6 Signs of Labor According to a Labor Nurse

August 8, 2018

How do you know if you are approaching labor? What are the signs of labor? This is the golden question at the end of your pregnancy.

I'm here to help you get a better understanding of what's going on so that when the time comes, you can judge for yourself whether it's time to head to the hospital.

Why I am here and who I am:

Hey mama, I am Trish— AKA Labor Nurse Mama, a labor and delivery nurse with over 15 years of high-risk OB experience. I am also a mama to 7 kids and have given birth to 6 and have labored thousands of mamas and delivered many, many babies. I am the online birth class educator for Calm Labor Confident Birth and The VBAC Lab birth classes. and the mama expert inside our Calm Mama Society Mama Membership Community! You can find me over on IG teaching over 240k mamas daily.

We make a small commission from some of the links (you don’t pay any more for using our links); however some of the recommendations, we do not earn anything; we love ’em and want you to know about them. Click here for our full disclosure. Thank you!

Labor can come on slow or come on like a raging beast  A few signs might be missed. But for most women, there is a relatively similar pattern. Especially first-time mamas.

Some signs of early labor can come days to weeks before you have your little one swaddled in your waiting arms.

I am all about educating my patients but you should be educated before I admit you to a labor and delivery room. TRUST ME! This is the best thing for you!

Educating yourself about your birth is one of the most important steps you can take in your pregnancy.

Waiting until you are in labor is too late to be educated, so make that a priority now. Labor Nurse Mama has several options but the one that is most popular is our comprehensive birth course, Calm Labor Confident Birth, this is a self paced online class, and you can do it in your Pj's with your support partner! You have lifetime access and it comes with with hangouts with a labor and delivery nurse.

1. Those Pesky Contractions

Real contractions lead to cervical change. They are consistent and persistent. Genuine contractions don't give up or lighten up.

They increasingly get more painful and last longer. You cant do your usual activities during labor contractions.

Activity doesn't deter them.

Drinking fluid does not decrease real contractions but it is extremely important as dehydration can start early labor so STAY HYDRATED.

Contractions start out like mild period cramps progressing over time to robust period cramps. Finally making their way to “I  want to punch my best friend in the face” type of pain.

There is a rule of thumb, real contractions less than 5 minutes apart, lasting longer than one minute for over one hour warrants a hospital trip.

RELATED POST: Common Medications used in labor.

2. Your Water Breaks, aka Ruptures

When your water breaks, this is a pretty definitive sign that you will be having the baby soon. If you planned a hospital birth, then it will most likely be within 24 hours. Due to increased infection risks, doctors are wary of letting you stay pregnant past the 24-hour mark.

But I need to warn you, your water breaking isn't always labor. Sometimes, your OB provider has to start your labor after your water breaks. Again, this is due to the infection risk, and they usually won't wait.

It can be hard to tell if it's your water breaking or you peed your pants. If its urine, it smells like urine. If it's your amniotic fluid (labor nurses can tell that smell too), it will continue to leak.

You will need to have a maxi pad or towel in your underwear. If someone comes in saying their water broke and they don't have something in their undies, I usually assume it's not. Granted I've been known to be wrong. (Don't tell my husband!)

Typically, you will leak more. Try forcibly coughing a few times and see what happens. That's usually messy once the water breaks.

Many women tell me they heard an audible pop when their water broke. If you hear a pop and then see a puddle on the floor, you can assume your water just broke.

Check out this hilarious video of Natalie Portman mistakenly thinking her water broke.

***If your water breaks and you see a greenish or brownish color please let you Dr. know, as this may be a sign that the baby has had a bowel movement. ***

Related post: Postpartum Survival Kit

3. Bloody Show

If you notice a blood-tinged mucus on your undies or seen on the toilet paper when you wipe, this could be a sign of labor to come.

But this sign isn't guaranteed the baby is happening that day. But it is a guarantee that your cervix is doing something.

I won't lie, it's nasty and looks like snot with brown streaks. Bright red bleeding ALWAYS warrants a call to your Doctor.

You may also notice that your normal discharge gets thicker in the days leading up to delivery. All of this is just prep for your big showdown.

4. Back Pain & Labor

Back pain can be one of the signs of labor.  I'm sure you've heard of back labor, and it probably causes intense fear. Trust me, back labor truly sucks. I've had my six babes natural, one was face up, and I thought she was crushing each vertebra as she moved on down and out.

If you've had true back labor, then your knees get weak when someone else mentions it.

Fetal malposition usually causes back labor (the baby's head isn't in the optimal position for birth) Back pain from labor usually occurs with the contraction and lighten up somewhat between the contractions.

But like contractions, if you're experiencing real labor, it will get worse. Sorry! I'm nothing if not authentic.

Side note: If you are suffering from back or pelvic pain like I did when I was pregnant with Greyson. Head over and check out this post describing various ways to relieve back pain during pregnancy. It's super informative.


5. Diarrhea & Nausea Before Labor

Many women experience diarrhea and loss of appetite during the early and later stages of labor. I prefer to think this is God's way of cleaning us out.

We all know the biggest fear most women have is pooping in labor so going into labor naturally clears you out. (Your labor nurse doesn't care about poop!)

6. The Baby “Drops” Before Labor


“the baby dropped”

All refer to when the baby descends into the pelvis, and you feel as if you are able to breath better. But with that deep breath comes intense pelvic pressure. Think, “there is a bowling ball on top of my vagina which just might also fall out” pressure.

The baby dropping can be one of the more early signs of labor, but it's a necessary happening. For first time moms, this can be weeks ahead of the birth.

For moms who have been down this route before, it can happen days or hours before delivery.

Undoubtedly this is not an all-inclusive list of all the signs of labor, but it should give you an idea of whats to come.

Labor has many early signs but none as definitive as regular contractions that cause cervical change and the breaking of your water.

Just remember labor is unique and very fascinating. Continue to educate yourself. Knowledge is power.

I know you are most likely scared but as I tell all my patients.

Your body was made for this baby, and this baby was made for your body. Trust your body.

If you desire to have an unmedicated birth, read how here.

or this one by another labor nurse!

Also, read this to prepare for labor!

I love to hear your labor stories and how the signs of labor presented themselves, so comment below and share yours with us. I'm also happy to answer your questions!


Just a little Disclaimer: As always, I am just writing my thoughts and what I’ve learned along the way. Although I am in fact a labor and delivery RN, This is not medical advice. You should always seek and follow the advice of your care provider.

This post may contain some affiliate links (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission, but it won’t cost you a penny more)! Thank you! For our full disclosure read here)


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