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Labor is a word that is associated with your body’s natural process of giving birth to a child and labor can be defined as the process in which the fetus and the placenta leave the uterus.
It is very confusing to decide when to go to the hospital for labor if you are not sure that you are in labor. Towards the end of your pregnancy, you will be able to tell the difference between false labor and true labor and identify the transformation from early labor to active labor.
This article provides an overview of the signs of labor, the differences between false labor, true labor, and when to go to the hospital for labor.
Signs Of Labor
The signs of labor are a gradual process and it is different from one woman to another and if you are expecting your second child, the signs of labor can be different from what you experienced while having your first child.
1. Early Labor
Early labor is experienced while there is still some time away from the actual birth. Early labor helps your baby to get into place for birth. During early labor, you may start to feel contractions that aren’t too strong. These contractions are mild to moderate contractions that are irregular in their strength and frequency occur more than 5 minutes and up to 30 minutes apart and lasting 1 minute or less and these contractions allow your cervix to open and soften.
During this phase, you can feel your baby move around and kick more often than they usually do, or feel additional pressure of the baby dropping into place. This is because they’re trying to move down headfirst into the birth canal.
What To Do When You Experience Early Labor?
- Try to relax
- Walk around the house
- Lie down in a comfortable position
- Get your back gently massaged
- Try breathing techniques
- Take a warm shower
- Use a cold compress
- Do anything that keeps you calm
2. Active Labor
The clinical definition of the start of active labor is when the cervix has reached 6 centimeters in dilation. You will not be knowing how dilated you are until checked by a doctor or midwife.
Strong contractions are regular in their strength and frequency coming less than 5 minutes apart and lasting 1 to 1.5 minutes. You will be able to tell you are entering active labor when your contractions are stronger, more regular, and happening closer together.
Symptoms Of Active Labor
Real Labor vs False Labor
When the due date starts approaching, it is very confusing and frustrating to find out if you are experiencing real labor or false labor.
When women are in true labor, your contractions last about 30 to 70 seconds and come about 5 – 10 minutes apart. False labor is when contractions come and go with no pattern or consistency, usually in the last two to four weeks before your due date.
What Are The Symptoms Of True Labor
- Breathing and urination may suddenly become easier as the baby drops
- Vaginal discharge or mucus may have a brownish, pink, or reddish tinge
- Upset stomach or diarrhea
- Slight increase in blood pressure
- Mucus plug may come out all at once or break off over several days
When To Go To Hospital For Labor?
As the due date approaches, your doctor will advise you to call them to enquire when to go to the hospital-based on your medical history and pregnancy records.
Apart from the doctors’ guidance, your body will also guide you by exhibiting certain signals which means it is time to head to the hospital or birthing center.
1. You Are Having Contractions
If you are having contractions that are very intense and if cannot speak through them, sleep through them and focus on anything else but them, it is most likely to be active labor contractions.
These contractions will be strong and stronger than before and they occur less than 5 minutes apart. You may also experience mood shifts and your behavior turns inward and you start feeling like working through these contractions. Thus it is better to head to the hospital when your contractions are very severe.
2. Your Water Breaks
If the water breaking happens at home, you may not need to go to the hospital immediately. Call your doctor or midwife, who may ask you to come to the hospital, or birthing center so they can confirm that the amniotic sac has ruptured. Chances are you may be asked to stay back at home for some more time.
There will be some circumstances where you will have to go to the hospital or birth center immediately to prevent infection or complications. For example- if you have discharge that’s stained brown you’ll need to go straight to the hospital as soon as your water breaks
If your water breaks but you are not experiencing contractions, call your doctor or midwife and they can tell you to stay home for a while longer to see if your labor progresses. This waiting period is known as “expectant management” and it can last up to 24 hours. Contractions will kick in between 12 and 24 hours after the amniotic sac has ruptured.
If the membranes do not rupture and your labor has stalled, call your doctor or midwife and they will ask you to come to the hospital or birthing clinic to be induced. It can also be vice versa: If you are having contractions and your labor is trying to progress, and your water has not broken, your doctor or midwife may need to rupture the amniotic sac for you at the hospital or clinic.
3. You Are Bleeding
During vaginal discharge, you may see a big chunk of light pink mucus when you wipe or in the lining of your underwear. This is called the mucus plug, which keeps your cervix closed until your body begins to prepare for delivery.
The mucus plug helps to keep bacteria out of your cervix and therefore protects you and your baby from infection. If you are less than 37 weeks along and think you have lost your mucus plug, call your doctor or midwife and let them know. It is dislodged during the last weeks of pregnancy but it can also happen when you are going into labor.
4. Your Pregnancy Is High-Risk
If you are carrying twins or higher-order multiples, or you have a health condition that makes your pregnancy higher risk, you have to call your doctor or midwife and inform them about the first sign of contractions—even if you aren’t sure that you’re in labor and they might tell you to come to the hospital.
5. You Are Having Symptoms of Preeclampsia
Preeclampsia is a serious condition of pregnancy where your blood pressure gets too high. Preeclampsia requires close medical treatment, as it can cause life-threatening complications during labor and delivery.
The symptoms of preeclampsia can be-
- Swelling in your face and hands
- Sudden weight gain from fluid
- Severe abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling short of breath
- Increased levels of anxiety
When Should I Call My Doctor?
When you are pregnant, you have to call your doctor or midwife if you notice that your baby is not moving as much as they normally do, if you start bleeding or if you have an increased amount of fluid discharge.
If your contractions are 4 or 5 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute, for 1 hour or longer, it’s time to head to the hospital. If you are experiencing contractions, and they are not strong and lengthy, you might be experiencing the early phase of labor. Resting and letting your body progress at home will help you to deliver naturally in the long run.
It is important to know that labor is divided into three stages- dilation of the cervix, the birth of the baby, and the birth of the placenta. The signs and symptoms of going into labor include period-like cramps, backache, diarrhea, and contractions.
If you are unsure whether to stay home or go to the hospital, it is recommended to call the hospital and speak to one of the midwives or your doctor. If your waters break or if you start bleeding from the vagina, immediately go to the hospital.