How Do I Know Labor is Starting?
How do you know labor is starting? The anticipation in these final weeks is so strong it can seem unbearable!
How will labor begin? How you will know that this is really “it?!”
Maybe you wonder if inducing labor is okay. What about “natural induction?” Having the facts on how labor starts and what induction does helps you make the right choices for your baby.
Want to jump right to how to get things going? Click here for info on inducing labor naturally.
Is This It?
Great advice: enjoy the end of your pregnancy and to wait patiently for your baby to be ready. It's tough to hear, but it's important to go the full 40 for your baby. Your baby's brain goes through massive amounts of growth from 36 weeks to 40 weeks, and he or she lays down huge amounts of calcium in his or her bones from 36 to 40 weeks!
You'll feel miserable if you spend the last few weeks of pregnancy on edge about when labor will start. Instead, ask yourself “what do I want to do now?”
If you think labor might be starting:
- Relax and go about your daily routine. If this is “it” things will keep going and get more intense.
- If it's just “practice” contractions, they'll putter out and you won't be exhausted from getting too worked up.
There are a few obvious ways to tell that your baby's birth is starting:
- Very strong, close contractions that don't stop when you change activities.
- Your water breaks.
- Experiencing contractions that steadily build and come at regular intervals is a good sign you're in early labor.
Usually you don't get a “definite” sign.
Your labor may begin slowly with you noticing an increase in Braxton-hicks contractions. Or maybe you feel slightly crampy as if your period were about to start.
Again, the very best thing to do is to go about your day as usual. Or if it's nighttime go to sleep. You can rest assured that you'll wake up if you need to 😉
Labor may not begin immediately even if your water breaks! It could be just a trickle – your water bag can reseal itself. It will probably begin within 24 hours of a “gush,” but if the bag reseals from a small trickle it could be awhile before you go into labor.
Your body constantly makes amniotic fluid for your baby, so don't worry about going “dry” and harming your baby.
Another sign is the mucus plug. This mucus keeps your cervix sealed during pregnancy. As the birth approaches and your cervix gets ready (called “ripening”) you may pass bits of this plug. It's exciting but it doesn't mean that labor is imminent.
Some people believe that a “bloody show” is different than a plug – a “show” is mucus that's tinged or streaked with blood (from tiny capillaries that break as the mucous pulls away from the cervix). A show may mean that labor is closer – think 48 hours or so. If you're having crampy Braxton-hicks and also have a show it can mean things are starting.
Dilation and effacement are probably the worst ways to judge when childbirth is starting. You can be 3cms dilated and 100% effaced and stay pregnant for a few more weeks. Or you can be not dilated or effaced at all and have your baby the next day. It's really a bad indication.
If you're dilated and your care provider tries to push induction on that basis alone refusing is the best thing you can do. Wait on your baby's timing and enjoy the free centimeters – you won't have to do them in labor! Wait for other labor signs to start.
What Do I Do?
Waiting is truly the best thing you can do.
Going to the hospital or even the birth center too early isn't good for you or your baby. If you do go in and it's clear that you have a long way to go, consider going home.
Stick to your normal daily routine, or plan a few activities for these “I'm not sure” times (baby/nursery crafts, setting up last-minute baby supplies, baking, etc.). You'll figure out if your “labor” is going to putter out to resume another day, or if it's getting stronger.
Remember, even if it stops, your body has accomplished some real work. Relax and take a walk, a nap, or get a few things done around the house. Sleep if you need to. Eat what you want to.
You might feel a sudden burst of energy or a strong “nesting instinct” and want to clean your house from top to bottom! Grandmothers love to tell stories of going into labor while they scrubbed the floor!
If you do feel such a burst of energy take it easy 😉 Don't go overboard with cleaning or preparing your baby's things – you'll want some of that energy while giving birth. Do light tasks.
Sometimes women have indigestion before labor. Having loose or frequent bowel movements is another sign that labor is starting. It's your body's way of cleaning out and providing room for your baby to move down.
All that running back and forth to the toilet keeps you moving around too, which is good for early labor! Call your care provider if you're having a lot of indigestion. The bathroom trips usually stop as the birth gets under way.
Labor at home as long as possible if you are planning a birth center or hospital birth. Your home is the most relaxed place and there are no restrictions placed on you.
Your labor is timed once you get to the hospital. If you get there too early, there could be pressure on you progress faster than your body is. This could lead to augmentation with chemicals (using drugs like Pitocin to force labor) – and all the interventions that come with induction drugs 🙁
You'll know when it's time to go into the hospital or birth center, or when it's time to call your midwife to a home birth. Until then, relax and work with your baby without pressure from others!