False labor; Braxton Hicks contractions; Prodromal labor; Latent labor; Pregnancy - labor
The Signs of True Labor
If you have never given birth before, you may think you will just know when the time comes. In reality, it is not always easy to know when you are going into labor. The steps leading up to labor can drag on for days.
Keep in mind that your due date is just a general idea of when your labor may start. Normal term labor can start any time between 3 weeks before and 2 weeks after this date.
False Labor (Braxton Hicks Contractions)
Most pregnant women feel mild contractions before true labor begins. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions, which:
This stage is called "prodromal" or "latent" labor.
Other Signs That Labor is Near
Lightening. This happens when your baby's head "drops" down into your pelvis.
Bloody show. If you have bloody or brownish discharge from your vagina, it may mean your cervix has begun to dilate. The mucous plug that sealed your cervix for the last 9 months may be visible. This is a good sign. But active labor may still be days away.
Your baby moves less. If you feel less movement, call your health care provider, as sometimes decreased movement can mean that the baby is in trouble.
Your water breaks. When the amniotic sac (bag of fluid around the baby) breaks, you will feel fluid leak from your vagina. It may come out in a trickle or a gush.
Diarrhea. Some women have the urge to go to the bathroom often to empty their bowels. If this happens and your stools are looser than normal, you may be going into labor.
Nesting. There is no science behind the theory, but plenty of women feel the sudden urge to "nest" right before labor starts. If you feel the need to vacuum the entire house at 3 a.m., or finish your work in the baby's nursery, you may be getting ready for labor.
In real labor, your contractions will:
When to Call the Doctor or Midwife
Call your provider right away if you have:
Call for any other reason if you are unsure what to do.
Kilatrick S, Garrison E. Normal labor and delivery. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 12.
Thorp JM, Laughon KS. Clinical aspects of normal and abnormal labor. In: Creasy RK, Resnick R, Iams JD, Lockwood CJ, Moore TR, Greene MF, eds. Creasy and Resnik's Maternal-Fetal Medicine: Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 43.
Review Date: 5/16/2016
Reviewed By: Irina Burd, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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