Pre-Labor: Signs that Labor is About to Begin


Possible Signs Labor May Begin Soon.

·    Backache: Not the type of backache you have in late pregnancy that changes when you shift position, but a persistent dull ache that makes you restless and irritable.

·    Cramps. Abdominal cramping that is mild to moderate in discomfort.

·    PMS symptoms: crabby, irritable.

·    Nesting Urge.

·    Frequent, soft bowel movements. Flu-like symptoms.

If you experience these symptoms, it is important to remember that they are not necessarily signs that labor is imminent. They may persist for days or weeks before labor begins. The presence of these symptoms is a good reminder to make sure you have everything prepared for labor and birth, and to make sure you are aware of what other signs to be watching for.

However, try not to get too excited about things, or start making too many plans assuming the baby is on its way. Continue your normal routines, get lots of rest, eat and drink well, nurture yourself in these precious days before the baby arrives.


Preliminary Signs

·    Bloody show. During pregnancy, cervix contains mucus, which may be released in late pregnancy. May be a thick ‘plug’ of pinkish mucus, which might come out when you use the toilet. May be thin, mucousy discharge on toilet paper. If there is more blood than mucus, call caregiver. (Note, it’s common to have a brownish, bloody discharge within 24 hours of a vaginal exam, or intercourse. Don’t mistake this for bloody show.)

·    Water breaks:

o       Trickle or a gush. If it’s just a little mucousy fluid, it may be mucous plug.

o       Pay attention to what time it breaks, note down its color, odor, etc.

o       Call your caregiver. Usually (80% of the time), you will go into labor on your own in the next 24 hours. Ask your caregiver what will happen if you are not in labor after 24 hours.

·    Contractions. What’s the difference between non-progressing Braxton-Hicks contractions (“false labor” / pre-labor) and the progressive contractions of active labor?

o       Pre-labor contractions generally don’t progress: they may be irregular, or may stay same length, strength, and frequency. May last for a short time, or for several hours. Discomfort is felt in the front of the abdomen, as muscles tighten up. Contractions may stop if you walk, change position or change activity, eat, drink, or empty bladder.

o       Some women never have Braxton-Hicks, some may have for weeks before the labor. Some may even have several episodes where contractions seem to be developing a pattern: with contractions every 6-7 minutes for 2-3 hours, which then stop again.

o        ‘False Labor’ doesn’t mean they don’t hurt, and it also doesn’t mean that they’re not doing anything. Although the contractions might not be dilating your cervix yet, they are helping you to progress in other ways: moving the cervix to an anterior position, ripening and effacing the cervix.


Positive Signs of Labor

·    Gush of amniotic fluid from vagina.

·    Progressing contractions: Get longer, stronger, and/or closer together with time. Are usually described as ‘very strong’ or ‘painful’, felt in the abdomen, back, or both. May start in the back, and radiate around to front. Usually increase if you walk.

·    Dilation of cervix seen in vaginal exam.


Compiled by Janelle Durham. Sources: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn by Simkin, Whalley, and Keppler (2001 edition). Family-Centered Maternity and Newborn Care by Celeste R. Phillips (Fourth edition, 1996). And others.


Early Labor