Child Birth – How to Tell When Labor Begins

When labor begins, what happens?

When labor begins, the cervix dilates (opens) and the muscles in the uterus start contracting at regular intervals. These muscle contractions cause the abdomen to harden; between these contractions, the uterus relaxes and softens.

Are there changes that signal labor is beginning?

There are certain changes you may or may not notice before labor begins, including:

  • The physical sensation that the baby has lowered or dropped. This may happen anywhere from a few weeks to a few hours before labor begins, and occurs when the baby’s head settles deep into the pelvis.
  • Increased vaginal discharge which can begin several days before, or at the onset of, labor. What is false labor?

What is false labor?

You may have contractions of the uterus before labor “truly” begins. These sporadic contractions are known as false labor, or Braxton Hicks contractions, and you may notice that they occur more at the end of the day. Although they can be painful at times, they are normal.

How can you tell the difference between false labor vs. true labor?

Here are some ways that may help you differentiate between false labor and true labor:

  • Timing of contractions. False labor contractions are often irregular and don’t get closer together; true labor contractions come at regular intervals and happen more frequently as time passes. True labor contractions may last between 30-70 seconds each.
  • Changes with movement. False labor contractions may subside if you walk, rest, or even change positions; true labor contractions continue, despite any change in movement.
  • Contraction strength. False labor contractions are usually weak and do not get much stronger; true labor contractions will steadily increase in strength.
  • Location of pain. False labor contractions are normally only felt in the front; true labor contractions normally begin in the back and move to the front.

Sometimes the only way to tell if you are truly in labor is to be examined by your physician.

If you are experiencing any type of contractions during your pregnancy, contact Women's Institute for Specialized Health to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced gynecologists in Chattanooga.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to take the place of the doctor-patient relationship and any email is not appropriate for emergency care. To schedule an appointment, please call your doctor's primary office, listed on our Locations page. In case of emergency, we are available 24 hours a day.

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This information contained in this website is not intended to take the place of the doctor-patient relationship and any email is not appropriate for emergency care.