6 Signs of Labor (& When to Go to the Hospital)

Signs of labor include rhythmic uterine contractions, dilation of the cervix and a change in cervical thickness. Women going through labor may also lose their mucus plug and rupture their amniotic sac.

Labor can start from 20 weeks of gestation, in the case of premature babies, or from 37 weeks, for full-term babies, and the duration of labor can vary between 11 and 24 hours. This time can be shorter with each pregnancy.

Signs of labor usually appear gradually, with cramps similar to those of menstruation that eventually become more intense and painful. 

Woman in labor, with male partner and female aiding through contraction

What are the signs of labor?

The 6 main signs that indicate the start of labor are:

1. Rhythmic contractions

Contractions can be felt throughout pregnancy, especially in the last trimester, as the body prepares its muscles for the moment of birth.

Also recommended: Cramps During Pregnancy: 11 Causes (In 1st, 2nd and 3rd Trimesters) tuasaude.com/en/pregnancy-cramps

However, a few hours before birth, these contractions become more frequent and strong. They start with longer intervals between then, which then shortens.  You are advised to go to the hospital when contractions last between 45 and 60 seconds and appear every 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Loss of the mucous plug

The loss of the mucous plug, which is a thick secretion that forms in the cervix during pregnancy, is common when labor begins and occurs due to the dilation of the cervix.

Normally, the mucous plug is noted when the woman goes to the bathroom and wipes. It looks like a gelatinous secretion, which can be pink, brown or containing some blood. Read more about the mucous plug and what it looks like.

3. Water breaking

The water breaking usually happens during labor and causes the release of a fluid similar to urine. This fluid is lighter in color and more cloudy, and may contain some whitish traces. It signifies the rupture of the amniotic fluid.

Unlike the urge to urinate, when the water breaks, the woman is unable to hold back the liquid.

4. Easier breathing

The feeling of breathing more easily tends to appear from a few weeks to a few hours before labor begins, because the baby begins to position itself lower in the belly. This means less compression on the diaphragm, making breathing easier.

5. Dilation of the cervix

Another sign of the beginning of labor is the dilation of the cervix, which is characterized by an increase in the opening of the uterine cervix to allow the baby to exit. This can only be confirmed through palpation by the doctor or nurse in the hospital or clinic. 

The cervix needs to dilate to 10 centimeters to allow the baby to pass through.

6. Change in cervical thickness

When labor begins, it is common for the cervix to stretch and become thinner, especially when the cervix is dilated. This is referred to as cervical effacement.

Normally, cervical effacement of the cervix is only confirmed by the doctor or nurse during palpation.

Is diarrhea a sign of labor?

Diarrhea is not normally a sign that labor will begin, and it is important to consult your doctor if you have severe diarrhea, especially if you have other symptoms such as fever, vomiting or blood in the stool.

What is the pain like during childbirth?

Pain during childbirth is caused by the contraction and distension of muscles. This pain can according to each woman's tolerance and the stage of labor. In the initial phase of labor, the pain is similar to a very strong period cramp, and is only felt during contractions. It is felt in the lower part of the abdomen and spreads to the lower back and thighs.

In the last phase of childbirth, the pain is felt in the lower back, abdomen, buttocks and vagina, and becomes more intense and deep. This happens because the bones in the pelvic region are being moved and the muscles in the anus and vagina region are extended to allow for the baby's passage.

However, some natural techniques and options, such as massages, warm water therapy and aromatherapy, are some options that can help reduce pain during labor. 

When to go to the hospital

It is important to proceed to the hospital when contractions become very strong. These should last between 45 and 60 seconds and come every 3 to 5 minutes. During labor, pain from contractions will gradually increase, but the calmer and more relaxed the woman is, the better the birth process will be.