Am I in labor? Is this real? When do I call my doula? Such common questions at the end of pregnancy!
Many birthers find that they have prodromal or “practice” labor at the end of their pregnancies for days or even weeks before starting to labor in earnest. This can be frustrating and confusing all at the same time! These warm up contractions help your body and uterus to practice and warm up, but generally do not work to significantly dilate your cervix (although some dilation and movement of the cervix can happen!). Don’t confuse that with meaning they don’t do anything- prodromal labor is a good thing, even when it doesn’t feel like it!
Still, it can be confusing trying to figure out if it’s practice labor or the ‘real deal’. These warm up contractions may feel very real! The most common way to tell the difference is over time-- while “real” early labor contractions will get noticeably stronger, longer and closer together, prodromal labor will typically not get significantly closer together or longer. For most people they will happen for several hours and then fizzle out, starting again later or another day. This is a good sign that these are the important priming contractions-- but not a sign that true labor is starting.
In this case, I recommend trying to get rest, and remain positive- these contractions can give you a good chance to practice some of your relaxation techniques, but I urge you not to get caught up in planning for the birth yet! The best thing that you can do is to rest and keep your mind off of it.
So how do you know when it’s time to start preparing for the birth and calling your support people? Below are a couple signs that productive labor may be starting- and it’s time to alert your partner, your doula, birth photographer and/or midwife!
1. If your water breaks
Whether a trickle or a gush, your water breaking can be a dreaded and exciting moment. It may not mean that contractions will start immediately, but it's a good sign! If your water breaks and contractions have not started, or they are still light, I personally treat this as a perfect time to grab some food and them climb back into bed. Getting some rest before labor starts in earnest is always a good idea! Not sure if it was your water? Amniotic fluid should be clear, and have a mild scent- not like urine. Some people say it is sweet smelling.
2. You lose your mucus plug and/or see bloody show
Seeing bloody mucuous on the toilet paper after you wipe can see a bit scary, but it’s also something to be excited about in the last weeks of pregnancy. This is a good sign that your cervix is starting to move and dilate! If noticable contractions have not started yet, they may soon. Just to keep you on your toes though- some birthers will lose their mucuous plug and not go into labor for days or even weeks. Still- it’s a good idea to keep your care provider and support people in the loop if this happens!
3. You start feeling like you have the flu
It’s a common occurance. You get to 39 weeks pregnant and it hits-- You’re achy, tired, your stomach gets upset and you may have loose stools or even diarrhea. This may feel like the worst thing in the world, and many people worry that they are now going to have to go through labor while sick, but it’s actually a common sign that labor is getting ready to start! One of the ways your body prepares for labor is by dumping hormones-- and some of these will cause your body to mimic signs of sickness. Again- this isn’t a foolproof sign, but it’s a good one to be aware of- especially if you’re finding yourself in the bathroom a lot. Many birthers state that the night before or hours before labor started, it was like their body got spooked and “emptied out”- that’s a strong fight or flight response there-- your body is preparing to do hard work!
Wait, how do you know the difference between regular sore back and one that signals labor? You can’t always. But if you notice a backache that switches from a generalized soreness into a concentrated pain that may ebb and flow-- this may be a sign that things are gearing up.
5. Contractions Pick up
Braxton hicks are frequent during late pregnancy, so how do you know when they’re the real deal? If you’re noticing contractions that are easily timable with an obvious start and end- labor may be starting! Early labor contractions will continue to progress longer, stronger and closer together, so it may take a few hours before you know for sure. If they’re coming at regular intervals though, even if still fairly far apart-- it’s time to give your support people a heads up! True labor contractions will also not let up with rest, position changes or increased water, and tend to include some back pain with them. Many birthers also report that their labor contractions felt like they wrapped more around the belly, as opposed to the low down menstrual cramp feeling of braxton hicks.
Feeling some signs? Maybe it’s your time! Don’t forget to get some rest, and call your care provider and support people!
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