Birth, and the hours after

Signs Of Labor-How To Know The Signs Of Birth

What are the signs of labor? Is this a sign of birth, or is it just a false pain? Is my delivery near? Read this article and learn more.

Is this a sign of labor, or is it just a false pain? Is my delivery near? What are the signs of birth?

These may be the questions regarding early signs of labor that are frequently arising in your mind if you are approaching the end of pregnancy. The tough and rough period of gestation is almost over, but how do you know that the final day is approaching? 

It’s natural to have mixed feelings of fear and excitement, especially if it’s your first baby. It’s hard to predict what you’ll feel first, because every pregnancy is unique. However, there are some common signs pregnant moms feel near the birth of their baby.

What is Labor?

The process of giving birth is called labor.

Usually, it starts from pre-labor signs of birth and contractions, then ends with the baby coming to the world. 

The pre-labor signs start about a month before the final day. 

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact time of labor, but the following signs will help you with the ringing “alarm bell”.

Pre-Labor – Weeks to Days Before Labor

Pre-labor is the predecessor of early labor.

 These are the indications that the body is preparing to give birth.

 It can start between 37 to 40 weeks or even a little late. 

The following are the features of this period.

The Lightening – The Baby “Drops”

The baby starts preparing to “exit” and descends to the pelvis. 

This is also known as pelvic pressure. Your belly bulge will drop from the mid-abdomen to the lower abdomen.

The pressure on your lungs is released, so now you can breathe more easily.

 If it’s your first baby, this condition can develop 2 to 3 weeks earlier. In subsequent childbirths, this process initiates just before the actual labor.

It is usually the baby’s head that first enters the pelvis, but it may be feet depending upon the position of the baby.

Increased Urination

The previous stress on the diaphragm is released so you experience easy breathing, but now the pressure is on the bladder and intestines.

You may need to go to the bathroom frequently. You can also feel urine leaking while coughing or sneezing.

 You’ll end up going to the bathroom multiple times at night, so it’s best to have some soft lighting for the sake of safety.

Pre-Labor Diarrhea

With the increase in pressure in the lower abdomen and a more relaxed rectum due to hormonal changes, you can experience “pre-labor diarrhea”. 

This is normal as you near labor. Your healthcare provider will educate you on how to deal with this situation. 

The most important thing is to remain hydrated during this period. Make sure you take plenty of water, juices, and other liquids as advised by your doctor.

Dilation and Thinning of the Cervix

The cervix is the bottleneck-shaped opening of the uterus into the vagina, via which the baby is delivered. It is approximately 4 cm in length. It modifies itself for labor in two steps.


Dilation is defined as the opening of the cervix prior labor. This sign of labor occurs at a slow pace in pre-labor and rapidly in actual labor. 

Your healthcare provider will measure it on each visit. Each individual shows a different level of dilation. 

Effacement, also known as Cervical Ripening

During the entire pregnancy, the cervix remains tightened and closed so no foreign particle can enter. It is further blocked by a mucus plug at the opening. 

Near the time of labor, the cervix starts shrinking and shortening, known as effacement. You may feel mild pain when this happens.

Vaginal Discharge – Bloody Show

With the loss of the mucus plug due to dilation and effacement, it can come out in a piece or pieces stained (or not!) in blood. 

This dislodgment of the mucus plug is often followed by the production of thick clear or pinkish discharge.

 This event is known as a bloody show and is an impending sign of birth.

Pain and Cramps in the Lower Back

As you approach your due date, you will start feeling pain and cramps in the lower back and groin region. 

This sign of labor happens because your muscles and joints loosen and adapt for the upcoming event. It starts weeks before the expected date.

Energy Level Extremities

There are two possibilities for energy. You either feel super excited with the urge to organize everything (known as nesting), or you’re extremely tired.

 Nesting: You wake up in the morning and suddenly have a strong and compelling desire to organize everything. This pre-labor sign is known as nesting. 

This appears as energy bursts and urges every mom differently. Some may start organizing the closet or washing all the new baby clothes. Others may start cleaning and painting the house. Every individual displays nesting differently. It is totally fine as long as you don’t over-exert yourself.

On the contrary, some mothers feel the opposite. They feel super lazy and tired. This might be because of frequent bathroom visits, a lack of sleep, and an enlarged belly size. This, again, is natural and fine too.

Fewer “Kicks” – Decreased Movements

Near the end of pregnancy, less movement is felt by mothers. No one knows why this happens. 

One hypothesis suggests that the baby is saving energy for the big day. If you feel almost no movements, you must immediately contact your doctor.

Early Labor – Days to Hours before Birth


You may start feeling contractions weeks before the actual labor, but these may be false labor pains called Braxton Hicks Contractions.

True labor pains are due to the periodic contraction and relaxation of the uterus. It may feel like extreme period pain.

There are several differences between true and false pains, summarized in the table below.


True Labor Pains

False Labor Pains (Braxton Hicks Contraction)

1. Time of onset

Day/hours before birth

Weeks before birth

2. Contraction Interval



3. Intensity


Remains Same

4. Location of Contraction

Start from back towards front

Usually at lower abdomen

5. Duration

4 to 6 min –shortens to 30 to 60 seconds

Irregular- doesn’t shorten

6. Baby Position

Baby starts descending

Doesn’t change location

7. Cervical Dilation



Water Ball Leakage

One of the final signs of birth is leakage of the water ball, but only 15 % of mother experience this.

Water ball leakage is the rupture of the amniotic sac, a fluid-filled membrane in which the baby lives for the entire time of pregnancy. It trickles slowly as an odorless and colorless fluid. 

Sometimes, you may confuse it with urine. If it is a yellowish color with the smell of ammonia, it is urine. If it is odorless or sweet in smell, it is amniotic fluid.

Breakage of the water ball is a sign that you have either already started experiencing labor pains or are going to experience them in between 12 to 24 hours. Your body keeps producing this fluid until the baby is delivered.

If your water ball has leaked, it’s time to call your doctor or visit the hospital.

Preterm Labor – Warning Signs

Preterm or Premature labor is described as when you start feeling all or some of the above signs of birth before your due date.

 Labor is labeled as preterm if it starts three weeks before the expected date.

Doctors never wish to deliver a baby early. The more time in the womb, the better. There are many treatments to delay an early induction of labor.

What are the Signs of Premature Labor?

The following are signs of preterm labor:

  • Early Regular Contractions
  • Fluid leakage
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Pain in the back
  • Vaginal bleeding

Who is at Risk?

The following features increase the risk of preterm labor:

  • Smokers
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Overweight/underweight
  • Babies with birth defects
  • Test tube babies
  • A small gap between consecutive pregnancies
  • Twins or multiple babies
  • Health problems like diabetes, hypertension, preeclampsia, clotting disorders, and infections

When to Contact the Doctor

The Pre-Labor period starts from weeks or even months before birth. You may start feeling all or some of the above-mentioned signs of birth. You can pre-inform your healthcare provider about the symptoms you have started experiencing. 

If it’s your first pregnancy, it’s sometimes difficult to identify the subsequent events, so don’t hesitate to contact your midwife or doctor when in doubt.

The period of early labor starts a few hours or days before the birth. This is the most important time to remain in contact with your doctor. A few important factors to be considered in this period are;

  • Water leakage and the start of the true contractions is the most important event. It means that you are probably hours away from giving birth.
  • If your pregnancy is labeled as high-risk, you should be more cautious. For example, if you are diabetic, hypertensive, or have other underlying health problems.
  • Strength & duration of contractions. If the intensity of the contraction is increasing with a shortening duration, it’s usually one of the final signs.
  • Common Myths about Signs of Labor

There are several myths and misconceptions regarding signs of birth that confuse moms – especially for a first pregnancy.

You might have already heard a few of them:

  • Your water will leak like a flood: As shown in various movies, this is one of the most common myths. First of all, it doesn’t break in all pregnancies and, if it does, it leaks slowly and gives you plenty of time to call your doctor. You don’t need to panic, but you shouldn’t delay informing your healthcare provider.
  • The C-Section is less painful than vaginal birth: Again, this is the misconception that unfortunately exists.

The truth is there is nothing like a natural vaginal birth. Yes, you bear the pain instantly, but you resume your normal routine life just days after a standard vaginal delivery. 

Postoperative issues in C-Section

You’ll be unable to resume your normal routine for some weeks. Wound infection, scarring, and more time required between pregnancies are a few other disadvantages.

  • A full moon means more babies are born: Another myth is that more babies are born when the moon is full. In reality, there is no scientific evidence available on this fact.
  • An epidural will enhance chances of C-Section: An epidural is a type of anesthesia that makes your normal vaginal delivery pain free. It doesn’t slow down the labor process and there is no evidence-based relation available about this myth.
  • If you have twins or multiples, a C-Section is a must: This is dependent on the advice of your gynecologist, but twins or multiple babies can be delivered via normal vaginal delivery.
  • The doctor will be there for the entire time of labor: The paramedical staff, midwives, and nurses are well trained to handle and communicate the situation with your doctor. Your doctor will keep visiting at intervals and will remain in contact with the staff. As the final time approaches, your doctor will be there. There is no need for a doctor’s presence all the time, but if they are there, then great!
  1. Take-Home Message

Pregnancy is a very tiring process, physically and emotionally. It’s totally fine if you feel exhausted at some points. 

Make sure that you follow these key points.

  • Get educated about pregnancy and labor. The more you know, the less you’ll be surprised. This will, in turn, reduce your anxiety – especially if it’s your first time.
  • Don’t panic if you experience signs of birth. Relax and follow the instructions that your healthcare provider has given.
  • Always have someone responsible in contact with you towards the end of a pregnancy. You can go into labor at any time. If you’re living alone, this becomes even more important. 

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