While there are no hard and fast rules laid out to tell you when your baby is coming, these 13 subtle signs of labor approaching can certainly give you some hint.
Contraction and water breaking are two obvious signs of labor to tell you when it is time to go to the hospital. However, long before your impeding birth, your body gives you early signs of labor approaching.
Sometimes, the sign of labor is so subtle and even confusing for the first-time expecting women. These early sings of labor can appear days or weeks before your big days.
Last few days before your impending birth, your body goes through so many changes. Anything your body goes through makes you wonder if it is a sign of labor approaching or it is a by product of over exhaustion of being pregnant for last nine months. Most of the expectant women will do anything from curb walking to trying Midwives brew to induce labor to get out of the pregnant body at that stage!
When I was approaching my impeding birth in two separate occasion, I was so alert about new things that my body was going through. If I felt any tics, I quickly searched on google to see if that is the early sing of labor. However, it was not until I quit paying attention to those subtle signs, it was time to go to the hospital.
A Women’s body always give her signs to recognize when she is going into labor. To help you understand these signals, we have compiled a list of the subtle signs of labor plus read on to learn about the differences between true and false sign of labor.
Recommended Reading: Third Trimester Pregnancy Check list
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What Triggers the Start of Labor?
Spontaneous Labor starts when your body is ready to labor and baby is ready to enter this world.
Scientist believes that the most important trigger of birth is a release of tiny amount of hormone from the fetus signaling mother’s body to go into labor (1).
How Many Weeks do you Usually Go into Labor?
While you can’t wait to have your baby on your due date, most likely you won’t. Due date is just an estimate and could be off by one or two weeks.
Most women will go into labor between 38 and 42 weeks of pregnancy.
Research study published in 2001 looked at the length of pregnancy in 1,514 healthy women. The research concluded that about half of the first-time moms will give birth by 40 weeks and 5 days after first day of their last menstrual period and other half will go beyond that.
About half mothers who have given birth before will give birth by 40 weeks and 3 days after the first day of their menstrual period and other half will give birth after that time point (2).
You will be surprised to know that I went into my second labor exactly on 40 weeks and 3 days after the first day of my menstrual period!!
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What are the signs of Labor Approaching
Many first-time moms-to-be feel anxious as they get closer to their due date and wonders what the signs of labor are and when to head to the hospital.
While it is completely normal to feel this way, but your emotions can influence the hormonal activities (mainly oxytocin) in your body, which is responsible for controlling contraction.
Research says that feeling stressed or having a fear about impending birth, can make your labor slow down or stop (3).
This is the reason why many women (me included) decide to educate themselves in third trimester about the childbirth process to ease the stress and fear of childbirth.
Taking an online prenatal class helped me tremendously in recognizing those early signs of labor and also ease my fear of childbirth process.
Meanwhile, if you are on a lookout for subtle signs of labor approaching, I have listed it below. While these signs apply to vast majority of childbirths, they may not represent yours. So, it’s always best to check with your health care professional for advise.
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Subtle signs of Labor Approaching
For up to a week before your impending birth, you might notice changes in your body as our body starts to prepare for birth. These subtle signs vary between women (4).
Here is what you might notice,
1. You Feel Like your Baby has Dropped
This happens when your baby is in the best position for giving birth. It means that your baby’s head has entered your pelvis in preparation for entering this world(5).
Timeline when this occur varies among women. For some it may occur weeks, days or hours before impeding birth.
This phenomenon is also called lightening, because it may help you breathe little easier as baby has moved away from your lungs.
For me, I felt heavy and walking was hard. I almost felt like I was going to drop that baby anytime now.
2.You may feel like going for Pee often
As your baby drops deeper into your pelvis, it increases pressure on bladder resulting in more nighttime trips to the washroom.
3. Sudden Burst of Energy
You may feel sudden burst of energy in the days or weeks before your impending birth. It may cause nesting behavior – like an urge to clean the house, reorganize closet, stock up on groceries or even being selective about who you want to be with (5).
While some may women feel extremely fatigued or weary in days or weeks before their impending birth.
Either way, don’t get carried away with cleaning or reorganizing closet, you need to preserve your energy for the big day. So, eat well, stay hydrated, and sleep if you can.
4. You lose your Mucus Plug
You may notice a thin, pinkish vaginal discharge several days before your impending birth. This release of mucus plug happens when your cervix begins to thin.
You may notice a streak of blood along with clear mucous minutes, hours or days before the onset of labor or not see this sign at all.
If you see these changes in your body, it is an indication that your labor is approaching in few days.
5. Braxton Hicks
This one will surely confuse first time moms-to-be during late third trimester.
Braxton hicks happens when uterus muscle tightens and relaxes again. Sometimes, they are referred to as prodromal or false labor pain and they are body’s way of preparing for a true labor.
They usually feel like uncomfortable mild menstrual cramps or tightening in a specific area of the abdomen that comes and go, but nothing like a real contraction.
Following 6 are the Early sign of Labor Approaching
You may see these early sign of labor weeks or days before your active labor. Some of these signs are so subtle that some women may not notice them
When water breaks, you don’t need to worry about it wetting your pants as it doesn’t always come pouring out. It is much slower and subtle and can occur days before your impending birth or it may not happen for you.
Two pregnancies and I never experienced what it feels like when water breaks because my water have never broken until I went into active labor.
But it is important to pay attention to clear, watery discharge as you get closer to you due date.
As you get closer to your active labor, sometimes amniotic sack breaks causing release of clear, odorless amniotic fluid.
There is also a chance of leakage of urine as you get closer to giving birth because your uterus is resting directly on top of your bladder.
If you notice fluid leaking, you need to distinguish it between urine and amniotic fluid. You can do this by smelling it. If you find an odorless amniotic fluid, you need to contact your doctor and they can take necessary action.
7.Flu like Symptoms
Some women when they get closer to labor, they come down with flu like symptoms. This is one of the body’s way to tell you that you are closer to your impending birth.
You may also start feeling nauseated and start vomiting as your labor approaches. If you are unable to keep anything down for more than 24 hours or have a temperature you need to contact your health care provider.
Loose stool or diarrhea is an unfortunate side effect of early labor caused by release of hormone called prostaglandins.
It is body’s way of emptying bowel in order for uterus to contract efficiently in preparation of labor.
9. Bloody show
You may have already seen your mucus plug- clear, pinkish fluid coming out slowly during last few days of pregnancy.
But as you get closer to your active labor, you may start seeing reddish-brown vaginal discharge also know as bloody show. It usually occurs when you lose your mucus plug.
You want your mucus plug to be there in your cervix as long as you can in your pregnancy as it protects your baby from any infection.
But as your cervix thin out as you approach your impending birth, you start seeing mucus plug coming out and later bloody show.
10. Cervix Dilation
In the last few days of pregnancy, the cervix will start to stretch and thin in preparation for your cervix to dilate. The process of cervix opening to let your baby enter this world is called cervix dilation.
Only health care professional can determine how dilated you are. You are ready to give birth when you are 10 centimeters dilated.
While every woman experience labor pain differently, chances are you may not feel pain until you are 3 to 4 centimeters dilated. I didn’t feel anything until I was 4 centimeters dilated.
11. Dull Lower back Pain
You may feel dull lower back pain when you are in your early stage of labor.
It could be a result of the muscles and joints loosening to prepare for childbirth. It may occur few days before your labor so don’t rush to the hospital just yet.
But If you are looking for a sign of labor, these symptoms are a warning sign that you are going to meet your baby soon.
12. Irregular Contraction
As you go closer to your active labor, you may feel few light, irregular contraction as your cervix start to soften, thin out and dilate.
During early labor, contraction might be as far apart as 20 to 30 minutes and as you progress you may feel it every 10-15 minutes.
At this stage you need to start monitoring length, frequency and regularity of contractions.
If it is your first baby, early stage of labor may last few hours to few days before you progress to active labor.
Following is the sign of active labor
13. Regular Contraction
This not so subtle sign of labor is strong indication that you are going to hold baby in your arm pretty soon.
When you are in active labor, your contractions feel regular, stronger and closer together.
At this stage you can time your contraction to keep track of your progress. There are plenty of contraction app that you can download on your phone to keep tract of your progress. Most women dilate at the rate of one centimeter per hour. So, it could be couple of hours until you meet your bundle of joy!!
When your contractions are consistently 5 min apart, its time to meet your baby very soon.
Recommended Reading: 7 practical ways to Avoid The Ring of Fire during Childbirth
How long should I stay at home during the early stage of labor?
When you experience few early signs of labor approaching, you may not need to go to the hospital just yet.
While many women feel anxious staying home, but there are benefit of staying home.
If you rush to the hospital before you are in your active labor, chances are you will be sent back and that is very uncomfortable and not good for your psyche.
Research says that when women spend less time on maternity ward, they feel more in control and have less need for pain management medication. Also, you will be more comfortable staying at home.
You can always call your midwife or health care provider for guidance based on your situation and labor status.
Staying home at early stage of labor can cause anxiety for some women. But good idea is to try to stay calm and relax. You need to preserve your energy for when you in active stage of labor.
There are certain things that you can do to manage your discomfort.
- Ask your partner to keep track of your labor progression
- Go for walk
- Try breathing and relaxing techniques that you learned in your prenatal class
- Take a warm shower
- Change your position
What is the difference between True Labor and false Labor?
If you are a first-time expectant mom, little tics in your body will make you think that you are going into labor. Many times, it is a false alarm and if you go to the hospital, they will send you home. Here is how you can distinguish true labor signs form false alarm.
The Signs of True Labor
- Contraction are regular and rhythmic (such as every 10 min)
- As you progress in your labor, contraction become more frequent, longer lasting and very painful
- You feel sharp pain starting at lower back and around the abdomen
- Change in position will not stop contraction
- Cervix dilates 1 cm per hour- your doctor or midwife can examine
The Signs of False Labor
- Contractions are irregular happening randomly
- No progression in frequency, length or strengths of contraction.
- Contractions are felt in abdomen
- Change in position or activity will stop contraction
- No change in Cervix – your doctor or midwife can examine
Always talk to your midwife or healthcare professional when you are unsure about the status of your labor. Depending on your situation and your symptoms they will advise you further.
While every woman is different in what they experience going into labor, these subtle signs of labor approaching will help you identify it.
If you are still not sure about what to expect during your labor and delivery, you still have a time to take this amazing online prenatal class taught by Labor and delivery nurse Hilary Erickson.
In this online Prenatal Class for Couples, you will get to learn
- Early sign of labor
- When it is time to go to the hospital
- What to expect in vaginal delivery and a c-section
- Option for pain medication
- How to count contraction
- How you are checked for cervix dilation
- Breathing exercise, Labor position
- Crash course on postpartum recovery
You can take this class with your partner from comfort of your own home, even if you closer to your due date. You can sign up for the class here.
If you are still not sure whether you want to take a course or not, Hilary also offer a brief FREE class, that you can sign up now. Click here to sing up for free class.
If you are looking for other options for affordable childbirth classes, check out my review on
- Birth it Up! Natural series: Online Prenatal Class Review
- Birth it Up! Epidural series: Online Prenatal Class Review
How About You?
Have you experienced any subtle signs of labor approaching that are different from what is listed over here? Please leave your comment below.
Before you go, check out my review on Best Online Breastfeeding class for new moms
- Condon, J. C., Jeyasuria, P., Faust, J. M., & Mendelson, C. R. (2004). Surfactant protein secreted by the maturing mouse fetal lung acts as a hormone that signals the initiation of parturition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(14), 4978–4983.
- Smith, G. C. (2001a). Use of time to event analysis to estimate the normal duration of human pregnancy. Hum Reprod 16(7): 1497-1500.
- Buckley S. (2011) Undisturbed birth. AIMS Journal. 23(4). Available at: https://www.aims.org.uk/journal/item/undisturbed-birth
- McCormick C. (2003) The First Stage of Labour: Physiology and Early Care. In: Myles Text Book For Midwives. 14th edition. Edited by Fraser and Cooper. Churchill Livingstone.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. How to Tell When Labor Begins. 2011.
- Anderson M, Rutherford M. (2013) Evidence of nesting psychology during human pregnancy. Evolution and human behavior. 34(6):390-397.
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- The Online Prenatal Class for Couples by Pulling Curls Review 2021 + Signing Bonus
- 13 Subtle Signs of Labor Approaching that you Don’t want to miss