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How To Recognize The Common Signs Of Early Labor

Updated on November 6, 2010

All women should know how to recognize the signs of labor. The symptoms can be different from woman to woman. Although many individuals are aware of what to expect, the symptoms of early labor can be as difficult to interpret as the weather. Fortunately, most will listen to their body and understand the first signs before too much time elapses. And so - in case you're still unsure as to what may be classed as a sign that labor is about to ensue, read on.

How To Recognize The Signs Of Labor

There are several signs of labor and you may experience all, some or perhaps only one. As with your pregnancy, you’ll find that the onset of your labor is as individual as you are. The more common symptoms of early labor are:

  • Waters breaking
  • Contractions
  • A ‘show’
  • Pain or pressure in the lower back

Many women tend to break their waters. This is something I’ve never experienced, so do be aware it doesn’t happen to everyone. When your waters break, you’ll know – you’ll feel a relief of pressure around your uterus and of course you’ll be rather wet. If your waters do break and you begin to contract almost immediately (strong, regular), you should consider this as a sign that you've probably entered into the first stage of labor.

Labor Contractions

Signs Of Labour

Contractions are another of the more common signs of labour. Some may experience them without their waters breaking – like I did – but once you’re contractions become regular, strong and start to come closer together – it’s a good time to call the hospital.

Third on the list is what’s called a ‘show’. This in itself is not always a sign that your labor will follow close behind - though it does happen on occasion. A show is simply the mucus plug that’s sealed your cervix (during pregnancy) and it will appear as a slightly bloody disharge. As you approach the last days or your pregnancy, your cervix prepares for the impending birth of your baby by way of softening up, thus the ‘plug’ naturally falls away.

The fourth on the signs of labor list can be lower back pain. This is something that was common in all of my pre-labor symptoms. A low, dull back pain - that increased in intensity prior to my going into labour proper.

Less Common Signs Of Labor

Other Signs Of Labor

Increased Braxton Hicks, diarrhoea and a lightening / caused by the baby fully engaging in preparation for birth.
Increased Braxton Hicks, diarrhoea and a lightening / caused by the baby fully engaging in preparation for birth.

There are less common signs of labor and they’re usually viewed as being a sign that the early stages of labor may be a day or two away – including the aforementioned ‘normal’ symptoms. One of them is what’s known as a ‘lightening’. Not to be confused with electrical storms, this is when your baby finally engages (into your cervix) and you feel an overall lightening around your upper body i.e. you can breathe easier overall.

Another sign is diarrhoea. I went through this rather unpleasant symptom twice. Basically, your bowels have a good old clear out – whether you like it or not. The first time this happened to me I genuinely though I’d eaten something I shouldn’t. However, I went into labor within 12 hours of it starting – therefore the second time I realised what was happening. And like I said … it was disagreeable, though manageable.

You may also notice that you have more Braxton Hicks than is usual. If you do – keep an eye on things in case they start to become regular or increase in strength.

When You Should Call Your Midwife/Doctor

You should have been well informed of the signs of labor and what to expect by your midwife and/or doctor during your pregnancy. The best thing to do, if you’re unsure is to call and talk to someone that can give you the advice that you’re seeking. Many midwives can make a pretty good decision, based upon your overall health during your pregnancy - whether it was trouble free or not for e.g. – and from the signs/symptoms that you will relay to them.

Trust their advice – and everything should be fine. However you should also rely on your own instincts. If you feel something is ‘not right’ or as it should be, you’re unusually worried or alarmed – then simply go in person. You won’t be the first that has done so and will be far from the last. Most of us are perfectly fine once we’ve spoken to a midwife and relish an extra few hours at home.



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