Here’s me at just about 36 weeks preggo. I’m kind of a pregnancy outlaw. My body doesn’t go about labor and delivery the same way most other women do. I’m ok with that and I’m embracing it. Mostly just because I don’t have a choice and also because, well, my body is wise and it knows how to create a person in my uterus! What a miracle that is!
In my case I start contracting early on in pregnancy. I start with braxton hicks contractions around 25 weeks and then by 30 weeks I’m on to the real thing. I dilate a little at a time. A little here and a little there. Bada bang, bada bing. With this pregnancy, by 32 weeks I was dilated to a 2 and by 33 I was dilated to a 3. After having monster contractions for a couple weeks consistently after that, we decided not to check my dilation for a while so as not to start pre-term labor. With that said, I was dilated to a 5 for 2 weeks with one of my 4 kids and then just started right into transition when labor began actively. She was born 45 minutes later. I wasn’t even in that much pain during delivery. I consider the “pre-labor” contractions much worse for some reason. I was walking around and talking to people in transition. None, I repeat NONE of the nurses were concerned until they checked me and immediately told me to close my legs and hold that baby in (yeah right?!) until the doctor got there.
So, I will assume I’ve been at a 5 for a couple weeks with this one too. Being that far dilated, how do I know when I’m really in labor? Good question. I don’t. That’s why I’m compiling these resources to help you and me figure this mystery out.
HOW TO KNOW WHEN YOU’RE IN LABOR
1. Your water breaks
My prayers every night always include, “please help my water to break so I know when I’m in labor and please don’t let it be in a public place!” But luckily, this is a pretty sure sign that you’re in labor. However, only about 15% of women have their water break on its own before going into the hospital. Most of the time it is done artificially by the doctor or happens sometime during late labor or just before delivery.
My water broke with my first child, but even then, I had to be induced as it didn’t start labor contractions. I have a midwife this time around, so she would encourage walking and getting the labor to get kick started if it’s not already after the bag ruptures.
What does it feel like when your water breaks? For me, it felt like a small trickle and then a big gush about a minute later. I was able to contain it with a heavy flow maxi pad until I could get to the hospital and I didn’t get my clothes or car wet or anything. It might be a good idea to carry a pad in your purse if you feel like your water is likely to break in a public place. Mine broke at a family member’s house. While it was a little embarrassing, I was so glad I was in labor, I didn’t care! I felt the trickle and then ran to the bathroom and it gushed out in the toilet, so nothing for them to clean up thankfully. I think you just have an instinct about it and when it happens, you know! Read this for additional information on how it feels to have your water break.
2. Heavy Contractions or Pelvic Pressure
This is a tough one for me as I experience this for about 2 months before delivery. It goes off and on. I could have contractions 5 minutes apart and strong for 8 hours and still not be in active labor, but progressing slower. In fact, this is my pattern in pregnancy. I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse, but let’s go with blessing. I plan on an unmedicated home birth with a midwife this time, so fast is good.
Your doctor will tell you when you have hard contractions that you can’t talk through and are 3-5 minutes apart (and lasting one minute or more in duration), that it’s time to head to the hospital or birthing center. If I did that, I’d be there 3 times a week. So, I have to go on intensity and downward pushing pelvic pressure from the baby. When I feel like the baby is literally falling out, it’s time to RUN to the hospital. I don’t feel heavy contractions like some do in transition. I just feel a piercing pain in the vagina (which is the cervix opening) that causes me to stop and catch my breath and then goes away for a few minutes and then comes back. These pains are not regular and not always 3-5 minutes apart, but i”m still in active labor/transition. I don’t know if other women experience this, but I do. Every women is different and will feel different in labor. Here is an explanation of what a contraction feels like. As my midwife said, real contractions are not just felt on the surface of the belly, they are a hard, painful tightening of the muscles all around the belly and can be felt inside the body too. I think this is a good way to decipher between Brazton Hicks contractions and the real thing.
3. Your back hurts
Many women feel labor in their back and the pressure is quite strong. I have mild back pain in labor, and more of a feeling of pressure than pain. Everyone is different. As you can see from this article, not all women experience this pain in the back. So, it’s not the clearest sign that you’re in labor but it’s a good indication when combined with the other things listed here.
4. Digestive Distress
When I’m in labor, things downstairs in the digestive system just get weird. This might be TMI, so don’t read the next sentence if you are leary of potty talk! I poop and pee a lot during labor. My midwife said this is totally normal. She told me about 3/4 of the time, women spend natural labor on the toilet. It’s the perfect posture and position to relax and let baby descend. This kind of created a super fear for me of having a baby in the Target bathroom stall, but the concept makes sense. The hormones make everything soften down there and there is a lot of pressure on the bladder. I do throw up and get nauseous with every delivery as well but mostly at the very end. Here’s a great post of how labor works in labor. You will find it…. moving….
This is really embarrassing, but my husband told me I have pooped with every delivery. When you’re all doped up with epidural, you can’t feel a darn thing “down there” and well, when I push, other “stuff” comes out. I’m told it’s very common and it doesn’t get on the baby. Ask my husband for details, I’m sure he’d be happy to make fun at my expense.
I rely a lot on prayer in my life and labor and delivery is no different. There is just a feeling that something is different. You may call it intuition, I call it inspiration. You say potato, I say po-tato. Whatever. There’s just an instinct when you know something is different and that labor has begun. Don’t be embarrassed or forget to rely on that strong power. It’s your right and privilege to call upon it.
*Update on my pregnancy: At 37 weeks and 5 days, I am still not in active labor, but am dilated to a 5 and 80% effaced. I’m hoping for a baby to come in the next few days!
**DISCLAIMER: This post is not a substitute for your doctor’s or midwife’s advice. Please consult them before trying anything suggested in this post!