Definite Signs of Labor

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How to read the positive signs of labor

As expectant parents get closer to their due date, they will often ask their childbirth educator how to know with absolute certainty whether or not they are in labor. They want some positive signs to look for to avoid getting to the hospital too early, or worse yet, not making it to their place of birth in time.

Parents should bear in mind that there are some possible signs of labor that often occur in the last few weeks of pregnancy or days leading up to labor. Find out more by reading the article on Possible Signs of Labor. Many of these possible signs can help to alert you that labor is indeed arriving soon.

However there are two definite or positive signs that the mother is in true labor. One is that her contractions progress over time and the other is that her water breaks. Let’s examine each sign in more detail.

Definite Sign #1 – Progressing Contractions

Mothers will begin to notice that in the early stages of labor, her contractions will start to take on a pattern. They will start out slowly, build to a peak and then recede. In the beginning, she may feel them mostly in her back or in combination with some tightening and cramping in her belly. Contractions do feel different to everyone so it is difficult to describe exactly how each mother will experience them. However, over time, these contractions will intensify and become longer as well as come closer together. To know that labor is indeed coming, then, watch for contractions to become longer, stronger and closer together. For nearly 90% of mother, labor will begin with progressing contractions.

For information about when to go to the hospital, click here.

Definite Sign #2 – Water Breaks

A mother’s water can break in one of two ways. A high leak in the amniotic sac can occur which results in a trickle of fluid. This sign can be hardest to identify. One way to determine if your water has broken with a trickle is to empty your bladder completely and put on a clean sanitary pad. Then lay down for a few minutes. As you lay down, the baby’s head will “uncork” itself from the cervical opening and may allow more trickles to come down and leak out. If you are not sure at all if your water has broken, see your care provider. They can do a test with a small strip of paper that examines the pH of the fluid to determine whether or not the fluid present is amniotic fluid.

The other way your water can break is with a big gush, or even several gushes. This is often unmistakeable and can seem like a large amount of fluid even if it’s only a cup. The gush of fluid comes from the breaking of the forebag of the amniotic sac, which is the small balloon-like cushion of fluid below the baby’s head.

If your water breaks, please call your care provider for further instructions. They will ask you to report a few things and one easy thing to remember is TACO:

Time – When did it break?

Amount – Trickle or gush?

Color – Clear or darker yellow/green?

Odor – Normal musky odor versus foul odor?

It will also help to know the status of your Group B strep test. If your test was positive, you may need to go your place of birth fairly soon after your water breaks to receive antibiotics. As you progress into labor, there are many other signs to know that you are moving into early labor, active labor, transition and eventually pushing/birth. For more information on signs of labor, see the complete series coming soon.

Did your labor begin with water breaking or contractions? Tell us about your experience.

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