Is this Labor?

For first time moms, and even “experienced mommies” this can be the most trying point in your pregnancy. How will I know if I am in labor? When should I go to the hospital? What if it is a “false alarm” and I am sent home?… I am going to feel ridiculous for causing a commotion, everyone thinks I am having my baby!

These are all perfectly normal thoughts and feelings, and were questions I asked myself! With our first child we were induced because I was 42 weeks, with number 2 I was induced because I had a small leak in my bag of waters… with number three I had no idea what to expect and I worked in labor and delivery! Labor is different for every woman, I truly believe that we all have a different pain threshold, and that each labor is unique. Our goal is to answer some common questions, and familiarize you with the stages of labor.


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       Common Questions

Q. What are Braxton Hicks contractions? Should they be painful? How will I tell them apart from the “real thing”

Braxton hicks contractions are the intermittent tightening of your uterus that can be felt as early as 20 weeks! Braxton hicks contractions are usually painless, and may just feel like your baby is “pushing out on your belly”. If you place your hand on your abdomen, you can actually feel your abdomen "tighten" and may get quite "hard", it then  softens as the contraction ends. “true contractions” start off like Braxton Hicks, but gradually become painful, you may find that it is difficult to walk and talk through these contractions.

Q. I have lost my mucous plug, but my due date is not for three weeks, does this mean that I am going to go into labor?

It is not uncommon for you to loose your mucous plug during the last weeks of your pregnancy. Unfortunately, this is not a precursor to labor… your mucous plug can regenerate, and it can be dislodged through intercourse, and cervical exams. Some women do not loose their mucous plug at all before going into labor!

Q. The baby feels like it is about to “fall out”, there is a ton of pain and pressure in my pelvis, am I going into labor? What is this pain?

When you are pregnant, your body produces a hormone called Relaxin. This hormone causes your ligaments and tendons to become “relaxed” in preparation for the stretching that must occur in order for you baby to pass through your pelvic outlet.

The relaxation of these ligaments can cause a lot of discomfort: Pain above the pubic bone, low back pain, pelvic pain/pressure, and even pain down the inner thighs. When your baby engages in your pelvis, a term referred to as “lightening”, you may feel as if there is a bowling ball between you legs! It may also feel like your baby is going to “fall out”… don’t worry, I have yet to hear of a baby “falling out”!

Q. How will I know if it is “true labor”?

This is probably one of the most difficult questions to answer! In the “maternity world” we consider “true labor” labor (contractions) that are causing your cervix to dilate at least 1 cm an hour. Now, like I said; every labor and every woman is unique. I have seen women get completely dilated with contractions that were only 5 minutes apart!

Q. What is Early Labor?

Contractions are mild to moderate during this phase, but everyone senses pain differently, and this stage can be quite painful for some women.

When labor is beginning you will likely pass your mucous plug (although this can happen a week or so before hand!) and you will see bloody show when your cervix starts to open. This is like stringy bloody discharge and is nothing to worry about if labor is expected at this time.

Other symptoms you might feel are intense pains in your back, nausea and even diarrhea (your body‘s natural way of “cleansing itself for delivery). This stage won’t be over until the cervix continues to dilate and this can actually take DAYS… which is really disappointing to some moms who head into the hospital only to be sent home until more progress is made. This is referred to as “prodromal labor”.

Prodromal labor can be exhausting, and frustrating. You may be having irregular yet painful contractions and feel like you are making absolutely no progress… but you are! Every contraction stimulates the release of Oxytocin. This is a good time to relax, practice breathing techniques, soak in a warm tub, and even do some walking. It is imperative that you stay well hydrated and force yourself to rest! Many women experience a “surge” of energyduring this stage, and it is easy to wear yourself out! This may be a good time to take a look at the link Natural Induction Methods to help the process along.

Q. When should I go to the hospital?

Typically, it is suggested that you wait until your contractions are 3-5 minutes apart, lasting 60-90 seconds; for at least an hour or so. It is also a good sign if the contractions are hard to “walk and talk” through…bring you to a halt if you are walking.

  • Anytime you think that you “bag of waters” has ruptured, you need to go to the hospital to get checked out. This can be felt as a sudden gush, or a small “leak”, and can be mistaken for leakage of urine. You may only notice “wetness” when you go to turn over in bed, cough, laugh, sneeze, or stand up. You must not feel “silly” for going in to get checked out… I can’t tell you how many times I have seen large gushes, and the smallest leaks. If it is urine, then no big deal… it’s better to err on the “safe side”
  • Kick counts: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that in the latter stage of your pregnancy, you note the time it takes to feel 10 kicks, twists, turns, swishes, or rolls daily. A healthy baby should have 10 movements in less than 2 hours. If your baby is not meeting this criteria, you need to phone your doctor who will probably send you to the birth center for monitoring. Do not let this alarm you, babies do go through “sleepy periods”. Choose a time when the fetus usually is active. Often, a good time is after a meal. Each baby has its own level of activity, and most have a sleep cycle of 20–40 minutes. Alert your doctor if there is a change from the normal pattern or number of movements.