What to Expect: Early Labor

by Pregnancy.org Staff

Is this the real thing?After hours or even weeks of non-productive pre-labor contractions, your body may begin to have rhythmic contractions that seem "different" to you. These contractions may be longer and stronger, and they are probably closer together. These are all signs that you may have begun early labor.

Once labor begin, you may feel excited. You may be wondering if "this" is really it! You also may feel a little restless, hungry and chatty. You may be tempted to elbow your partner to wakefulness just because you aren't ready to go back to sleep!

At this point contractions are generally less than 10 minutes apart and may last 45-60 seconds. Contractions will get stronger, closer together and longer with time. These contractions might feel like pressure in the pelvis, menstrual cramping or a dull backache. Most women are comfortable moving through their contractions.

Once I had stopped mentally bouncing and mentally shouting, "I bet this is it!," I became aware of a few confirming symptoms. I noticed an increase in bloody show and mucus during early labor. I had several bowel movements that seem like a mild diarrhea. Some women also experience a runny nose and an increased need to run to the bathroom (even more often).

Danger Signs

If you have any of these symptoms, contact your provider immediately:

  • Red, period like flow: Some bleeding is normal, but if it becomes heavy you will want to be checked immediately
  • Amniotic fluid is dark or stained greenish/brownish with meconium: While this may be normal, it needs to be checked out as soon as possible
  • A temperature over 100
  • Any sharp, stabbing pain in the abdomen.
  • Signs of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia such as sudden or severe swelling of your face, hands and feet, dizziness, headaches, changes in your vision (such as blurring or seeing spots)
  • Sudden and severe vomiting
  • Any change in your baby's movements
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge

What to Do During Early Labor

What should you do once you think you're really in labor? Tempting as it is to rush off to the hospital to have your guess confirmed you may want to consider staying home for most of your labor.

Most women are more comfortable in familiar surroundings and more able to employ birthing techniques in quiet surroundings. As long as there are no danger signs (see sidebar) or prior high risk factors, laboring at home is most conducive to a natural birth, as fewer unnecessary interventions will take place.

So drag out the scrabble game, finish knitting that bootie, wash a few dishes, write in your pregnancy journal, have a snack, keep hydrated. And if you are a real procrastinator, this is your last chance to pack your birth bag.


Take 10 minutes to take a nice warm shower or bath (if membranes have not released) before leaving your home. You may find yourself much more relaxed and ready to go, having had time to adjust to the "This is it!" feelings. ~Kerry Tuschhoff, doula

If you've chosen to birth at a birthing center or hospital, you may want to leave when the contractions are between 4-5 minutes apart and lasting over 60 seconds long, and have been that way for an hour or more. Second time (and above) moms may want to leave a little sooner -- perhaps when contractions are 5-6 minutes apart. Remember: Getting to the hospital earlier does not mean you will get the baby any sooner!

Bring along anything you think will make you feel more comfortable -- pillows from home, aromatherapy scents, birth ball, music, etc. It won't be long now! We'll be waiting for your post that baby has arrived!

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