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Signs of Labor

Teresa Shaw |10, March 2008


Signs of Labor

In the movies, pregnant women know they are going into labor because their water suddenly breaks, and usually at the most inopportune time. In real life, however, things are not always so simple and straightforward.

The beginning stages of labor can bring about myriad symptoms, including the following.


One of the first signs of labor can be lightening, or when the baby moves down further into your pelvis. This brings relief for some women, as the baby's body is not pushing up into your lungs. However, increased pressure on your bladder may have you feeling uncomfortable and rushing to the bathroom more frequently.

Bloody Show

While pregnant, a thick plug of mucus blocks the cervical opening to keep bacteria from entering the uterus. At the end of pregnancy, when your cervix begins to thin (efface) and open (dilate), this plug may be discharged. You may notice stringy brown mucus-like discharge or a thick discharge, sometimes tinged with blood, especially when going to the bathroom. Keep in mind, however, that sometimes the loss of the mucus plug is gradual and not all women notice when they lose it.

Nesting Instinct

The nesting instinct is typically when a pregnant woman wakes up with a burst of energy and feels the need to set up the crib and put the final touches on the nursery, arrange and rearrange the baby's clothes, and scrub every surface of the house.

No one is sure why you might nest; it may be a primal instinct that goes back to a time when physical preparation was necessary for a safer childbirth. What's more, not all women experience the nesting instinct, and some experience it several months before labor. The strongest urge to nest is right before delivery. If you feel the need to nest, do so, but don't wear yourself out. There is much harder work ahead.


Around the last two months of pregnancy, you may begin to experience contractions. Painless contractions—a sensation that your uterus is tightening and relaxing is are called Braxton Hicks contractions. These contractions are your body's way of warming up for true labor. As your due date nears, these Braxton Hicks contractions might begin to transition into more painful labor contractions.

Contractions feel different to everyone who experiences them, but are generally felt high in the abdomen, with the pain radiating throughout the abs and lower back.

If you feel like your contractions might be "real" contractions, time them—from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next. If it lasts for at least a minute, and they have been occurring every five minutes for the last hour or so, you are most likely in labor. Contact your health care provider immediately or head to the hospital.

Nausea and Diarrhea

Hormonal changes in early labor can bring about nausea and diarrhea. Try to rest and relax as much as you can, and drink clear liquids to stay hydrated.

Water Breaking

The amniotic sac cushions your baby while in the womb. For some women, it begins to leak prior to the start of labor. You may feel a trickling sensation or a "pop," followed by a sudden burst of clear, odorless fluid. If your water breaks and the fluid is colored or foul smelling, be sure to note this and tell your doctor, as it may be a sign of infection or meconium in the fluid.

If your membranes have ruptured (more commonly known as water breaking), or you even think you might be leaking amniotic fluid, contact your health care provider immediately for an evaluation. The longer the membranes are ruptured, the greater the risk of developing an infection. Do not do anything that may introduce bacteria into the vagina, such as sexual intercourse.

Waiting for labor to begin can be a frustrating and difficult time; try to rest and relax as much as possible before the real work begins!

Teresa Shaw is a professional editor and freelance writer with a degree in English and journalism. She writes about motherhood, travel, and cooking, among other topics, for a variety of print and online markets. She enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter, two cats, and dog.

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Signs of Labor: The Mucus Plug

Preterm Labor & How To Avoid Preterm Labor

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Preterm Labor

The Three Stages of Labor


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