Menu
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 have these signs before you're 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 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 loser (so it can dilate), but it also makes your bowels loser—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.

From the Shop

Go-time essentials you can depend on


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

This 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 five to thirty 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. 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.

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.

You might also like:

    True

    In This Article

    Sunday Citizen

    I live in the Northeast and when I woke up this morning, my house was freezing. It had been in the mid 40's overnight and we haven't turned the heat on yet. Suddenly, my normal duvet felt too thin. The socks on my bare feet too non-existent. Winter is coming, and I'd been drinking rosés still pretending it was summer.

    I couldn't put it off any longer. It was time to do my annual tradition of winterizing my home—and I don't mean making sure my pipes and walls have enough insulation (though obviously that's important too). I mean the act of evaluating every room and wondering if it has enough hygge to it.

    If you've never heard of hygge, it's a Danish word that means a quality of coziness or contentment. And what better time to make sure you have moments of hygge all throughout your house than right now? As far as I'm concerned it's the only way to get through these dark winter months (even more so during a pandemic.)

    So I went room by room (yes, even my 4-year-old's room) and swapped in, layered or added in these 13 products to get us ready for winter:

    Keep reading Show less
    Shop

    Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

    So, what's new this week? All things maternity fashion, mama.

    Stowaway Collection Maternity: Modern maternity wear that shows off your bump.

    Finding clothes that still make you feel like yourself isn't always easy. With their premium fabrics and universally flattering cuts, we can't get enough of the maternity wardrobe essentials from Stowaway Collection maternity. Even better? Everything from the mama/daughter duo owned brand is sewn in Long Island City, NY and they source USA-made fabric whenever possible.

    Superkin: High tech, low maintenance clothing designed for mamas.

    Superkin's line of focused essentials (launched by two retail execs, Miriam Williams and Tara Henning, who worked for world-class brands like Louis Vuitton, Walmart, J.Crew and Narvar) are meticulously designed with the needs of mamas in mind. Made from luxurious, wear tested fabrics and featuring thoughtful design details, they've created a line of clothing women actually want to wear. Each piece is a welcome addition to a solid maternity capsule wardrobe, making them a worthy investment from the first trimester.

    Tellus Mater: Sophisticated, luxury maternity wear with a minimalist aesthetic.

    Founded by a former ELLE and Marie Claire beauty editor, Tellus Mater offers high-end, sophisticated maternity looks. Designed for mamas who are looking beyond the standard ruched dresses and oversize T-shirts, the considered line features classic white blouses, tailored trousers and fitted turtlenecks with a minimalist aesthetic. Their classic feel can easily carry mamas from meetings to business dinners all in one day.

    Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

    Keep reading Show less
    Shop

    100 unusual + surprising baby name ideas

    From Adelia to Ziggy.

    Our list of 100 baby names that should be on everyone's list this year includes more choices than in the past of names that are obscure and surprising. That's because there are so many more unusual baby names coming into widespread use and baby namers have become a lot more adventurous.

    Expectant parents do not need to be told to move beyond Jennifer and Jason. Their thinking about names has evolved to the point that the most useful thing we can do is offer a large menu of intriguing choices.

    Here are our picks for the 100 best surprising + unusual baby names now.


    Keep reading Show less
    Learn + Play