As a doula, and now as a midwife, I get asked a lot of questions about pregnancy, labor and birth. One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, how will I know when I’m in labor? Well, how did you know when you were in love? You didn’t question it, you just knew. That’s what it’s like to be in labor. You won’t need to question it. You’ll just know. “But what if I don’t know?” I promise you, you’ll know – but I understand your concern, so let’s take a closer look at what is and isn’t labor and how to distinguish between the two so you feel more confident in trusting your intuition (because trust me, you will know).
The likelihood that your baby’s birthday will fall between two weeks before and two weeks after the day of your due date is high unless you undergo a scheduled c-section. Fortunately, your body will send you certain pre-labor signals to let you know that the big day is approaching.
How will I know when I’m in labor?
Pay close attention to your body so that you can recognize the early indications of labor and be prepared to go into labor. Continue reading to learn about the most common signs of early labor:
The quick and dirty definition of labor is: contractions that cause cervical change. If your cervix isn’t changing, you aren’t in labor, even with those five minute apart contractions! Let’s take a look at my tips for knowing when you’re in labor.
Labor contractions get stronger, longer and closer together.
I hate the term “false labor.” Let’s be clear, there is no such thing as false labor. I like to think of non-baby getting out labor as the practice before the big game. Those contractions that you feel, the ones that are five minutes apart that make you stop and focus on your breathing but stop after a few hours, those are real and important. They help get the baby into an ideal position, they help efface (soften) and dilate (open) your cervix, and they allow your uterus, a muscle, to practice its coordination for your labor day. Think of those practice labors as less you’ll have to do when the big day finally comes! If you’re trying to differentiate between pre-labor and labor, wait for the shift that happens with labor when your contractions become stronger, longer and closer together. If the contractions eventually stop, don’t try to force it. Rest and enjoy your break between your pre-labor and your labor day.
Length of contraction is more important than how close together they are.
Your labor could start with contractions that are 3 minutes apart, however, if they are only 25 seconds long, they aren’t doing much in terms of getting your cervix dilated and the baby out. The longer the better when it comes to length of contraction. Intense, minute long contractions that are 3-5 minutes apart are a sign of active labor.
Vaginal discharge is a great sign in labor.
As the cervix effaces and dilates, the mucus plug has nowhere to go but out. A way to tell dilation without checking someone, is to take note of their vaginal discharge. Lots of mucus and bloody show, in addition to intense, minute long contractions, is very positive that labor is progressing well. Bloody show happens when tiny capillaries in the cervix break as it opens; it’s a beautiful sign that your cervix is blossoming open and that what you are experiencing is labor.
Take a childbirth education class.
There are a lot of great childbirth education series offered by independent educators or through the hospital that can help better prepare you for labor and birth. Knowledge is power and the more you know the better prepared you will be for handling your labor and birth.
Consider hiring a doula
Regardless of where you plan to deliver or what kind of birth you want, a doula can make a great addition to your labor experience. A doula is a person trained in childbirth. They have a plethora of tools to help you cope with your labor. The support of doulas has been proven to shorten labors, reduce interventions and leave families more satisfied with their birth experience. Doulas make great resources and support people for you and your family prenatally, during labor and postpartum