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Signs of Labor

Labor and DeliveryIt may be hard to decide if you are in labor. During the last months of pregnancy, your uterus will contract (tighten) as it prepares for labor. These are called Braxton-Hicks contractions and are not usually painful. True active labor contractions usually are painful and you may not be able to talk or move during them. Time how far apart contractions are (from the start of one contraction to the start of the next one). Also, time how long each contraction lasts.

If you are having contractions every five minutes, call your health care provider.

You should call your health care provider immediately if you think that your water has broken, with either a large gush of fluid or just a small trickle. Note the time when the fluid began leaking, the color of the fluid, and the amount.

Pinkish spotting (bloody show) may be normal after 37 weeks, particularly after you have had a vaginal exam, have had sex, or are in early labor. If you experience bright red bleeding that stains your panties or requires that you wear a sanitary pad, you should call your health care provider.

Your baby should continue to move regularly. As the baby gets bigger, movement may change to more kicking and less whole body movement. If you do not feel regular movement, you need to call your healthcare provider.

What to Expect During Labor

During labor, your uterus (which is made up of muscles) will tighten and relax. This causes your cervix to open. Once the cervix is fully open (dilated), you will start to push the baby down through the birth canal.

Every labor is different, but labor usually starts out slowly, with cramps. The cramps become strong and closer together. As you become more uncomfortable, you can try different ways to help make labor go smoothly.

Your amniotic sac (bag of water) may break on its own before or during labor. Sometimes, your health care provider may decide to break the bag of water if it has not broken on its own. This is not any more uncomfortable than a vaginal exam. The amniotic fluid may feel warm as it leaks out. The fluid will continue to leak during labor. Your contractions may or may not feel stronger to you after your water has broken. You may need to wear a sanitary pad if you are out of bed or walking.

Working with Contractions

  • Change positions often.
  • Use relaxation techniques from your childbirth class, or ask your nurse to help.
  • Go to the bathroom every hour or so, to keep your bladder empty.
  • Turn the lights down and listen to quiet music.
  • Have your support person give you a back rub.
  • Use a cool, moist washcloth on your face or forehead.
  • Take a warm shower or whirlpool bath, to help you relax.