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Am I Really In Labor? Signs and Symptoms of Labor

Updated on February 6, 2016
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Amanda is a Registered Nurse with over 10 years of experience in Obstetrics. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2003.

When to call the doctor or Head to the Hospital

Something is happening. Something is different... Should I call the doctor?

The best answer is: There is no right or wrong answer. Pregnancy and Labor does not follow some textbook process. So whenever you are concerned or in doubt call your healthcare professional or go to the hospital.

That being said, here are some scenerios and what you should do.

Call the Doctor or Head to the Hospital if:

  • Your water breaks (This may be the large gush of fluid we see on television and have nightmares about; or it may be a small leak that happens on and off even when not using the restroom.)
  • You are having vaginal bleeding (Keep in mind if you had your cervix examined spotting is normal. By vaginal bleeding we mean bright red blood that you need to wear a pad for.)
  • You do not feel the baby move or it is moving less than normal (Babies too are entitled to their sleep, but I know this is concerning. One thing you may want to try before calling is lying on your side and drinking some orange juice. If you still aren't feeling movement within 30 min be sure to call or go to the hospital. Don't panic, things should still be fine but we like to play it save and just have you come in and be evaluated.)
  • You are having regular contractions for 1 hour (Regular contractions and when to come in or call depends on a few factors. If you are less than 37 weeks, call or come in if you are having more than about 4-6 contractions in an hour. If this is your first baby, call or come in when you are having contractions every 5 minutes for 1 hour that you can no longer talk through. If this is your second baby or more, call or come in when your contractions are 5-7 minutes apart for about an hour.)
  • Fever (Temperature greater than 100.3*F orally. Some suggest calling even with an oral temperature of 100.0*F)
  • Signs of Blood Pressure complications (These include, but are not limited to: severe headaches not relieved by taking tylenol. Visual changes. Severe heartburn or pain on upper right side, which is not relieved by antacids. Increased sewelling of your hands,feet or face.One or more of these issues might be present.)
  • Dehydrated (Having vomiting and or diarrhea, or just having no appetite at all.)

"You want me to get through an HOUR of contractions!"

Suggested Comfort Measures for Dealing With Early Labor at Home

The most important things to remember are:

  1. This is a natural process... One that women's bodies are made for...You can do it! Breathe...
  2. Maintain a positive mindset. This will truly be one of the biggest challenges that you will ever face. Instead of telling yourself "I can't do this." Try saying "I got this!" or "I can do this!" Just take your contractions one at a time. At this stage, it truly is Mind over Matter.
  3. Even if you are planning for an epidural, you will have to get through some early labor. Most Physicians prefer for you to be in active labor or at least 3 centimeters dilated before getting an epidural. So, here are some suggestions:


  • Remember to relax each muscle during your contractions. Do not arch your back, tense your shoulders or squeeze your buttocks and pull away from the pain. (Which is completely instintual to avoid the pain). But, doing these things pulls the baby off of your cervix and slows labor progress. Instead, lean forward or slump over your belly, relaxing and breathing through your contractions. Don't fight your body.
  • Try positions that are more leaning forward than lying back. This helps the baby to get into the optimal position for delivery and can resolve back pain. Some suggestions are: sitting on an exercise ball, putting the exercise ball or a pile of pillows on the bed and position yourself on your hands and knees leaning into the ball or pillows, lying on your left or right side, squatting at the bedside. Most importantly, change positions at least every 30 minutes to 1 hour. Frequent position changes help the baby find the right fit in your pelvis, enabling them to descend and eventually make their way out and into you arms.
  • Take a shower or bath.
  • Eat lightly and keep hydrated.

Rice Sock

Dads or Support Person:

  • Encourage moms to drink plenty of water or a sports drink.
  • If you notice mom's hyperventilating or breathing too fast during labor, gently remind her to slow her breathing down.
  • Remind mom to relax her muscles and slump into the contraction.
  • Suggest some of the comfort measures previously mentioned.
  • Massage her back or place a firm steady pressure on her lower back through contractions.
  • Make a rice sock that can be heated or chilled and applied to mom's back for comfort.

Dad's keep in mind that labor is painful and your significant other may yell at you. Don't take it personally and keep trying. Sometimes what feels good during one contraction will feel horrible during the next. Just be supportive and don't give up.


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© 2011 Amanda S


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