If you’re reading this then I’m sure you’ve read almost every other article out there prepping you for signs you are going into labor. I know this because I was once in your shoes and towards the end of my pregnancy, Google had become my best friend.
I don’t care who you are or if you love being pregnant. Every expecting mother reaches a point where they just want that baby out. So in order to bear through the anticipation of meeting my little girl, I did what I do best, and I researched.
If this is your first time going through labor, you won’t know what signs to watch for. So, in order to help my new mommas feel more prepared, I have compiled a list of 11 signs you are going into labor.
As you read, keep in mind that every pregnancy and every experience is different. Depending on your baby, your body and your medical history, these signs can vary. Some women experience all the signs, others experience only some. If you feel that you need urgent care or medical help, please seek a doctor immediately.
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#1 – Baby Drops
The first sign of labor is when the baby drops, meaning they move lower into the cervix. Dropping, also known as lightening, can happen anywhere starting around 2-4 weeks before labor begins. The baby dropping isn’t the most significant indicator of labor, but it can give you an idea of when labor could possibly start.
For a frame of reference, my daughter dropped around 35 weeks and she was born at 38 weeks. So from the time she dropped to the time she was born was a span of 3 weeks which falls directly in the middle of the suggested 2-4 week window.
The reason dropping isn’t considered the most sure sign of labor is because for some moms, the baby doesn’t drop until labor has already started.
If your baby does drop, it will be very subtle, especially if you are already carrying low. I remember the first time I really noticed that my daughter had dropped, was when I saw a photo of myself. If you are unsure if your baby has dropped, take a picture from a week or two earlier, and compare it side-by-side to a present day photo.
#2 – Back Pain/Cramping
Mommas, the back pain is real! At least for me, it was. I remember two days before my labor started I had the most intense back pain and cramping.
I didn’t think much of this though because of all the other aches and pains that come with pregnancy, I figured it was just a side effect of pregnancy.
Let me be clear, a backache alone does not signify labor but mixed with other signs like contractions or the loss of mucous plug, a backache could very well indicate that labor is near.
Some women also experience cramping along with a backache, this is a strong indication that labor is nearing because the cramping typically turns into contractions, which lead to labor.
#3 – Irritability
This one is a hard one to miss because Let’s face it. Mommas, when you’re in your third trimester, you can’t see your feet anymore, your face is swollen to the point you have no cheekbones, who wouldn’t be a little irritable?
Well, when you’re nearing labor this sense of irritability is even more heightened. Like I’m talking all out hulk rage,
**This piece of advice is for the husbands**
When your wife is pregnant, don’t eat the last anything.
For some women, this emotion never hits and they are just happy, bubbly and glowing. For me, it hit and it hit hard. The smallest inconvenience could just ruin my day. I noticed it got significantly worse the closer I drew to labor.
When labor is near, your hormone levels rise and fall in preparation for birth. Just like any emotion, an increase in hormones can throw everything out of whack. So husbands just bear with the grumpiness. It’s a sign that it will all be over soon enough!
#4 – Movement Slows
A common sign that tends to give new mommas a scare is the decrease in movement from their baby. Before labor, the baby is simply running out of room, therefore their range of motion is limited, resulting in less movement.
Now, that being said, if you are concerned about the level of movement you are feeling from your baby, please do not hesitate to call to your doctor or seek a medical professional.
When the baby is descending into the cervix, space becomes limited and they are almost “locked in” to the birthing position.
I remember just before going into labor with my daughter I noticed a significant drop in my baby’s level of activity. Being a new mom and concerned, I of course called my doctor, and he assured me that it was normal and everything was fine, she was just getting herself ready to meet me.
Just be sure to count and track the kicks and movements you feel. If you feel 10 movements/kicks in an hour, everything should be fine.
#5 – Rock Hard Stomach
This sign of labor was a hard one to miss. When I say rock hard stomach, think abs of steel. It was like my abdomen was made of concrete.
Throughout my pregnancy, I had experienced Braxton Hicks (the tensing of your stomach similar to contractions only less painful) so I was no stranger to the sensation of my tummy tensing up.
However, two days before I had my daughter, my stomach was perpetually uncontrollably flexed as if I was having constant Braxton Hicks. It wasn’t necessarily painful, just uncomfortable.
A friend of mine who was pregnant the same time as me also experienced a rock hard stomach a few days before she went into labor.
The funny thing about this, was that I called my nurse and she told me my rock hard stomach was nothing to consider in terms of labor. I remember she specifically told me ” you’ll know when you’re in labor.” Haha this makes me laugh, even now because I never knew I was in labor.
I never experienced any pain or doubling over, and I only felt one contraction, so please ladies, if you are experiencing any signs of labor, you know your body better than anyone, insist on being seen or go into the hospital. The worst that can happen is that they send you home, better to go in early than to be too late.
#6 – Insomnia/Oversleeping – Reversed Sleep Schedule
Of all the signs of labor, this one really took me by surprise. I knew that pregnancy was uncomfortable, and as it progressed, I found myself waking throughout the night and never feeling well-rested.
But, I was shocked to find that about a week before I went into labor, I experienced a severe case of insomnia. I found that each night I would look at the clock and be amazed how late it was and how alert my mind felt.
I would lay in bed and slowly watch the hours pass by until the sun came up. No joke, I barely slept all night every night for a week leading up to my daughter’s birth.
Along with the insomnia, I would find myself lethargic throughout the day and in constant need of a nap. I remember one day before I had my daughter, I took a 3-hour nap, woke up for 10 minutes, and fell back asleep for another hour.
Needless to say my sleep schedule was completely out of whack the days leading up to childbirth. If this sounds like you, labor could possibly be close!
#7 – Cervical Changes
Cervix changes are one of the surest signs you are going into labor. However, the problem with this sign, is it’s silent. When I refer to it as silent, I mean it’s a sign that you can’t see or feel, and only a medical professional can tell you if there are cervical changes.
You know those doctors appointments where they ever-so-gently (not) place their hand up there and tell you if you’ve dilated? Yeah. That’s what I mean when I say cervical changes.
About a week before my daughter was born, at 37 weeks, my doctor checked my cervix and found that I had already dilated to 1.5 cm and I was 70% effaced, and my baby was at the -2 station.
Confusing right? I remember sitting there as he was telling me this thinking “English please?” I’ll break it down for you:
- Effacement – referred to as cervical ripening or softening. Effacement is the thinning of the cervix defined by percentage, 0%-100%. To be 0% effaced means your cervix is hard and closed whereas 100% effaced means your cervix is completely thinned and soft ready to deliver the baby.
- Dilation – This is the opening of the cervix defined by centimeter measurements. Ranging from 0-10 cm, 10 cm being the most open it could be, ready for delivery.
- Baby Station – This number ranges from -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3, and measures the position of the baby descending into the cervix. As the baby drops, the number increases. Meaning -3 is the highest the baby’s head position can lie above the cervix, and +3 is when the baby is crowing (being delivered).
As you can see, all of these numbers work together to prepare for delivery. As your body prepares and you experience contractions, your cervix will thin and open and the baby will descend into the cervix.
The hard part is, knowing how fast your body will progress through these stages. For me, I progressed relatively fast. I went from 1.5 cm dilated, 70% effaced, baby station -2, to 3.5 cm dilated 80% effaced, baby station -1 in a week.
With these numbers, my doctor admitted me and my daughter was born within a day of my body reaching these numbers. For some women, they could stay dilated at 1 cm for weeks, it’s truly up to your body. The key is being aware and staying in tune with how your body changes and progresses.
#8 – Feeling The Urge
Alright mommas, brace yourselves, it’s about to get real, with some potty talk!
We are all familiar with this one. Being pregnant comes with many bodily changes. One of them being your #2 schedule – thank you hormones.
For me, my gut health was not the best prior to pregnancy so you can imagine how my schedule shifted during pregnancy. Anyways, a big sign of labor is a change in your stool – also known as “loosening of the stool.”
Yes, you see where I’m going with this. Ladies, one word. Diarrhea. It happens to the best of us, and it’s extremely dignifying. I’m gonna warn you right now, if you’re on your way into labor, just leave your dignity at the door, you can have it back once you leave.
This was one of the last signs of labor to hit me before I had my daughter. A few hours before I went into labor, I had the sudden urge to relieve myself. This was weird for me because I typically have the opposite issue where I am not regular unless I take medication or a laxative. So to my surprise, I ran to the bathroom and emptied my bowels.
This is the body’s way of preparing for labor so you can use your pelvic floor muscles to bear down and push that baby out without any interference.
Although diarrhea isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, I was grateful this was a labor symptom for me because it emptied my bowels enough that I avoided the dreaded “poop on the table” scenario every pregnant woman plays over and over in her head.
Just like the other signs, diarrhea alone is not a true sign of labor, but intertwined with other signs, you can safely assume you are in labor, or will be shortly.
#9 – Mucus Plug/Bloody Show
This is by far the unpleasant thing I experienced throughout my pregnancy; the loss of the mucus plug. I mean, come on, that just sounds nasty!
Basically, your mucous plug isn’t really a plug, it’s a protective barrier that seals the cervix and works along with the amniotic sac to keep harmful bacteria from entering the placenta.
As you dilate and draw closer to labor, this protective barrier begins to thin and break down and shed, resulting in thick discharge. The coloring can range anywhere from white to yellow, to brown, to red-brown.
You can also shed your mucous plug in pieces, or it could all shed at once. For me, it was gradual and lasted the span of 4 days.
The common misconception is that the loss of the mucous plug and the bloody show are separate occurrences. This is not true. They are in fact the same thing, however like I mentioned before the coloring can vary, and some women experience more blood tinged discharge (therefore The Bloody Show).
In a healthy pregnancy, blood-tinged discharge is a normal sign of labor after 37 weeks, however, if you see any bleeding or blood before this point, consult your doctor, just in case.
The tricky part of the bloody show/loss of mucous plug is that it is indeed a sign of labor, however, there is no telling as to when labor will start.
Losing your mucous plug could be a sign that labor is imminent or that it is still weeks away. In order to judge or place a time frame, go off other signs of labor and base if off that.
For example, I lost my plug and went into labor 4 days later. But, I was also experiencing backache, my baby had dropped, and I was effaced and dilated.
Although I didn’t know I was going into labor at the time, looking back now, the combination of these signs along with losing my plug, tells me my labor was in fact imminent.
#10 – Contractions
This one is a no-brainer, you can’t be in labor unless you’re having contractions, right? Wrong.
Throughout my entire time of being in labor, I felt one contraction. That’s right. One. Granted, I had an epidural. But even before my epidural, I was in full-blown labor, and only felt one contraction.
And, the most shocking part of all? I wasn’t doubled over screaming in pain. It felt like a very strong menstrual cramp, it lasted for about 30 seconds and then it was done.
Mommas, if there’s one thing I hate it’s the phrase “you’ll know you’re in labor.” If I had listened to this sage advice, I would have had my daughter at home or on the way to the hospital.
When I went in for my 38-week checkup, I was already in labor and had no clue! That being said, most women do experience contractions, the key is timing them.
So what is a contraction?
Contractions are the body’s way of pushing the baby into the cervix, as well as dilating and thinning the cervix, by contracting and releasing the uterine and pelvic floor muscles. If you notice your contractions are becoming more regular and closer together, start timing them.
- How To Time Contractions:
- Start the timer when one contraction starts
- Stop the timer as soon as a new contraction starts
- While timing from contraction to contraction, keep a measure of how long one contraction lasts start to finish
Start of Contraction A – Start of Contraction B: 10 minutes
Start of Contraction A – End of Contraction A: 30 seconds
Start of Contraction B – End of Contraction B: 35 seconds
This is known as a contraction pattern and can be helpful in determining whether you’re in labor or not. As a rule of thumb, most doctors will have you wait until contractions are 5-7 minutes apart and are lasting 45-60 seconds.
#11 – Water Breaks
You know those movie scenes where a woman is standing in the checkout line in the grocery store when all of a sudden you hear a scream and a gush of liquid pours out of her like she just dropped a 5-gallon bucket of water on the floor?
Yeah, this is nothing like that. Thank you, Hollywood for completely over delivering what it’s actually like to experience your water breaking.
Contrary to the popular idea we have of water breaking, it can actually be quite subtle, or for some women, it could not even happen at all.
For me, my doctor had to break my water, it never broke on its own. However, I’ve had a few friends that have experienced water breaking and it does feel like a “gush” or “pop” but is still nothing even close to what we see in the movies.
Instead, it’s more of a steady stream, like what you would see from a drinking fountain, and some women even have it as mild as a slow leak like an old sink faucet.
Either way, if your water breaks, go to the hospital immediately. This is a sure sign of labor for any healthy pregnancy over 37 weeks.
If at any point in your pregnancy, you experience a leaking sensation or fill a pad of clear fluid in the span of 3 hours, call your doctor immediately.
Pregnancy is a unique experience and the onset of labor can definitely catch you by surprise if you aren’t sure what to look for.
As a new expecting mom, I remember anticipating the day I went into labor. I found solace in lists like these to better prepare me for what was to come.
Listen to your body and trust your gut. Never hesitate to call your doctor or seek the help of a medical professional. Breathe and keep calm. You will do great momma.
Do you relate to any of these? If you have a combination of any signs listed above, there is a high possibility they are signs you are going into labor.
Veteran mommas, I would love to hear your stories! Where were you when you went into labor? Please leave them in the comments below!