Signs of Early Labor

As very tired and very pregnant women, we are often in a desperate search for any signs that labor is ready to begin. We bounce on our yoga balls, sip our raspberry leaf tea, monitor each twinge, and try to determine if it’s amniotic fluid in our underwear, or did we just pee? 

Here are a few signs that you may or may not experience as your body and your baby prepare for labor. 

What are the signs of early labor?

  • You may feel the baby drop down lower into your pelvis, causing increased pelvic pressure.
  • This drop also creates a “lightening” effect that makes it easier to breathe, since there is less pressure pushing up into your diaphragm and lungs.
  • Lower back pain and/or mild-moderate cramping. Early labor contractions start off gradual, are generally not regular in their timing, and mild enough that you can talk through them most of the time.

What can I do if I’m in early labor?

Because the length of this stage is so unpredictable (ranging from hours to days), we recommend you manage your early labor symptoms at home as long as you are able to cope well. Here are some recommendations to help you:

  • Take hot showers and/or warm baths.
  • Apply heat packs for cramping, ice packs for back pain.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Your uterus is a muscle that needs hydration to function at its best.
  • Eat! If you’re hungry, eat. Small frequent snacks or meals will keep you feeling strong and energized.
  • Keep moving. If you have energy, go for a walk, rock on your yoga ball, walk up and down the stairs, and sway those hips to get your baby in a good position.
  • If you’re tired – take a nap. Rest is important!
  • To help you sleep in early labor, we often encourage moms to take Benadryl and Tylenol at bedtime. Rest and sleep are important in order to maintain good energy for when labor really kicks in! Talk to your provider about what’s best for you.

When should I call my provider?

  • As labor moves from the early to the active phase, you will feel a definite shift in the intensity and frequency of the contractions. 
  • This is when you download an app or ask a partner to start timing contractions.We recommend you call us when the contractions are 3-4 minutes apart (from beginning of contraction to beginning of the next contractions), lasting about a minute each, and you are no longer able to talk through them.
  • Real labor contractions will not slow down or go away despite rest or hydration.
  • If your water breaks… don’t panic. Most of the time it does not mean your baby is coming right away. You have time. Put on a pad, look at the color of the fluid, and call your provider to have a conversation about what to do next.

It’s exhausting for you to have to make multiple trips into the hospital, so try some of these tips at home first, and always feel free to call us with your symptoms. We can often make more suggestions, and even gauge over the phone what your best course of action will be. 

We sometimes recommend a visit to South Shore Hospital’s Early Labor Lounge, which is a great place for moms that are almost in active labor, but aren’t quite ready to be admitted.

Remember, your body was made to do this.

When the time comes to bring your baby into the world, you will know just what to do. And we are always here to help you along the way!

Learn more about Pregnancy & Childbirth Services at South Shore Health.