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How do I know if I am really in Labor?

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One of the most asked questions of first time mom’s…Or In my case, of my second baby because my first was induced…and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to tell what “real” labor was…

So, in honor of my former self… I offer a list of some ways to to gauge whether you are experiencing true labor:

  • Your contractions fall into a regular pattern. And, that pattern involves contractions that are lasting longer, feeling stronger, and occurring closer together.
  • If when you walk around or otherwise increase your activity, the contractions also increase.
  • And if changing positions and drinking plenty of fluids also do not cause the contractions to ease…
  • The sensation begins in your lower back and spreads like a band around your belly causing a peak of tightness and discomfort in the front and then fades away again.
  • You have been feeling some gastrointestinal upset and may be experiencing diarrhea also.
  • You have pinkish or blood streaked, mucousy discharge.
  • Your membranes have ruptured (keep in mind that labor only begins in this way for roughly 10% of women. So, if your waters have not released, do not be discouraged thinking that you must not be in “real labor.” Many women do not experience their waters breaking until they are pushing or are starting to feel like pushing).
  • Truly, I think that the best sign that you are in labor is if you really feel like you are in labor. This is one of those things that doesn’t feel that helpful to a first-time mom—”yes, but how will I know?! What if I’m in labor and don’t know it until the baby is coming out?!” I promise that for the wide majority of you, at a certain point, you will just know that you are in labor and there will be no more questions about whether this is “really it”—that is the best sign, when you stop wondering “is this really it?” My observation is that this point comes along when you enter active labor and enter your “birth brain” instead of your analytical, logical brain.
  • If you are still wondering, “is this really it?” my best piece of advice is to ignore it! Pretend like nothing is happening. Go about your normal day and your normal routine. If you would normally be sleeping, sleep. If you would normally be eating, eat. Go for a walk, water the plants, feed the dog, bake something, go to the store, etc. When your contractions need your full attention, they will ask for it

Some “symptoms” that what you are experiencing is instead practice labor, pre-labor, or “false labor” (I do not usually use the phrase “false labor” because I think it is dismissive of women’s experiences. All contractions are doing something and so I refer to them as “practice” rather than “false.” Another good phrase to use is “pre-labor” contractions):

  • The contractions are irregular (no pattern) and are not increasing in frequency or intensity.
  • If you change positions or drink two large glasses of juice, water, or tea, the contractions subside.
  • The contractions center in your lower abdomen and do not involve your back.
  • The contractions go away if you take a walk, take a shower, or lie down.

This is also a popular question in birth classes. Because labor is a new event for you, it can be hard to know what to expect until it actually happens!

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