Is it the Real Deal? How to Tell When You’re Really in Labor

As their due date approaches, most moms have a lot of questions on their mind: is the nursery finished? Is the car seat installed? Is the bag packed and ready to go? For first time moms though, there’s one big question they worry about more than all the others: “Is this the real deal? How will I know I’m really in labor?”

While it might seem like a silly question, it makes sense that women are often worried about being able to when they’re really in labor. You can read about labor, talk about it with people who’ve done it before, and ask your doctor or midwife to describe it, but it’s simply impossible to really know how labor feels until you’ve experienced it yourself. The last weeks of pregnancy are also often full of aches, pains, and Braxton Hicks contractions, making it pretty tough to tell the difference between a few uncomfortable contractions and the start of labor.

If you’re a first time mom-to-be who doesn’t want to head to the hospital for a false alarm but is also pretty nervous about missing the first signs of labor and ending up delivering your baby on the side of the high way, check out the list below for tips on how to tell when you’re really in labor!

real deal
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You start to notice a pattern 

By the time you're 37 weeks pregnant, you're used to some aches and pains and may have even been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions for quite a while. For many women, the first clue that labor has begun is that the aches and cramps they've become accustomed to start to come and go in a more organized manner. While Braxton Hicks contractions typically come and go intermittently with no real organization, true labor contractions usually come and go in more regular waves. 

Your contractions don't go away when you rest 

Contractions that don't signal the start of labor will usually dissipate if the mom-to-be sits down, rests, and relaxes for a few minutes. While true labor contractions will usually get longer and stronger if a mom keeps moving, they won’t go away if you decide to put up your feet and relax. 

Your water breaks 

While movies often signal the start of labor with a big gush, most of the time a woman's water breaks once labor has begun rather than to kick it off. If you're experiencing achy contractions or and suddenly notice either a big gush or a little trickle, chances are you'll be headed to labor and delivery soon. Alternatively, if your water happens to break before you experience any contractions, take a few minutes to enjoy being in labor before any of the discomfort kicks in!  

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Your contractions start to hurt

Even if your contractions are starting to form a pattern, and sometimes even after your water breaks, it can feel hard to believe that you're really, truly in labor. One major clue that it’s the real deal though is that your contractions begin to feel uncomfortable and, as time moves forward, they start to become truly painful. Uncomfortable contractions that keep getting more uncomfortable are a sign that your body is beginning the process of getting baby from your belly to your arms. 

You stop doubting if you're in labor

There comes a point in every woman's labor when she absolutely, positively knows that it's the real deal. Maybe it's a huge gush accompanied by a rolling contraction that makes you catch your breath or maybe it's the fact that today just feels different but, once you stop wondering if you're in labor, you very likely are. 

You end up with a baby 

The most sure-fire way to tell that you were in labor is to look back at that first contraction, the one you weren't so sure about, as your hold your brand new baby in your arms. Labor is experienced differently by every woman but, once her baby is here she'll be able to tell you, without a doubt that it was the real deal. 

Experienced moms, when did you know for sure that you were in labor? 

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Is it the Real Deal? How to Tell When You’re Really in Labor

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. She is writing a memoir on pregnancy, motherhood, and sisterhood and lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. ... More

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