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Early Labor Signs

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.

What are early labor signs?

Early labor signs are the changes in your body that signal your baby is getting ready to be delivered. Early labor signs can happen weeks, days or hours before delivery.

What are the signs and symptoms of early labor?

  • Lightening occurs when your baby drops inside your pelvis. You may feel increased pressure in your pelvis. This may happen a few weeks to a few hours before your labor begins.
  • Contractions are cramps and tightening that occur in your uterus to help move the baby through your birth canal. Contractions occur regularly and more often each time. Each one lasts about 30 to 70 seconds, and gets stronger until you deliver your baby. Contractions do not go away with movement. The pain usually starts in your lower back and moves to your abdomen.
  • Effacement occurs when your cervix softens and thins, so it can easily open for the baby. You will not be able to feel effacement. Your healthcare provider will examine your cervix for effacement.
  • Dilation is widening of your cervix. Your healthcare provider will examine your cervix for dilation. Your cervix may start to dilate weeks before your baby is delivered. Your cervix will be fully opened and ready for delivery when it is dilated to 10 centimeters.
  • Increased discharge from your vagina may occur. It may be brown, pink, clear, or slightly bloody. This discharge may also be called bloody show. Bloody show is a mucus plug that forms and blocks your cervix during pregnancy. The discharge may mean that your cervix is opening up and getting ready for delivery.
  • Rupture of membranes is a sudden release of clear fluid from your vagina. Ruptured membranes means your water broke. Your healthcare provider may need to break your water if it does not happen on its own.

What is false labor?

You may have false labor signs, which are also called Braxton Hicks contractions. False labor is common and may happen several weeks or days before your actual labor. The contractions are not regular, and do not get closer together. The pain is usually mild, does not worsen, and is felt only in front. Braxton Hicks contractions may happen later in the day, and stop after you change position, walk, or rest.

When should I call 911?

  • You have heavy vaginal bleeding.
  • You cannot get to the hospital before the baby starts to come out.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have regular, painful contractions that are less than 5 minutes apart and last 30 to 70 seconds each.
  • You have a constant trickle or sudden gush of clear fluid from your vagina.
  • You notice a sudden decrease in your baby's movement.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have pain in your lower back or abdomen that does not get better when you change positions.
  • You have bloody mucus or show.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

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 healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.