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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.

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