How to Tell if You Are Really in Labor

With my sister-in-law due to deliver any day now, and asking me how to tell if her contractions are the real deal or not, I thought I would share with you how to tell if you are really in labor.

How to Tell if You Are Really in Labor

As a labor and delivery nurse I am going to come out and tell you the truth, there is no way to know 100% if you are in labor without actually being checked. By that I mean going into the hospital and letting them check your cervix (or allowing your midwife to check your cervix) for any changes in dilation, on a consistent basis. There are signs though that you are really in labor and should start thinking about going to the hospital or calling your midwife.

Contractions. You can have contractions during your entire pregnancy without them meaning anything. As your due date gets closer and closer you will have more and more contractions, but you will usually be able to tolerate them and they will come and go at different intervals.

There are ways to tell the difference. False labor, or braxton hicks contractions tend to go away, while true labor contractions get worse. If you are having contractions, sit down and rest, drink a glass or two of water, grab a bite to eat, and go pee. If your contractions stop after doing any of this then it is not the real deal.

When you are in labor your contractions will come on a consistent basis. Labor tends to progress and get increasingly intense. If your contractions are coming 10 minutes apart and lasting 60 seconds for at least an hour, it is time to start thinking that labor is here. Generally, if you are relatively close to the hospital, you can wait until you can no longer talk through the contraction to go to the hospital.

Your water breaks. Now, as a labor and delivery nurse I have seen it all, and so there are some instances that you may think your water has broke, when it really has. To save you the embarrassing trip to the hospital there are some tips to tell if your water has really broke.

First off, if you have had intercourse sometimes you think your water has broke when you are really leaking semen. This really does happen, so if you have had intercourse in the last 24 hours this may be the case for you. Also, sometimes the baby kicks you in the bladder you may pee. This is embarrassing, but it does happen.

Some ways to determine if your water has broke is to smell the fluid. It sound strange, but if it smells like urine, it’s not amniotic fluid. Amniotic fluid has a very distinct smell. Look at the fluid as well, it should be clear and fluid like water (if it is green or brown then you need to go to the hospital), but if it is white and gooey, it is most likely just normal vaginal secretions. If your water has broke, you will continue to leak until you deliver, so if you are unsure, just keep track of if you continue to leak.

Many people think you get a gush of fluid when your water breaks, but that is not always the case. Sometimes you can leak slowly, so there again, keep track of if you are continually leaking.

These are the only 2 true ways to know that you are in labor. There are other signs that labor is on the way, but they are NOT signs of labor. These include:

  • Loosing your mucus plug – this can happen months before you deliver
  • Lower back pain – although some women have back labor, just because you have back pain doesn’t mean you are in labor. I had back pain my entire pregnancy.
  • Diarrhea – having diarrhea can be a sign that labor is on it’s way, but it can also be a normal part of pregnancy. I had constipation and diarrhea, I never knew what I was going to get.
  • Your baby “drops” – this is just a normal process of pregnancy and you can drop weeks before you deliver. If you have had more than one baby, you can even drop months before you deliver.
  • Your cervix is dilating – around week 36 your doctor may check to see if you are dilating. If you are this doesn’t mean you are in labor. Active labor isn’t until you are 5 cm dilated. You can walk around for months at 1 or 2 cm dilated.
  • Urge to nest – If you have an overwhelming urge to clean and organize, labor may be close, just don’t over do it.

How did you know you were in labor?

Thanks for reading, Cassie

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