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Signs a pregnant woman is in labor

In many movies, when a woman goes into labor, the event is dramatic and hectic, from the water breaking to the ride to the hospital. In real life, however, first-time moms may not even realize at first that they are in labor, says Gigi Martinez, RN, clinical manager of labor and delivery at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital

“There are many different signs of labor,” says Martinez. “You may or may not experience all of them.”

Possible signs of labor include:

  • Nesting, which is a strong feeling that you must prepare your house for baby’s arrival. However, avoid exhausting activities to conserve energy for labor. 
  • Backache or menstrual-like cramps, which may be caused by early contractions. 
  • Bloody show. The passage of blood-tinged mucus from the vagina is associated with the thinning and early opening of the cervix. 
  • Leaking of amniotic fluid from the vagina. If you experience this symptom, call your doctor, as it may indicate your water has broken or will rupture soon.

Once you are in full-blown labor, you will experience:

  • Regular uterine contractions that gradually increase in duration and intensity
  • A gush of fluid from the vagina. This is caused by a rupture of the membranes. 

“When their water breaks, most moms are anxious [it will be like] the way it is depicted on television: Their water breaks and all of a sudden, they’re in rip-roaring labor,” says Martinez. “But that’s not usually how it happens.”

In fact, many women will be in labor for a while before their water breaks.

“Most moms' water breaks while at the hospital," she says. 

When your water breaks

Note these things whenever your water breaks and be sure to tell your doctor:

  • What time it happens
  • The amount of fluid. Was it a gush or trickle amount? 
  • The color of the fluid – it can range from clear to blood-tinged to green
  • If the fluid has any odor – it should be practically odorless

When to go to the hospital during labor

Martinez says you should head to the hospital when your contractions:

  • Are about five minutes apart
  • Last approximately one minute
  • Have been occurring for about one hour

“The bottom line is, everybody’s labor is different,” says Martinez. “Everybody is going to experience different things. If you’re not sure, go ahead and call your physician. They’ll ask you a couple of questions and either have you come to the hospital or reassure you that it’s okay to stay home.”

For more information on labor and delivery at Piedmont, visit Piedmont Women’s Services.

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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