Signs of labor

After months of waiting, you may find yourself counting the days until you finally get to meet your baby! 

As your due date gets closer, knowing the signs of labor can help you feel ready for labor and birth.

How do you know if you're close to starting labor?

You may be close to starting labor if your baby drops or moves lower into your pelvis. This is called lightening. It means that your baby is getting ready to move into position for birth. Also, at a prenatal checkup, your health care provider may tell you that your cervix has begun to efface (thin) and dilate (open). The cervix is the opening to the uterus that sits at the top of the vagina.

What are the signs of labor?

You know you’re in labor when: 

You have strong and regular contractions. A contraction is when the muscles of your uterus (womb) tighten up like a fist and then relax. Contractions help push your baby out. It can be hard to tell the difference between true labor and false labor (also called Braxton Hicks contractions). You’re really in labor when:

  • Your contractions come about 5 to 10 minutes apart. 
  • Your contractions are so strong you can’t walk or talk during them.
  • You feel pain in your belly and lower back.
  • The pain doesn't go away when you move or change positions. 

Your water breaks. Your baby has been growing in amniotic fluid (the bag of waters) in your uterus. When the bag of waters breaks, some women feel a big rush of water. Others feel just a trickle.  

You have a bloody (brownish or reddish) mucus discharge. This is called bloody show. 

What do you do if you think you’re in labor?

If you think you’re in labor, call your health care provider, no matter what time of day or night. Your provider can tell you if it’s time to head for the hospital. 

Last reviewed: March, 2014