How Do I Know If I Am In Labor?

Posted On: July 28, 2020 By CIW

During pregnancy, learning the signs of labor is one of the most important ways to prepare for birth. On the Healthful Woman podcast, Dr. Michelle Santoyo explained what she tells patients to look for regarding labor. Here are a few of the takeaways that you should know to determine whether it’s time to head to the hospital.  

What is Labor? 

Labor is the process of childbirth in which the baby leaves the uterus. Labor begins when you experience regular contractions, which causes the cervix to change and open, which is called “dilating.” Most patients should look for signs of labor as they approach their due date, however, it’s possible to experience labor early.  

What are the Top 3 Signs of Labor? 

The top three signs of labor are strong and regular contractions, water breaking and discharge, and pain in the belly and lower back.  


Throughout the final stages of pregnancy, it’s possible to experience contractions that are irregular and potentially uncomfortable, but not painful. When you are in labor, you will experience contractions that are increasingly painful and regular as labor progresses. Contractions are the muscles of the uterus tightening and relaxing repeatedly, and serve to open the cervix and push the baby out. If you experience contractions, you should time their frequency and duration to determine if and when you should go to the hospital and contact your health care provider. Contractions are, on average, 3-5 minutes apart and last for one minute each during labor.  

Water Breaking 

During labor, patients will typically experience their water breaking. Dr. Michelle Santoyo explains that this is experienced as a “gush of fluid,” and bleeding may accompany the water breaking. The water breaking is actually a rupture in the membrane of the amniotic fluid which the baby grows inside within the uterus, so the “water” is this amniotic fluid escaping.  

Pain and Other Signs of Labor 

During labor, it’s very common for patients to experience pain in their abdomen or lower back. This pain can accompany the pain felt during contractions.  

In addition to these symptoms you should be aware of, your OBGYN will check for other signs of labor once you reach the hospital. These include the baby moving lower into the pelvis and indications in the cervix, including whether it is effaced (thin) and dilating (opening).  

What are False Labor and Braxton-Hicks Contractions? 

As your body prepares for labor, it’s normal to experience “false labor” or Braxton-Hicks contractions. These contractions typically occur in the last several weeks of a pregnancy and help to soften the cervix.  

Braxton-Hicks contractions can be distinguished from true labor contractions in several ways. First, they are generally irregular, so you can easily determine they are Braxton-Hicks contractions by timing them and finding no set pattern. In addition, you will likely feel cramping or a tightening sensation in the abdomen, but they likely won’t be painful like true labor contractions. During true labor, you will be unable to talk or walk through a contraction. Finally, Braxton-Hicks contractions are most common at the end of the day or after physical activity, and they will stop if you walk or change position in some cases.  

What is Preterm Labor? 

A preterm labor is defined as labor which begins before the 37th week of pregnancy. There are some risk factors that can indicate that you may have a preterm labor. These include being pregnant with multiples, having previously delivered preterm, a family history of premature birth, being underweight or overweight before pregnancy, and various problems with the cervix or uterus. If you fall into one of these categories, your OBGYN should inform you of the higher risk for preterm labor.  

Schedule an Appointment 

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, schedule an appointment with a qualified and knowledgeable health care team. Carnegie Imaging provides the most advanced ultrasounds available. Call our office or request an appointment online 

Carnegie Imaging for Women blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!

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