Early Labor Signs
What are early labor signs?
Early labor signs are the first signs that your body may be getting ready to give birth. They usually begin between 37 to 42 weeks of pregnancy. Caregivers will try to stop your labor if it is too early (preterm) and your baby is not ready to be born.
What causes labor to begin?
It is not known for sure what causes labor to begin. Hormones made by you and your baby, and changes in your uterus may help labor start.
What are signs that my labor may be getting close?
- Lightening: This means that your baby has begun to drop lower in your pelvis. This may start a few weeks to a few hours before labor begins. After lightening, you may find it easier to breathe. You may need to urinate more often.
- Braxton Hicks contractions: These are contractions that come and go, and do not get closer together. They are not true labor contractions and do not cause your cervix to dilate (open). They are usually felt in your abdomen, and not in your back. Braxton Hicks contractions decrease when you walk, rest, sleep, or drink at least 32 ounces of water. Braxton Hicks labor pains usually do not mean that labor is near.
- Bloody show: This may look like clear, pink, or slightly bloody mucus coming from your vagina. As your cervix begins to soften and open, the mucus plug that has protected your baby from germs entering your uterus will come out. Bloody show may happen minutes, hours, or up to 3 days before labor begins.
- Rupture of membranes: This is when your amniotic sac (water) breaks. The amniotic sac surrounds your baby to protect him during pregnancy. You may feel a slow trickle or large gush of fluid from your vagina. This may happen several hours before labor starts, or any time during labor. Let your caregiver or obstetrician know what color the fluid was. After your water breaks, do not douche, take a bath, or have sex.
- Steady and frequent contractions: When true labor begins, contractions do not go away when you walk, lie down, or drink water. During true labor, your contractions become more frequent, last longer, and become more intense. True contractions cause your cervix to efface (thin) and dilate (open).
What is dilation and effacement?
Your cervix will begin to dilate (open) during the last phase of pregnancy, and when you are in labor. Dilation of the cervix is measured in centimeters from 0 to 10. Your cervix is fully open when it is dilated to 10 centimeters. The cervix is normally about 1½ inches thick. As your body gets ready for the birth, your cervix will get thinner and softer. This is called effacement of the cervix and is measured in percents. Your cervix is half of its original thickness when it is 50% effaced. It is completely thinned out when it is 100% effaced. When you are dilated to 10 centimeters and effaced to 100%, your caregiver may tell you to start pushing.
When should I contact my caregiver?
Contact your caregiver if:
- You feel a gush of fluid come from your vagina. This means your water broke and labor has started.
- You have contractions less than 5 minutes apart.
- You have contractions that do not go away.
- Your baby is moving less often than usual.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
When should I seek immediate care?
Seek care immediately or call 911 if:
- Your water breaks and you do not have contractions or labor pains.
- You have heavy vaginal bleeding.
- You have severe, constant abdominal pain rather than regular labor contractions.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of the Blausen Databases or Truven Health Analytics.
The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.