Menu

Am I in labor? 5 early signs to know about, mama

While it looks different for everyone, there are a few early signs of labor to look out for.

early signs of labor

You're. So. Close. Seriously, you're going to give birth any day now. But these last weeks of pregnancy can be tough—lots of discomfort and just feeling so ready to meet your little darling.

Many women wonder how they'll know when they are in labor.

While it looks different for everyone, there are a few early signs of labor to look out for.

(If you experience any of these signs of early labor before 37 weeks, let your provider know right away in case it's preterm labor.)


1. Nesting

In the days or hours leading up to labor, some moms get a serious boost of energy. Just like a mama bird getting her nest ready for her hatchlings, you may find yourself busy getting things ready for your little chickadee. Remember to schedule in plenty of rest, fluids and snacks so you have energy for birth. And be careful, no climbing ladders to dust the top of the ceiling fan please.

(Should nesting turn to nursery decorating, here's the secret to setting up the nursery of your dreams.)

2. Losing your mucus plug

During pregnancy, a small glob of mucus sits in your cervix to help protect the baby from bacteria. As your cervix starts to get softer in preparation for labor, the mucus plug may fall out (it looks like when you blow your nose when you have a cold). Some women lose their mucus plug weeks before they give birth, while others lose it when they are actively in labor—so while it's not a tell-tale sign that your baby is coming soon, it is a good sign that things are at least moving in the right direction. This early sign of labor is sometimes called the "bloody show" because it can have a streak of blood in it. It's most likely totally normal, but never hesitate to call your provider if you need to be reassured! And if you see more than a teaspoon worth of blood, call.

3. Diarrhea

A hormone called prostaglandin is released in your body as it prepares to go into labor. Prostaglandin helps to make your cervix softer and looser (so it can dilate), but it also makes your bowels looser—in other words, you might have diarrhea, and/or more frequent trips to the bathroom. Make sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and juice.

4. Your water breaks

We've all seen the movies where a woman is minding her own business when suddenly her water breaks, and the entire world seemingly grinds to a halt. While it is a REALLY exciting moment, it's usually not that dramatic. In fact, only about 10% of women experience their water breaking before labor starts—it usually breaks during labor.

When your water breaks, it may be a big gush of fluid or it may be a small but steady trickle. If your water breaks at home call your doctor or midwife to give them a heads up and discuss the plan. Then, remember TACO:

  • Time: What time did your water break?
  • Amount: How much fluid came out?
  • Color: Ideally it will be clear. If it's green or brown, call your provider right away
  • Odor: Amniotic fluid does not have much of a smell to it. Anything yucky smelling could indicate a problem, so again, call your provider.

Note: It's super rare, but occasionally an emergency called a prolapsed cord can occur. If your water breaks and you think you feel the umbilical cord in your vagina, get in an elbows-and-knees position and call 911 right away.

5. Cramping + contractions

Ultimately, labor is about contractions—your uterus is a big (awesome) muscle that contracts to help dilate the cervix, and ease the baby down and out. Labor happens in phases: Early labor and then active labor.

Early labor is when your cervix dilates from zero to six centimeters.

Early labor is usually the longest part of labor, especially for first time moms. It often starts with mild contractions that feel a lot like menstrual cramps. They'll probably be irregular (anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes apart, and short (about 45 seconds). Contractions will gradually become more frequent, longer and more intense. Many women describe a tightening sensation that starts in their lower back and moves towards their belly.

When you start to have contractions that aren't going away, call your provider to give them a heads up. There is a good chance they'll encourage you to stay home during early labor. You'll be more comfortable there, and your risk of medical interventions decreases by staying home longer.

In active labor, your cervix will dilate from six to eight centimeters.

During active labor, contractions are more regular (about every three to four minutes), last longer (about 60 seconds), and are much more intense—they now require all of your attention, and can cause a fair amount of discomfort. Many describe a downward pressure, along with some degree of pain, but this varies for everyone!

You'll likely head to your birthing place during active labor.

If you're in active labor, the general rule is 4-1-1.

You're in active labor when contractions are four minutes apart, lasting one minute each, and this has been going on for an hour. But again, call your provider so they can help with the plan.

And then... well then you become a mama.

Mayo Clinic, Preterm labor, December 2019

Mayo Clinic, Water breaking: Understand this sign of labor, July 2019

Motherly Editors with Diana Spalding, MSN CNM, The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama, April 2020

Society for Endocrinology, Prostaglandins, October 2019

True

Is the BabyBjörn portable travel crib worth it?

100% unequivocally yes.

I have this weird brown birthmark on the bottom of my right foot near my pinkie toe and my mother always said, "That means you'll never stay still. You'll travel everywhere." (She's full of interesting superstitions like that.) I'm not sure if it was a self-fulfilling prophecy or what but I've always had a love for travel, and before we had a child (in those glorious pre-pandemic times), my husband and I traveled all over Europe, did two road trips across different parts of the United States and even flew all the way around the world to visit my family in the Philippines.

I had this weird idea that I had to get all my traveling in before I became a mom. Because once you become a mom, you just become content sitting at home with the kids, right?

Eh, wrong.

Keep reading Show less
Shop

Sorry, you can’t meet our baby yet

Thank you for understanding. ❤️

In just over three weeks, we will become parents. From then on, our hearts will live outside of our bodies. We will finally understand what everyone tells you about bringing a child into the world.

Lately, the range of emotions and hormones has left me feeling nothing short of my new favorite mom word, "hormotional." I'm sure that's normal though, and something most people start to feel as everything suddenly becomes real.

Our bags are mostly packed, diaper bag ready, and birth plan in place. Now it's essentially a waiting game. We're finishing up our online childbirth classes which I must say are quite informational and sometimes entertaining. But in between the waiting and the classes, we've had to think about how we're going to handle life after baby's birth.

I don't mean thinking and planning about the lack of sleep, feeding schedule, or just the overall changes a new baby is going to bring. I'm talking about how we're going to handle excited family members and friends who've waited just as long as we have to meet our child. That sentence sounds so bizarre, right? How we're going to handle family and friends? That sentence shouldn't even have to exist.

Keep reading Show less
Life

Cameron Diaz on having a baby at 47: 'You really have to work hard for it'

"The only pressure for me now is I have to live to be, like, 107, you know? No pressure!"

This is the decade that saw the face of first-time motherhood change. The number of first-time mamas under 30 is shrinking, while more and more women are becoming moms after 40.

Cameron Diaz is one of them. The actress and businesswoman, now 48, became a mom in January at the age of 47. In a new episode of Naomi Campbell's YouTube series, No Filter, Diaz opens up about what it's like to become a mom in your fourth decade.

"A lot of people do it the other way around ... they get married [and] have a family in their youth," says Diaz."I'm kind of doing it in the second half of my life."

Keep reading Show less
News