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You experience a slew of changes nearing the end of your pregnancy. But which ones mean you’re nearing labor?

Learning about labor pain symptoms and when to go to the hospital will help you identify false alarms. Instead of heading to the hospital to be turned back, you’ll know it’s false labor and stay home a bit longer.

In this article, you’ll learn about the most common near labor signs and how to know when you’re in labor.

6 Near Labor Signs

When you’re evaluating labor pain symptoms and when to go to the hospital, try to remember the instructions your doctor or midwife gave you. If you can’t remember, give them a call to be sure.

In general, below are the most important near labor signs to watch for.

#1 Contractions

Out of all the near labor signs, the most important is contractions. Although you’ll experience contractions leading up to the big day, when labor is close, they’ll become:

  • More frequent
  • More intense
  • Last longer

During early labor—which may last hours or days—contractions may be slightly uncomfortable, but not painful yet.

You may also notice contractions becoming weaker and subsiding with more time between. Early labor can be unpredictable, becoming weaker and stronger at times. During this time, you’ll be able to relax at home while you wait for labor to ramp up.

You’ll know when labor is near when contractions don’t let up. When you’re in early labor, there’s more time between each contraction. By the time you head to the hospital, they may be about 5 minutes apart.

They’ll also last longer. Instead of shorter contractions, they may last anywhere from 30 seconds to over a minute. You’ll probably notice more intensity, pain, or discomfort. Compared to normal contractions, labor contractions make it hard to walk or even talk. As your discomfort grows, it usually becomes more obvious it’s time to go to the hospital

Keep in mind that it can be difficult to tell the difference between labor contractions and Braxton Hicks—AKA fake labor contractions. More on this later.

#2 Bloody show

“Bloody show” is a thick discharge mixed with blood. Your discharge may have bloody streaks or a pink tinge. This happens as your uterus dilates, softens, and thins to get ready for labor. Bloody show is a near labor sign that means labor could be anywhere from hours to days away.

This discharge can occur in one blob, or there may be several times you notice discharge. If bleeding is heavy, that’s not normal and you should seek medical attention.

Read: When’s Pregnancy Discharge Normal? 5 Discharge colors. [Link to post when it’s published]

#3 Labor Pain in Back

During pregnancy, your back may hurt more than usual. As your baby grows, it can put extra pressure on the bottom of your spine.

If the pain is becoming more intense, it could be a common near labor sign. Labor pain in your back feels like a backache but is heavier and more intense. With normal pregnancy back pain, sometimes you can change positions to alleviate the ache. Labor pain in the back can’t be alleviated with movement.

#4 Water Breaking

Your baby grows in the amniotic sac, which is filled with fluid. When you’re ready for labor, the sac naturally breaks, gushing the fluid out through your vagina. For some, water breaking feels more like a trickle than a sudden release.

Your water usually breaks during labor, although it can happen before it starts, signaling that labor is coming. If your water breaks before labor, you can expect labor to start within 24 hours. If labor doesn’t start within that period, your doctor may recommend induction. That’s because if there’s not amniotic fluid around the baby, staying inside the womb puts them at risk for infection.

Sometimes, water doesn’t break naturally and a doctor may break it for you.

If your water breaks and you’re unsure whether you’re in labor, call your doctor or the hospital. They can walk you through whether you’re ready. If you’d rather be checked out in person, a doctor can measure your cervix to see how close you are. If you’re not in labor yet, they’ll send you back home until it’s time.

#5 Lightning

Lightning is when your baby moves into the birthing position.

Baby dropping happens in stages. There’s 11 “stations” a baby moves through before her head exits the vaginal opening. These range from -5 to +5. A 0 position happens when your baby’s head is level with the bone points of your pelvis. This is referred to as “lightning.” When it happens, you might feel:

  • Like your baby is heavier
  • Like you’re walking with a bowling ball between your legs
  • That you’re walking like a penguin
  • That you’re breathing easier (pressure of baby’s weight has shifted downward)

Lightning is one of the common near labor signs. However, it’s impossible to say how soon after lightning labor will occur. Sometimes babies move from station 0 to +5 quickly, meaning you’re in active labor. Other times, babies drop slowly and move back and forth between positions until labor starts.

Read: When Does Baby Turn Head Down? Baby Drop FAQs Answered [Link to corrected post]

#6 Cervix Dilatated During Check-Up

During your last prenatal check-up, your doctor will measure your cervix to see how much it’s dilated. A fully dilated cervix ready for labor is 10cm, whereas it’s about 4cm before labor. Your doctor will also see if your cervix has started to thin, which also happens before labor.

False Labor: Real Vs. Braxton-Hicks Contractions

False labor is common. You might mistake Braxton Hicks contractions for labor contractions. Especially if it’s your first pregnancy, you may rush to the hospital only to be sent back home because your body isn’t ready.

Fake or Braxton-Hicks contractions are meant to prepare your cervix for labor by thinning and softening it. These typically happen in the weeks leading up to labor. Paying attention to what these feel like will help you know the difference between real contractions. If you’re having Braxton-Hicks contractions now, ask yourself:

  1. What do they feel like? How intense are they?
  2. How much time is between each contraction? (Use a timer)
  3. Do the contractions stop when you move around?

It’s a good idea to record your observations. When you think you’re having labor contractions, refer back to what you’ve recorded. Now ask yourself:

  1. Are the contractions growing in intensity? Are they becoming more painful and not letting up?
  2. Is there a shorter amount of time between contractions? Keep in mind that labor contractions are anywhere from 30 to 70 seconds apart.
  3. Do the contractions continue even when you walk around or change positions?

If the answer to the questions above is yes, there’s a possibility you might be experiencing real labor contractions. If this is the case, it’s time to go to the hospital.

Labor Pain Symptoms: When To Go to Hospital

Knowing the labor pain symptoms and when to go to the hospital helps ensure you won’t waste your time. Many times when the due date is nearing, people go to the hospital only to be turned away and told they need to wait longer.

Your doctor will tell you the common labor pain symptoms and when to go to the hospital. Generally, it’s best to stay at home until contractions are regular and no longer comfortable. Since early labor can last hours or days, you’ll be more comfortable at home than in a hospital bed. If you’ve given birth before, labor tends to move quicker.

Complicated or high-risk pregnancies may require more care. In these cases, your doctor may advise you to come to the hospital as soon as contractions start. If you’re not sure if you should go to the hospital, call your doctor or midwife and ask.

If you have labor pain symptoms, when to go to the hospital depends on a few factors:

  • If you’ve given birth before (labor usually happens quicker for second-time parents)
  • Your pregnancy health (complications may require more monitoring)
  • The dilation of your cervix during your last check-up
  • Baby’s position
  • How long you need to travel to the hospital (those in rural areas will need to leave earlier to reach the hospital at the right time)

When you go to the hospital, you’ll be assessed to determine if you need to be admitted for labor or sent home. Typically, those closer to labor will be given priority if the hospital is busy.

Other than labor contractions, you should go to the hospital if there’s signs your pregnancy health is in jeopardy. Seek emergency care if:

  • Your baby isn’t moving at all or as much as normal
  • You’re experiencing vaginal bleeding (a little bloody discharge is normal but heavy bleeding is not)
  • You’re experiencing abnormal pains

Summary: Near Labor Signs

Learning about labor pain symptoms and when to go to the hospital will be useful in the last weeks of your pregnancy. Many times, people show up to the hospital early, only to be sent back home. Near labor signs include bloody show, back pain, lightning, and your water breaking.

But how do you know when you’re actually in labor and ready for the hospital? The best way to tell is usually by paying close attention to your contractions. Compared to Braxton-Hicks contractions, labor contractions grow in intensity and become more frequent. If you time your contractions and they’re anywhere from 30 to 70 seconds apart, you might be in labor. To be sure, you can call your doctor or visit the hospital in person.

P.S. Do You Have a Fetal Doppler?

Fetal dopplers are handheld devices that allow you to listen to your baby’s heartbeat while she’s still inside your womb! It’s easy to work and creates a bonding experience for the entire family.

Hear your baby before birth. Get the Sonoline B Fetal Doppler Today!

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About Mithu Kuna

Mithu is a tech-savvy entrepreneur. He is a founder of Baby Doppler and enjoys incorporating AI driven technology in baby and maternity IoT devices.

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