Menu

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 are a few of our favorites.)

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.

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:

    This is cause for celebration, mama! You are one month into this exciting new adventure, and those precious cuddles certainly help compensate for the lack of shut-eye. (Mostly, at least.)

    Although it's only been a few weeks since you officially met your latest love, you're probably already amazed by how quickly your teeny snuggle bunny is growing and changing. Unlike those first few days when your sleepy newborn's eyes were rarely open, your baby is likely now eagerly studying objects within a few inches of their site and reacting to sounds. Their favorite sights and sounds of all? The people in their family.

    After months of pregnancy, the extreme physical accomplishment of delivery and possibly the initiation of breastfeeding, your body needs time to recover. As you go, remember that while your baby may always be on your mind, it's healthy for you to make space for self-care, too.

    While you continue to adjust, here are our favorite items to keep in your tool kit (for you and baby) at the 1-month mark:

    To get sweet dreams while room sharing: Ingenuity bassinet

    bassinet

    Experts recommend sharing your bedroom—but not your bed—with your baby for the better part of the first year. If space was already at a premium, a compact bassinet is the perfect solution.

    $129

    To free up your hands: 4moms mamaroo swing

    mamaroo swing

    You may not want to take your eyes off your adorable baby, but life does actually require you use your hands every now and then to take care of things around the house. If your checklist includes tasks in the same room, a soothing swing can help keep baby content for a few precious minutes.

    $219.99

    To get through marathon nursing sessions: Boppy nursing pillow

    nursing pillow

    Whether from the breast or bottle, it can feel like feeding baby is your full-time job right now. Make it less of a workout with backup from a nursing pillow, which can take on a second-life as a support for your sitting baby in just a few short months.

    $39.99

    To start your bath-time routine: The First Years newborn-to-toddler tub

    infant tub

    Bath time is an important element in most nighttime routines—starting from the very first days! Focus more on the hands-on bonding without worrying your baby will slip and slide around a great big tub with a bath that is just their size.

    $18.99

    To celebrate baby’s first milestone: Cloud Island muslin blanket and frame set

    milestone blanket

    One month of life is a big milestone, both for your baby and you! Documenting how quickly your baby is growing each of these early months is a gift you will love looking back on for the rest of your life.

    $21.99

    To help with postpartum recovery: Frida Mom recovery kit

    frida mom postpartum

    Labor and delivery is a major event, mama—and our bodies are firmly still in recovery mode at the 1-month mark. If anything, life is probably only speeding up right now, so be sure to take care of yourself.

    $49.99

    To conquer early morning wake-up calls: Stars Above robe

    stars above robe

    Chances are that your baby has taken the place of an alarm clock. When the wake-up call comes too early, it helps brighten the morning a bit by having a comfy and cute robe to slip on.

    $29.99

    To get some letdown backup: Up&Up nursing pads

    nursing pads

    As you may have learned by now, breastmilk doesn't only flow on demand. Should you decide breastfeeding is your path, nursing pads will give you the protection you probably didn't anticipate you needed so you don't leak through a shirt. (Don't worry: This will ease as your supply is established!)

    $7.56

    To hydrate: Simple Modern pink water bottle

    water bottle

    It is always a good idea to drink more water—but especially now! Make it easier on yourself with a water bottle you actually like carrying around. Bonus points for being able to open it up for a drink with just one hand.

    $19.99

    To snack one-handed: Good & Gather snack bars

    Good and Gather

    You know when the baby last ate. But, what about you, mama? Keep some tasty nutrition bars on hand to simplify snacking when time and free hands are limited commodities.

    $4.29

    This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

    Our Partners

    Seeing your baby for the first time is an amazing experience for any parent. For most parents, the months preceding this meeting were probably spent imagining what the baby was experiencing inside the womb, trying to paint a realistic picture on top of that two-dimensional black and white ultrasound photo.

    But thanks to Brazillian birth photographer Janaina Oliveira and a baby boy named Noah, parents around the world are now better able to imagine what their baby's world looked like between the ultrasound picture and their first breath.

    Keep reading Show less
    News