How Will I Know If Labor Has Truly Begun?

Many moms-to-be will experience some false alarms, in which they travel to the hospital expecting to deliver their baby, only to be sent back home to come back and try again tomorrow. By understanding the signs and stages of labor, you can better know when labor has truly begun.

Early signs of labor include:
– Nesting. For most of the pregnancy you have probably been fighting the urge to take a nap, so you’ll know when you start “nesting.” One day you will wake up feeling full of energy! You’ll start making hundreds of list of things to do, things to clean, things to buy and everything you’ve put off doing will become a high priority. Your body and mind are preparing your home for your new family member.
– Dilation and effacement. Dilation and effacement refer to the preparation of the cervix for birth. The cervix will thin or “ripen” and it will open. This ripening is called effacement and the opening is called dilation. These can only be observed through a vaginal exam. This typically occurs just days or even hours before labor.
– Lightening. Late in your pregnancy, your baby will settle down deeper into your pelvis. This is called “lightening.” Once this has occurred, you will notice decreased pressure on your lungs and you are able to breathe better. For many women, lightening can occurs as much as a couple of weeks prior to labor; for others it may occur just before labor is about to start.
– Rupture of Membranes. Sometimes referred to as your “water breaking, this is often accompanied by a trickle or even a gush of fluid. This fluid comes from the amniotic sac. The amniotic sac is a membrane filled with fluid that cushions your baby in the uterus. When this membrane ruptures and leaks or breaks, labor is generally not far away. If this happens, you should check with your health care provider immediately. He or she will evaluate you and your baby to determine the next steps.
– Bloody show. A thick mucus plug blocks the cervical opening during pregnancy to hold back bacteria from entering the uterus. When your cervix begins to thin and open, this plug will likely be discharged. You may notice a thick vaginal discharge or stringy mucus, typically brown and sometimes tinged with blood. Losing the mucus plug is a sign that labor may begin soon, but it’s not a guarantee. labor may still be a week or more away after you have a bloody show.
– Consistent Contractions. Finally, consistent regular contractions are a good sign you are going into labor. True labor contractions are regular, follow a predictable pattern (such as every eight minutes), become progressively closer, last progressively longer and become progressively stronger. Each contraction is felt starting in the lower back and then radiating around to the front or visa versa. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish these from “Braxton-Hicks” or “false labor.”

Labor is divided up into four stages. Because every woman is different, you may or may not be able to identify the stages as they are happening; or, a stage may last much longer than the average. Below are the four stages:

– First stage. This is typically the longest part of labor. For most first-time moms, the first stage of labor will last for around ten to fourteen hours. The First stage is broken up further into three phases. During the early phase, contractions are very light and are 20 minutes or more apart, becoming closer to 5 minutes apart. The active phase is next. During the active phase, contractions are about four to five minutes apart, and may last for a minute each time. This is the point at which you should head to the hospital. after this is the transition phase. During the transition phase, your contractions will narrow to 2 or 3 minutes between them, and will last for about a minute and a half.

– Second stage. This is the stage where you push. The pushing stage can last as long as three hours or more, but for most women it is shorter. A variety of factors, such as the position of tme mom, the position of the baby, and medications used can affect the duration of the second stage. Contractions space out somewhat, and will be about 4 minutes apart. The second stage ends when your baby is born.

– Third Stage. The third stage of labor is when it is time to deliver the placenta. You will be asked to push again, and the placenta will come out much easier than the baby. This usually comes a few minutes after birth, and usually within no more than an hour.

The postpartum stage is considered a fourth stage of labor. This is the time that yoru body sort of snaps back into place, and you recover so that you are able to take up your new duty of parenting.

From the beginning of the first stage until the end of the fourth stage is typically between 10 and 20 hours. For first-time mothers, this time lasts much longer; for some moms with subsequent pregnancies, this can occur much faster. Check with your health care provider as to when exactly you should head to the hospital, as she may be aware of specific needs for your situation.

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