How Do I Know if I'm in Labor?
Author: Stef Daniel
Oh boy! (Or girl!) If you are pregnant, you will find yourself getting more and more worried about delivering your baby in the Taco Bell dining room because you were too inexperienced to know when you are in labor. Rest assured, the vast majority of women make it to the hospital in plenty of time, and when labor is upon you…you will know it.
There are varied symptoms and signs of labor. Certainly, many are mistaken in the late months of your pregnancy and are nothing more than Braxton Hicks contractions. Still, contractions are definitely a sign. The thing to look for is consistency and duration of contractions. If they continue to come faster and harder – chances are you are in labor. If you are gauging real labor by contractions alone, it is important to ascertain whether the pains and contractions change when you change. Real labor will not go away because you lie down or take a walk. If you suspect labor, start timing yourself with a clock to see if they are getting closer together. One thing to keep in mind is that the average labor in a first time mother lasts at least 9 hours. In a mother who has had children, it’s only 6 hours. You definitely have time!
Lots of women and doctors talk about losing ‘the mucous plug’ and dilation as being indicators that labor is about to begin. In a textbook pregnancy, yes these are indicators. Yet most women aren’t textbook. You could lose your mucous plug and go into labor the next week or lose it and go into labor within hours. The point is to start noticing changes in cervical mucus and discharge and reporting bloody or extra thick discharge to your midwife or doctor. As for dilation, your doctor will have to give you that information. Many women stay dilated 3-4 centimeters for a few weeks before actually ‘going into labor.’ Others don’t dilate at all until the day arrives.
If you don’t have contractions and have no idea about the mucous plug, your bag of waters might just break. Your nightmare is that it will break when you are somewhere less than convenient; however, most women have a feeling when this happens. Often the size and shape of your stomach will change oddly, and you may feel a surge of feel good hormones, which attributes to the ‘cleaning’ frenzy pregnant women are accused of having pre-labor. When your water does break, you will know that too. It is very difficult to mistake it for anything else besides peeing on yourself. If you are leaking fluid, you should see your OB just to make sure it isn’t amniotic fluid.
One of the most indicative aspects of knowing when you are in labor is your gut feeling. Every woman will describe their personal experience a little differently; however – all of them can admit that something changed. This something may just be how you feel or look – but it is definitely tangible to the pregnant women. Don’t discount your own inner feelings, even if you are sent home from a hospital for false labor. Personally speaking, I had a doctor’s visit the very day I went into labor, and my OBGYN told me I had at least 2-3 weeks to go. My water broke that night.
If you aren’t sure about something, or feel something is different – then make the trip to the birthing center. The worst thing that can happen is that they will hook you up to a monitor and send you home shortly thereafter. Still, chances are you will be back soon enough.