How To Identify Signs Of True Labor

Published on 04/09/21

This might be an odd question but what is labor? I mean, it is the definition of labor because the process of delivery is laborious. It’s hard. But labor in the sense of birth becomes a whole other definition, especially if you’re the mom in the delivery room. 

Labor which is also known as childbirth is the overall generalization of the process of your baby leaving the womb or uterus. When a woman is in labor, she will have regular contraction that causes her cervix to change. When her body contracts, it’s the muscles of the uterus that get tight and then relax in waves of seconds to minutes. Contractions are what help push the baby out of the uterus. The cervix is the opening to the uterus that sits at the top of the vagina and when labor starts, the cervix dilates or opens up to help pass the baby through. 

As your due date gets closer, getting ready for labor and birth can be a little overwhelming. Learning the signs of labor can help get you ready and help you feel ready for labor and ultimately delivery of your baby. 

These can include:

  • Regular and strong contractions
  • Pain in your belly and lower back
  • A bloody mucus discharge
  • Your water breaking

If you believe you’ve started your labor, make sure to call your healthcare provider. Not all contractions means you’re in true labor. Learning the difference between true and false labor can help you when it comes time for the real thing.

The True Signs Of Labor

You’ll know you’re in labor if:

  • You feel the muscles tight up and then relax. These contractions will start regularly and get strong. Since these contractions help push the baby out, your true labor contractions will last from 30 to 70 seconds and come in waves about 5 to 10 minutes apart. They will be so strong that you can’t walk or talk during these contractions. As delivery gets closer, they’ll get stronger and the time will be closer together until total delivery. 
  • You feel pain in your belly and lower back. There’s not much if anything that can alleviate this pain – in any position.
  • Your mucus changes to a brownish or reddish discharge. The “Bloody Show”
  • Your water breaks. This is the amniotic fluid that your baby has been growing in. Or a “bag” of water in your uterus. When this bag breaks there will be a big rush of water or sometimes it may just be a trickle.

No matter what time of day or night, if you think you’re in labor, call your healthcare provider. They can help you assess the situation and tell you if it’s time to head for the hospital. To determine if it’s true labor, your health care provider will measure your cervix.

Early Labor

You may notice the loss of your mucus plug. This is the plug – like a cork – that seals off your uterus from the rest of the world. It can be released as one piece – close to what looks like nose mucus – or a lot of tiny plugs. Sometimes though, you may not see it at all. It’s also common women don’t lose it before delivery. Each woman is different.

Days before labor, you’ll notice an increase or a thickened vagincal discharge. It can be pinkish or brownish in color. Also called “The Bloody Show”. This is a good indication that labor is on it’s way.

If this happens without the contractions or dilation of the cervix at least 3 to 4 centimeters, labor may not be starting for a few days.

Contractions are for sure a sign of early labor. Except, sometimes they aren’t. You can experience Braxton Hicks Contractions – or practice contractions – for weeks or even months before delivery. This is like a pinch, so the muscles in your uterus tighten in preparation for their big push to get that baby out.

Not all contractions mean it’s labor time. Braxton Hicks is only here to help soften and thin the cervix and prep your body for baby time. You can feel them well before your due date. 

It can be hard to tell the difference. So when you first start to feel contractions, time them. Keep note of how much time it takes from the start of one contraction to the beginning of the next. Also keep note of how strong they start to feel for an hour. Walk and move around to see if the contractions change when you change your initial position.

Are the contractions regular?

True Labor – yes. They’re regular and get closer together over time. They last 30 to 70 seconds each.

False Labor – no. They’re irregular and stay irregular. You’re more likely to have them late in the day or after a lot of physical activity.

Are the contractions strong?

True Labor – yes. They get stronger over time. They’re so strong you can’t walk or talk. They keep coming even when you move around.

False Labor – sometimes. They’re usually mild and don’t get stronger over time. They may be stronger and then weak. They can be painful. They may stop when you walk or change position.

So there is a lot of the same with both true and false labor. How do you know how to tell the difference between the two?

Here are some signs of real labor:

  • Real contractions get stronger instead of easing up like the Braxton Hicks contractions. 
  • If you adjust your position to adjust the pain and the contractions don’t go away. You’ll find Braxton Hicks contractions do ease up with a change in position.
  • Real contractions get more frequent and more painful in a regular pattern. If your labor intensity  builds over time then it is not Braxton Hicks contractions that go without getting more intense over time.
  • Early labor contractions feel like strong menstrual cramps. It can also be like an upset stomach and lower abdominal pressure. It can be felt in the lower abdomen, the back, or both. It could also radiate down to the legs. Where you feel pain isn’t totally reliable in determining labor. Braxton Hicks contractions can also be felt in these places.

When your water breaks. I know that movies exaggerate what this actually looks like. You learn that when your water breaks you have a matter of minutes before the baby is born. This is highly unlikely. 

When your water breaks it’s safe to say this is one of the final signs of labor most women will experience. It only happens to 15% of women. So don’t count on it.

If you’re still not sure when to say it’s that time. Don’t stress out! Your doctor or midwife will guide you spot what is important and the actions to take throughout the process. 

Here are the sign that you may be getting close to starting labor:

  • Lightening – when your baby drops or moves lower into your pelvis. This means your baby is getting ready to move into position for delivery. It can start a few weeks or a few hours before labor begins.
  • Vaginal discharge. You noticed a pink, clear or slightly bloody discharge. This can start before labor or at the beginning of labor.
  • Your healthcare provider checks your cervix dilation and if it’s begun to thin. Before labor your cervix will sit at 3.5 to 5 centimeters long. Once labor begins, the contraction will help dilate your cervix to a fully dilated 10 centimeters. 
  • Nesting. Nesting is an instinct when you start to get things organized and ready for your baby. Cooking meals, getting the room ready, baby’s clothes, etc. 

With these signs, you may be starting labor soon. When you need guidance, call your healthcare provider. 

Preterm Labor

Preterm labor is considered preterm when labor begins before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Premature babies – who are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy – are at risk for further health products at birth and later in life. If you have signs of labor before 37 weeks of pregnancy, call your provider to get help quickly. It’s good to learn about the risks for preterm labor and how you can take preventative measures to reduce that risk.

Stages of Labor from beginning to end start as:

Stage 1: first contractions

Stage 2: delivery of the baby

Stage 3: delivery of the placenta

Don’t feel embarrassed or worry about calling outside of office hours, either: Your practitioner knows it comes with the job.

You should always call your doctor or midwife if:

  • You experience any bleeding or bright red discharge (not brown or pinkish).
  • Your water breaks — especially if the fluid looks green or brown. This could be a sign that meconium, or your baby’s first stool, is present, which can be dangerous if your baby ingests it during birth.
  • You experience blurred or double vision, a severe headache or sudden swelling. These can all be symptoms of preeclampsia, which is characterized by pregnancy-induced high blood pressure and requires medical attention.

Natural Way To Help Induce Labor

There are a few things that can help labor along if you’re itching to get the train moving. This could include spicy food, sex, walking, and acupuncture.

There isn’t any scientific evidence or research to back these ideas and you should always talk to your doctor if you’re trying anything to move the birth along. 

At least you can revel in the homestretch of your baby’s birth and enjoy the last few moments before you’re a full time parent!

If You Need Guidance When It Comes To Labor and Delivery – Call Rosh MFM in NYC!

When your labor begins and you anticipate the delivery of your baby, nothing is more reassuring than knowing you’re in the hands of skilled and compassionate doctors.

The clinical team at Rosh Maternal & Fetal Medicine have the expertise you can count on, with many years of experience supporting women through normal vaginal deliveries, high-risk pregnancies, and cesarean sections. If you have any questions or concerns about your delivery, please don’t hesitate to call their office in the Midtown East area of New York City.

The team at Rosh Maternal & Fetal Medicine are prepared to give you answers and provide top-notch medical care so that you have a healthy pregnancy. If you’d like to schedule prenatal care or have questions about labor and delivery, call their office in the Midtown East area of New York City, or schedule an appointment online.