How Can You Tell If You're in Labor?

Discover some of the signs that you're going into labor in this article.
How Can You Tell If You're in Labor?

Last update: 22 November, 2018

If you feel intense contractions that last for roughly a minute and occur roughly every five minutes, or if your water breaks, you’re in labor. We’ll tell you a few other signs that you should pay attention to so you can be ready for this important moment.

For many mothers, especially first-time mothers, going into labor seems extremely daunting. It’s natural to have a million questions and anxieties. But don’t worry, just check these symptoms to see if you’re in labor.

Our bodies are so well “programmed” that they send us signals when something important is happening. Labor is no exception.

Before the moment comes, you’ll experience symptoms that will give you time to prepare yourself to go to the hospital and deliver your child in the best possible environment. 

How Can You Tell If You're in Labor?

Signs that you’re in labor

When the time to deliver your baby arrives, your body will show the following symptoms:

  • Expulsion of the mucus plug: This is a thick substance that can be whitish or pinkish (as if it has a small amount of blood mixed in) which protected the baby from germs and infections during its nine months in the uterus.
  • Descent of the baby: due to gravity, your contractions, and the dilation of the uterine neck, the baby moves progressively down into the lower part of the mother’s pelvic structure.
  • Positioning: The baby is positioned head-down at the level of the ischial spines in the lower part of the mother’s pelvis.
  • Contractions: it’s hard to describe what they feel like, as every woman experiences them differently. Your abdomen tenses, then relaxes. It’s a good idea to monitor the time between contractions. When they occur every five minutes, it’s time to go to the hospital!
  • Dilation of the uterine neck: it becomes softer. Your doctor will examine it during the weeks leading up to delivery to monitor its changes.

Signs that Delivery is Imminent

If you notice some or all of these signs, that means that you’re about to give birth:

  • Intense contractions, about one-minute long and occurring every five minutes.
  • Your water breakswhen the sac containing the amniotic fluid that protects the baby breaks, call your doctor immediately. This can happen even without contractions beforehand. If labor doesn’t begin within a reasonable amount of time (as evaluated by a doctor) they’ll likely induce it.
How Can You Tell If You're in Labor?

When should I go to the Doctor or the Midwife?

The answer depends on your situation and how your pregnancy has progressed. The doctor will advise you on this. They’ll consider whether this is your first pregnancy, if you have experienced any complications, or if yours is a risky pregnancy.

However, this doesn’t mean you should hold back if you want to know if you’re labor. It’s their job, and you certainly won’t be the first person to call to ask that question.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor or midwife or go directly to the hospital:

  • Your water breaks or you think it might have.
  • Vaginal bleeding.
  • Contractions before week 38, which may indicate premature birth.
  • Any symptoms of preeclampsiaintense headache, abdominal swelling or pain.

“Our bodies are so well ‘programmed’ that they send us signals when something important is happening. Labor is no exception”

What should I do if I go into labor at home?

Although it might sound like something from a movie, this does sometimes happen. The first thing a mother should know is that birth is a natural process that your body is ready for. Obviously this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take certain preventative measures.

First, call a family member if you’re alone. Next, call a doctor or 911 so that you’ll have professional help. Get some towels ready so you can cover and clean the baby.

Get into a crouching position so that gravity will help the baby emerge. As soon as the baby comes out, make sure that the umbilical cord doesn’t get wrapped around the baby’s neck. If this happens, gently unwind it. Don’t cut the cord until a doctor arrives.

Finally, bring the baby close to its mother‘s breast after cleaning the mouth and nose. Try to nurse.

How Can You Tell If You're in Labor?

Tips for Stress-Free Labor

In addition to knowing the signs to be able to tell if you’re in labor, it’s also a good idea to know how to make it through the experience in the best possible way. If a mother is tired, nervous, and anxious, she may feel more pain during or before contractions.

If a mother is stressed during pregnancy or labor, this can result in premature delivery, low birth weight, problems with emotional or intellectual development, or miscarriage.

It’s therefore a good idea to take precautions and stay as relaxed as possible. This is especially true in the months just before delivery. Psychoprophylaxis is an excellent alternative to help with this. It’s not a bad idea to give it a try.

“If a mother is tired, nervous, and anxious, she may feel more pain during or before contractions”

Labor is stressful, but it’s also unforgettableWith regular check-ups, a healthy lifestyle, and correct assessment of whether you’re in labor, you give yourself a good chance of everything going perfectly.


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.