Signs of Labor

Pregnancy and Birth Signs of Labor

Is Your Little One On the Way?

Going into labor is exciting—you’re just a short time away from meeting your precious new baby. There are some clear signs of labor to look for, and some false ones, too. Know when you’re really going into labor, and what to do next.

Signs of Labor

As you get closer to your due date, your body will start preparing for labor. Your baby may "drop" (move lower into your pelvis), or your doctor may see changes in your cervix during a prenatal visit. There are other signs, however, that indicate when you’re actually going into labor. These signs include:

  • Contractions that become stronger at regular and increasingly shorter intervals.
  • Lower back pain and cramping that doesn’t go away.
  • Your water breaks (either as a large gush or a continuous trickle).
  • A bloody, brownish or red-tinged mucus discharge, which is likely the mucus plug that blocks your cervix. Losing your mucus plug usually means that your cervix is starting to dilate (open up), in preparation for labor.

Keep in mind that long before you go into labor, you and your doctor will talk about what you need to do when you start experiencing signs. You’ll know who to call, which birth center to go to, and any other details.

Learn more about labor and delivery 

Signs of False Labor

It can be tricky to distinguish between the signs of actual labor and false labor. The most common sign of false labor is "practice" contractions called Braxton Hicks contractions. Many women experience these contractions in the last weeks of pregnancy, or sometimes even earlier. It can be a strange and uncomfortable feeling, especially if this is your first pregnancy.

The best way to tell if your contractions are actually signaling labor is by timing them. Record how long each contraction lasts, and how much time lapses between contractions. Braxton Hicks contractions don’t occur in a regular pattern and eventually taper off and go away; true contractions happen in regular intervals that increase in strength and frequency.

If you’re still unsure about your contractions or have any questions about labor, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. And if you are having a medical emergency, be sure to call 911 right away.