Symptoms of Labor


Awaiting your babys birth cannot be devoid of the anxiety about the onset and unfolding of labor. Being aware of the common symptoms of labor can calm your nerves down, making you better aware and mentally equipped to face labor and delivery.

Last Updated: 22 October 2020

Symptoms of Labor
Symptoms of Labor

Here’s a quick list of common labor signs which may happen spanning from a few weeks before, to the time when labor begins:

Symptoms of Labor – From a few weeks before labor begins Lightening or Baby Drops Down

Lightening is your baby dropping down deep into your pelvis, closer to the cervix. Your baby gets into the head down position and is getting ready for his journey through the birth canal. You can identify that your baby has dropped down when you feel there is more space in the upper part of your body to breathe. You will also feel increased pressure to urinate often as the weight of your baby is now harder on your bladder. Your walk may get all the more awkward with your baby’s new position. During an ultrasound, your sonographer can see if your baby has dropped down or not.

For some pregnant women, lightening occurs three or four weeks before labor while for some, baby might not drop down until labor begins or even after the onset of labor.

Mucus Plug Release

The mucus plug that has been protecting your cervix may begin to come out all at once or little by little. You will see a glob of thick mucus if it’s the first case or tinges of vaginal discharge in your underwear, for latter. Mucus plug release, also called as ‘bloody show’ may happen over a period of weeks, days or hours. While this is a sure sign of labor, you cannot predict how far you are to labor.

Cervical Dilation

Cervix is a tissue at the bottommost part of your uterus which opens down to the vagina. Towards the end of pregnancy, cervix begins to dilate in order to allow the baby to pass through during the birthing process. The level of cervical dilation is one of the important symptoms of labor. It is measured in centimeters and can be done only by a doctor through internal examination using fingers. During your regular prenatal doctor visits in the weeks preceding your due date, your doctor will begin to measure the dilation level of your cervix. Your doctor may predict how close you are to labor based on the level of cervical dilation, for example, 2 centimeters dilated or 4 centimeters dilated. Birthing process would not begin until the cervix is 10 centimeters dilated.  

Effacement or Thinning of the Cervix

Similar to dilation of the cervix, the process of thinning or effacement of the cervix precedes birthing. It is measured in percentage, for example 50% effaced, and can be measured only by a doctor during your prenatal visits.


Diarrhea is one of the lesser-known signs of labor. Though it is not one of the sure signs, several pregnant moms-to-be report to have had diarrhea a few hours or days before labor began. Perhaps, it is nature’s way to clean up the bowels before labor.

Symptoms of Labor – Just before labor begins Water breaks

According to the American Pregnancy Association, in 10% of pregnancies, the amniotic sac breaks open before the onset of labor, releasing the amniotic fluid. This is commonly referred to as water breaking. It may happen as a sudden gush or water might trickle down in parts. Your underwear or panty liner getting wet but doesn’t smell like urine is one of the sure symptoms of labor. Contact your OB immediately if you suspect water breaking.

If contractions have not started, water breaking is a sure sign that labor is approaching in a few hours. In most such cases, your OB might advice you to wait until contractions begin before you can drive to the hospital. However, care must be taken to protect your vaginal region from anything that can potentially infect the womb. For example, refrain from having sex or using tampons or public toilets once water breaks.

Labor Contractions

The onset of labor contractions is the most inevitable sign of labor. Even if you did not experience the labor signs mentioned above, you are sure to experience labor contractions during a natural birth. Listed below in the table are the marked differences between true labor contractions and Braxton Hicks contractions:

Braxton Hicks Contractions

Labor Contractions

Occur at irregular intervals

Occur at regular intervals (Ex., every 5 minutes)

Not usually painful

Gets painful in time

Feels like contraction and relaxation of the pelvic muscles

Feels like tightening from the top of the uterus so as to push the baby through the birth canal. During a contraction, uterus gets hardened and gets back to normal in-between two contractions

With time, the intensity of contractions fade and do not get closer

Becomes increasingly stronger and closer, like from 5 minutes apart, to 3 minutes apart, to 2 minutes apart and so on

Subsides with a change in position or after peeing

Changes in position has no effect on the contractions




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