Although the conventional knowledge is that people are pregnant for nine months (which would be 36 weeks), most babies are actually born between 38 and 42 weeks. This means that you can think of a “due month” rather than a specific date. In fact, less than 5% of babies are born on their due date. But this date range can present a problem: how do you know if you are actually going into labor? Here are four ways to know if you are going into labor.
You experience certain physical and emotional changes.
There are specific physical and emotional changes we hear from clients that make your doula double check her birth bag and put her running shoes by the door! A change in emotions and becoming more sensitive, bursts of nesting energy, new or unusual cravings can signal your body is getting ready for labor. You may also have physical changes. These include feeling “crampy” or having backaches, increased vaginal discharge, loss of mucus plug (especially blood-tinged mucus), and softer, more frequent bowel movements. Be in tune with your body and emotions, and communicate those changes with your care providers as you get closer to your due month.
You’re having uterine contractions.
Uterine contractions are the first sign of going into labor for most people. But how do you know the difference between uterine contractions and Braxton Hicks or false labor contractions? Uterine contractions are regular and consistent; they get steadily closer, stronger, longer and do not lessen with rest, movement, eating or drinking. You may have contractions before you are in labor. But if they are not causing your cervix to change, you are not in labor. See our blog post on latent labor for more on those contractions.
Your water breaks.
It always happens in movies: water spills on the floor and the character knows their baby is coming. In real life, only occasionally does your water break ahead of contractions. For the vast majority of people, contractions will follow within 12-24 hours.
Your cervix is not a crystal ball and it can’t tell you if labor is imminent.
Pre-labor cervical exams are not necessarily an indication of when labor will begin. There are a number of cervical changes that have to take place ahead of dilation, the number measured in centimeters that we all associate with labor. Your cervix will shift forward to align with the birth canal, soften or ripen, thin (or efface) and THEN finally dilate. These changes may be evaluated by your care provider during a cervical exam once you head to the hospital in order to determine if you are in labor.
To learn more about childbirth and the stages of labor, sign up for our Complete Childbirth Education class or Birth Basics.