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What Are The Early Signs of Labor That You Should Look For?

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early signs of labor

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As your pregnancy is coming to an end, you will experience some sure signs of labor, which can look like your water breaking or you are having contractions. However, sometimes the early signs of labor are much more subtle. An expecting woman’s body more often gives her the signals she needs and the inner wisdom to recognize these signs. Nevertheless, to help you understand them better we’ve accumulated a list of common early signs of labor

Labor is a way of preparing your body for the arrival of your little one, and all too often, it can start slowly. You should keep on reading to find out when you can expect to go into labor? What are the differences between real and false labor? And what is the difference between early and active labor?

When Will You Go Into Labor?

Even though your due date is usually set to 40 weeks, which is when your pregnancy reaches full-term. You shouldn’t expect your little one to arrive on the dot.

To begin with, the due date that you’ve been given is just an estimate. It may not be accurate, moreover, it could be off by as much as two weeks. That is, even after the date was adjusted after an ultrasound. Most women usually go into labor somewhere between 38 and 42 weeks of pregnancy. You just need to make sure to keep an eye out for any early signs of labor mentioned below. Also, keep your birth plan ready.

However, if your due date has come and gone, you might be a little anxious about labor to begin. There are plenty of old wives’ tales about how castor oil works to induce labor. Specialists would not recommend trying this home remedy. Rather, the best thing to do is to consult your healthcare provider, if you’re worried about why labor hasn’t started yet.

What Are the Early Signs of Labor?

Contrary to expectation, it’s very unlikely that you will just suddenly go into labor without any warning. If you’re getting close to the big day, your body will let you know that. So, keep your hospital bag packed, and be ready to go to the hospital when the time has come. Even though every woman is different, you might notice some of these signs which indicate that labor might be starting in a couple of days:

1. There’s a change in your energy levels: Early Signs Of Labor

In the days or weeks before labor, you could be experiencing a sudden surge of energy or you could be feeling extra tired. Both of which are perfectly normal! Also, you might have the sudden urge to “nest” or prepare your home for your little one. Although nesting can begin any time during your pregnancy, a lot of women tend to experience it just before labor. So, make sure that you won’t overexert yourself. Try to rest, and save your energy for all the pushing!

2. Lightening: Early Signs Of Labor

Lightening is referred to when your baby drops lower into your pelvis in the hours, days, or weeks before labor. Because of this, you might be able to breathe a little easier.

3. Bloody show: Early Signs Of Labor

Bloody show is the thick, pinkish, or blood-streaked discharge that you might notice. During pregnancy, this is the mucus plug that sealed your cervix and it often appears several days before your labor begins. Although it’s not always noticeable.

What Are Signs Of Early Labor?

You may experience some early signs of labor, even though each pregnancy is different with no specific series of events. Some of the supposed signs can be so subtle that you might not even notice them. 

One of the most common and well-known early signs of labor is contractions. As you are going into labor, your cervix, which is the lower part of your uterus, will thin out, soften, and shorten. It might cause you a little discomfort, maybe even a few irregular and light contractions. Slowly at first, your cervix will start to dilate (open), however, it will progress more quickly as you are approaching active labor. 

Also, you could get a few, more regular contractions which might come every 5 to 15 minutes, and lasts 60 to 90 seconds. So, do your best to keep yourself calm and remember to monitor the frequency, length, and regularity of your contractions.

Stage 1 labor, or commonly called early labor, is often unpredictable in terms of duration. Especially if this is your first baby, it could take hours or even days before you progress to active labor, which is the second part of Stage 1 labor. With consecutive deliveries, the time usually gets shorter. So, until your water breaks or your contractions get more regular and start to become more intense, just stay relaxed.

Please note: You should call your doctor or midwife if your water breaks (especially if the fluid is green or brown or has a foul odor) if you notice bright red bleeding (not pale pink or dark brown) if your baby is less active, or you have a headache, sudden swelling or vision problems. In addition to that, consult your health care provider if you think you are having preterm labor, which is when you go into labor before the baby is ready to be born.

What To Do When You’re In Early Labor?

If you are approaching labor and experience only a few early signs of labor then you might not need to go to the hospital as of yet. Active labor does take a lot of time, and you’ll be more comfortable and perfectly safe if you stay at home. Your midwife or doctor will guide you based on your signs of labor and situation. 

Once you realize that you’re in labor, it can bring a whole range of emotions, from excitement to disbelief or apprehension to worry. You need to remain calm and focused. If you can, arrange to have your partner or friend be with you to help record your labor symptoms, keep you company, and get you to the hospital when the time is right. 

Also, to ease any discomfort, you can do the following:

  • Try going for a walk.
  • You could try some of the relaxation or breathing techniques that you learned in your prenatal class.
  • Try changing positions.
  • You could also take a shower or a bath.

Whether it is day or night, you need to call your health care provider or midwife, if you notice that your contractions are coming in stronger and more frequently, if your water breaks, if you’re unsure whether you’re in labor as of yet, or if you’re worried about anything. Do not hesitate to call them! If you rush to the hospital before you’re in active labor, there is a good chance that they’ll send you back home.

What Are the Active Early Signs Of Labor?

Things start to happen during active labor. Your cervix, the lower part of your uterus, should be dilating from 6 to 10 centimeters. Now, you’ll be able to notice some stronger signs that labor is here, which includes:

1. Your water breaking:

The amniotic sac ruptures and releases the fluid inside, sometime before delivery or even only during active labor. This is widely known as water breaking. There will be a gush of water or just a trickle. If you think your water broke, notify your midwife or doctor. A lot of women go into labor within 24 hours after their water breaks.

2. Having strong and regular contractions:

You may experience occasional contractions in the last few months. As you are entering active labor, your contractions will feel stronger, closer together, and get more regular and they will last about 30 to 70 seconds. Their strength will keep increasing steadily. You need to time your contractions to keep track of your progress.

3. Cramp in your legs:

When you go into active labor, you may feel your legs cramp.

4. Pain or pressure in your back:

As the pressure on your back increases, you could experience backache or a heavy, achy feeling.

5. Nausea:

A handful of women feel nauseated during active labor.

A woman’s active labor can last up to four to eight hours, sometimes maybe even more. Women usually dilate at the rate of one centimeter per hour. Once your contractions start getting regular and stronger together or your water breaks, it’s time to go to the hospital and let your healthcare team guide you through the rest.

How To Tell Real and False Labor Signs Apart?

Sometimes you might think you’re going into labor when it’s just a false alarm, and it’s too early to head to the hospital. Especially if it’s your first baby. Here are some signs that could help you distinguish between true labor and false labor.

In True Labor: Early Signs Of Labor

  • Your contractions get regular and tend to follow a predictable pattern, for instance, every eight minutes.
  • There are three types of progression that you’ll experience, a) contractions become more frequent, b) longer-lasting, and c) stronger.
  • Every contraction will feel like it’s starting from the lower back, as it radiates around to the front, low in the groin.
  • Changing your position or activity will not slow or stop contractions.
  • Your health care provider or midwife will notice that your cervix is dilating, softening, or thinning.

In False Labor: Early Signs Of Labor

  • Unlike true labor, your contractions tend to be irregular and unpredictable, and they happen, for example, in intervals of ten minutes, then six minutes, two minutes, eight minutes, etc.
  • You cannot see any progression over time in the closeness of the contraction intervals, length, or strength.
  • You will feel your contractions in the front.
  • If you change your position or activity, it might cause contractions to slow or stop.
  • There are no cervical changes.

Nevertheless, when in doubt do not hesitate to contact your healthcare provider for advice.

Are There Any Natural Ways To Help Labor Along?

If you’re not in labor just yet but have reached full-term and itching to get things moving along, there are a few natural tricks that may help to induce labor. You can try them at home yourself. Some of these tricks are walking, sex, spicy food, and acupuncture.

Having said that, there’s not a lot of research to back them up. You should consult your doctor first before trying anything. No matter what, when your baby is ready to meet you, they’ll make it known. So, try to just enjoy these last few weeks or days of calm before you’ll be a fully-fledged parent.

In Conclusion

As you are reaching the end of your pregnancy, you’re so eager to meet your little one that every new sensation may seem like a sign of labor! Some of these signs might indicate that you still have days or weeks to go. So, do not worry because the big day will arrive soon enough. In the meantime, you can check out all things you would need to add to your baby registry checklist with everything important you’d need to carry.

FAQs: What Are The Early Signs of Labor That You Should Look For?

1) How long after the baby's head is down does labor start?

If you are a first-time mother, dropping usually happens around 2 to 4 weeks before delivery, but it can happen earlier too. For women who have already had children, the baby dropping might happen until the labor starts.

2) How do you feel 24 hours before labor?

With the countdown to birth, you might see some signs that labor is 24 to 48 hours away. These signs could include low back pain, weight loss, diarrhea, and water breaking.

3) Do you feel exhausted before labor?

Yes, extreme fatigue is one of the early signs of labor. You might feel more tired than usual. So, rest and don't over-exert yourself!

4) Are due dates accurate?

No, the due date that you’ve been given is just an estimate. It may not be accurate, moreover, it could be off by as much as two weeks. That is, even after the date was adjusted after an ultrasound. Most women usually go into labor somewhere between 38 and 42 weeks of pregnancy. You just need to make sure to keep an eye out for any early signs of labor mentioned below. Also, keep your birth plan ready.

Reviewed By:

Esha Chainani - Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

Esha Chainani - Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

Dr. Esha Chainani is an Obstetrician, Gynaecologist, and laparoscopic surgeon who aims to break the stigma around women’s health by advocating an inclusive and open practice of obstetrics and gynecology and an author of several internationally published research papers and health articles in the media like the Swaddle.
She also founded Premaa, a non-profit to reduce maternal morbidity and eventual maternal mortality by providing lower-income pregnant women living in urban areas with cell phone access through an app that can feature an entire section about contraception as well for a whole gamut of reproductive health.
A panel for multiple health sessions including with the UN, USAID, BMC, gender at work, and multiple non-profit organisations, and is on the advisory panel of the South Indian medical students association.

On behalf of the editorial team at Parenthoodbliss, we follow strict reporting guidelines and only use credible sources, along with peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and highly respected health organizations. To learn about how we maintain content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.

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