, I would remind my clients to do the following:

-take bath

-eat when you're hungry

-drink when you're thirsty

-rest when you're tired

-go about your day like normal

This is the time to really indulge in WHATEVER you want to do. Take time for yourself and enjoy it. Labor is truly the last time you will be nurtured before you become the nurturer. 

Some people refer to this as "false" labor but from experience and what I have learned, I don't feel like it is an accurate way to describe because no matter what is going on in your body, it is doing SOMETHING to help you progress to the active staff of labor. There is nothing "false" about it. Your body is getting ready for the real deal!

Active Labor

During active labor, your cervix is still softening and dilating. Contractions will be 3-5 minutes apart or shorter When your contractions are 5 minutes apart, 1 minute long for 1 hour (5-1-1) then it is time to go to the hospital/birthing center. It is also okay to go to the hospital/birthing center at 4-1-1 or whenever the contractions are taking your breath away and it requires your whole focus. When you are timing contractions, it is important to time the from the beginning of the first to the start of the next contraction (this is how much time apart). For the length of a contraction, you time the start of the contraction to the end of the contraction. There is a warming sensation sometimes at the beginning and end of the contraction which makes it feel longer than it actual is.

If you have hired a Doula, this is usually when they would come to provide support during contractions even prior to going to the hospital/birthing center. The beautiful thing about having a Doula is that they can show up whenever you want during the labor process. If you are handling the contractions well in your home, maybe she can meet you in the hospital/birthing center. If the contractions are coming hard and quick, having difficulty breathing and focusing, then that is probably a good time for her to come and support.


No matter how nervous/anxious you are about labor/giving birth, remember that your body is made for it. I think that women have a natural instinct of when their labor is beginning and when the right moment is to go the hospital/birthing center. Take care of yourself. Be patient. Relax. The moment you get to hold your baby for the first time is coming 💜

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