The 4 Signs You Might Be in Labour

By Jenna Armstrong

November 18, 2019

My name is Jenna and I am am The Mama Coach in Winnipeg, MB. I am a Registered Nurse, lactation counselor, sleep coach, prenatal educator, CPR instructor, and a mom of 3 little ones! I am here to help!

Is this the real deal or a false alarm?!  Labour is different for every woman and even if you have had a baby before it might be totally different the next time!

If your wondering and have to think about “is this labour”, then it probably isn’t!  Most women will describe just knowing when labour starts! The contractions that come with early labour will start irregular, spaced apart and be short in duration.  With time they build, becoming closer together and lasting longer.

Some women will feel cramps and tightening that are not true labour, called Braxton Hicks.  These are practice contractions, the uterus warming up!

How do I tell the difference?!

Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular, you will experience usually less than 4 per hour.  They are often described as less painful and more annoying, like a tightening or mild cramping feeling.  If you are experiencing these get up and move around, you will likely feel better.

The real deal

These contractions will stop you in your tracks and take your breath away.  You will want to stop what you are doing and breath through the pain. They will become closer and closer and start lasting longer and longer.  Getting up and moving around will make the contractions worse so walk, do some stairs, do what you can to get the show on the road. Labour pain has to get worse before it gets better.  

Once you get your contractions to the 511 rule, make your way into the hospital.  The 511 rule is the contractions are now 5 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute in length, and have been this way for 1 hour!  Of course, if you feel nervous, panicky, and are no longer coping at home then come in to see your health care provider for an assessment and a plan.  

Flu-like symptoms?

Many moms will describe going into labour to feeling like they are coming down with the flu, they feel nauseous and may have diarrhea.  The uterus is a big muscle and when it starts to contract blood flow to it increases. This increase in blood flow to the uterus, decreases blood flow to other organs such as the stomach.  When the stomach has less blood flow, food is slower to digest. In labour we recommend keeping up your energy by eating small frequent meals and or snacks. Try to stay away from the big heavy meals as a lot of that food won’t get the chance to digest and will most likely come back to haunt you!  As the uterus contracts, it irritates other organs around it and that’s the bowels! This irritation to the bowels can lead to diarrhea. 

Spotting

The cervix (bottom part of the uterus that dilates with contractions to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal) is very fragile in pregnancy.  As your body gets into labour the uterus starts to contract and the cervix starts to thin out (efface), moves forward, and opens up (dilate). Since the cervix is fragile and these changes are happening to it, it may bleed a little.  We call this type of bleeding spotting and is often a sign that things are moving along! Bright red bleeding, like a period, is never normal and if you notice that then you need to seek medical help immediately.  

You may notice an increase in mucous discharge which is also normal as your body prepares for labour.  At the end of the cervix, there is a mucous plug that acts as a protective barrier for your baby from the outside world.  As the cervix gets ready for labour it may come out. It is kind of jelly-like in appearance, may have some blood streaks in it, and is odourless.  

Leaking fluid?

Labour can start a few different ways.  You might start with contractions first or maybe your water breaks first.  The water breaking may be an obvious gush of clear fluid or a less obvious slow leak of fluid.  Amniotic fluid should be clear and is odourless. If you notice this fluid leaking then head to your health care provider for an assessment and they will make a plan!

Contact the Mama Coach in your area to join a group class or book a private prenatal class to take some of the guesswork out of labour.  

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