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Postpartum - After Delivery

Signs of Labor

Signs of labor can vary depending what stage of pregnancy and what stage of the labor and delivery process you are in. This article offers information on some of the terms and processes associated with the signs of labor. Learn what to expect when going into labor here.

There are a variety of signs of labor onset, some internal and some external, some that are likely to be perceived by the pregnant woman, and some that will only be noticed by her health care provider. Since the preparation for labor generally occurs over several weeks, there are some signs that usually are noted early in the process, while others appear later and are likely to signal the intensive period just before birth.

Why labor begins is one of the mysteries still remaining in the world. The estimates of the so-called "due date" can be off by a month in either direction in many cases. The signs of labor provide hints of when labor may begin. This is one of the reasons why looking for signs of labor is important both to pregnant women and their health care providers.


In order for the baby to pass out of the uterus and into the birth canal, the cervix needs to get out of the way. The beginning of this process, "the thinning and softening of the cervix", is called effacement. A pregnant woman is not consious of her cervix effacing from 0 percent to 100 percent: this is an observation that her health care provider is likely to make at her last prenatal examinations.


In preparation for birth, the baby moves to a position lower in the woman's body. This gives the woman's lungs more room, making it easier to breathe, but perhaps especially when the baby is head-down, may place pressure throughout the pelvis, including the bladder, making the need to urinate even more frequent. With a first child, this is likely to happen several weeks before delivery. In a subsequent pregnancy, lightening may occur just a few hours prior to delivery. It is generally easy for a woman to notice this.

Braxton Hicks/Preterm  Contractions and Labor Contractions/Labor Pains

Sometimes called "practice contractions" or "false labor," Braxton Hicks contractions can occur over a period of months. Sometimes they just feel like pressure, but they can become frequent and intense, and sometimes painful. So what distinguishes them from "real" labor pains? Real labor pains are regular and do not decrease when a woman changes position or walks around. The interval between real contractions shortens and the contractions become more intense over time. Some doctors sugest a woman go to the hospital (or prepare for birth at home) when she is experiencing regular contractions that are 5 minutes apart.

Bloody Show

In order to keep the baby in a safe, sterile environment, a plug of mucus blocks the opening of the cervix. When the cervix effaces, the mucus plug often comes out, and may appear to be thick, brownish, and possibly tinged with blood. It can fall out days or weeks prior to labor.

Water Breaking

When the amniotic sac leaks or breaks prior to labor, a woman may feel a trickle or gush of liquid. Some women choose to put a waterproof pad on their bed and wear a pad to help absorb the flow, should this happen. Once the membrane ruptures, the baby is no longer protected from bacteria, and if labor doesn't begin soon, a woman's health care provider may induce labor. Most health care providers ask for a woman to get in touch if/when her water breaks, and suggest that she not have sexual intercourse after that point, due to the risk of introducing bacteria.

Nesting Instinct

This variable phenomenon appears in some women days or months prior to delivery, as they feel a strong urge to prepare for their baby. It often results in housecleaning, shopping, or decorating. It's important that a woman not wear herself out, especially if she's close to her due date, in which case she will need energy for labor.


As well as effacing, the cervix also dilates, or opens. Dilation is measured in centimeters, from 0 to 10, and many women's cervixes are somewhat dilated days or weeks prior to the beginning of labor, often to between 2 and 3 centimeters. This is another sign that a woman will not be aware of, but that a health care provider is likely to check in a physical examination.


Labor onset causes hormonal changes. These can lead to nausea and even vomiting, depending on when, how much, and what a woman has last eaten. Sometimes an upset stomach or diarrhea occurs as well.


Related Article: Pain Management During Labor and Delivery >>