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How to Know if you are in Labor?

3 key indicators that you're definitely in labor.

labor pain, birth, childbirth, contractions, pain, labor, delivery, birth, baby, water breaking, bleeding

First off, if you have to ask yourself, “Is this it? Do I call now?” then you probably are not yet ready. Active labor is pretty hard to ignore and pretty easy to differentiate from Braxton Hicks contractions or false labor. But, if you find yourself wondering if this is the real thing, there are 3 key indicators that let you know that you are in true labor. These 3 things I’ve been telling my patients for the last 9 years since I was a labor and delivery nurse! There is probably nothing more disappointing then sending a sweet mama home in false labor!

4 Key Indicators of True Labor:


  1. You have contractions increasing in intensity, frequency, and regularity. Contractions start off as period-like cramps that are irregular and ignorable. If you are having some cramping, try changing it up to see if they dissipate or potentiate! Take a hike nearby, walk the dog, the block or the track. Anything that gets you moving to try to help those cramps kick it up a notch. Try timing them in a contraction timer app (favorite apps, ways to time contractions and how to read a fetal monitor all found within The Pregnancy Prep). True labor doesn’t go away on its own, it continues no matter what you do. Many believe that your body might shut down the process if it feels like it is in an unsafe situation. Our mammal instincts are to find a safe spot and labor. Putting yourself in unusual circumstances may or may not impede the process.

    5/1/1 rule

  2. The 5/1/1 Rule: contractions that are 5 minutes or less, lasting 1 minute each and continue in this pattern for 1 hour = you’ve reached labor. I like this rule a lot, but be aware it is a generalization. Labor progresses differently if this is your first baby vs. your second, third or fourth baby. It may take a while to get to 5/1/1 or it might be immediate. It does not correlate with how quickly you might dilate. The pain should be increasing too. It should become difficult to talk and walk through your contractions. As such, they should begin to take over your thoughts and body when they occur. Between contractions, you should have a nice little break.

    TIP: Braxton Hicks contractions are lighter, less painful, tightening in the front and can be altered by movement. True contractions increase in pain level and start from the back to the front. They cannot be altered with movement.

    you break your water

  3. You break your water. Well yeah! There’s no turning back now. If you break your water, you should either be contracting or begin contracting from this point on. It is not the best if you break your water and do not go into labor. Basically, you are not on a timer, providers ideally want you to be delivered within 24 hours after water breaking. Regardless, you should call your provider if you suspect that you broke your water. Water should be clear, odorless and just fluid trickling down. Sometimes amniotic fluid can be tinged green if baby pooped inside, which could be a sign of something more serious.

    Bloody Show

  4. Lose your mucus plug or see some “bloody show.” This is a pink mucus, not be to confused with blood. You should not be bleeding or have a period while in labor. If this occurs, you should call your provider ASAP at the first sign of bright red bleeding. Bloody show is more a sticky, thick, mucus that I similar to if you’ve had a bad respiratory infection that leads to pink-tinged phlegm. Not a pretty description. This is sort of like the stopper plug at the end of the cervix keeping the baby in. So, when you lose this mucus, don’t expect the baby to fall out! But, this is essentially your cervix ripening, stretching, thinning and opening. This action moves a tiny bit of blood and mostly cervical discharge out of your body. It’s a good sign. In a few days or sooner, labor will usually start.

Experienced something totally different? Tell me your labor story below!


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