Pregnancy is one of those moments in life where you have a million questions and don’t know any of the answers. Your doctor and google become your best friend as you start having out-of-the-ordinary symptoms. I remember being online looking for answers on a new pregnancy related topic pretty much every day during those 9 months. Even when I was pregnant with my second child I found myself googling for some of the same topics. One question that is very common and you see across all mommy groups is: “how do I know if I’m in labor?”
When I was pregnant with my first I must have looked up this question about a thousand times and with my second about a million times. Ha! A lot of moms would tell me “you’ll know when you’re in labor”. Looking back I know they were right, but that was not a satisfactory answer for me when I was wondering if I was in labor or not.
There are a few important things you should know when it comes to pregnancy, contractions and weird pains. If you’re in intense pain, at any time during pregnancy, call your doctor right away. Intense pain is not normal (unless you’re in labor) so it’s better to be checked right away. If your doctor dismisses your concerns and you’re still worried about it, then head onto the ER. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Now onto 2 terms you should get familiar with during pregnancy:
Braxton Hicks contractions (BH): You probably have already heard about them in movies. Braxton Hicks are like practice contractions, you feel your uterus tighten and release. You might feel a slight pain but it’s gone in a few seconds. They don’t have a pattern and they’re so mild you don’t have to stop whatever you’re doing when they’re happening. BH don’t cause dilation but they can be uncomfortable. They are completely normal and it’s how your body prepares for labor.
During my first pregnancy I started feeling them in the third trimester and during my second pregnancy in my second trimester. BH are not an indicator that labor is coming soon nor of when you’re baby will come – both of mine came past their due date.
Prodomal labor: This is something I had never heard about until I started researching about what was happening to me. Prodomal labor is known as a labor that starts and stops – without you giving birth to baby 12-24 hours later. You feel like you’re in real labor: you feel painful contractions, you can probably time them and sometimes they can get a little intense, but all of a sudden they stop. These contractions can cause dilation in some women without going into actual labor. It can happen many weeks before birth but it usually happens during the last month of pregnancy and it’s also not an indicator of when your baby will come.
I had prodomal labor during both of my pregnancies. It was so intense in my second pregnancy that I thought “this was it!” many times. The last 2 or 3 weeks of pregnancy my body would start having real contractions at night, for about 3 hours. I couldn’t go to sleep because they were painful enough to keep me awake and I could time them but suddenly after 3 hours they would stop. I have to be honest, I got sick of going through that every night and not ending up with a baby in my arms. Eventually I started to ignore them – or tried to.
In my case, prodomal labor caused dilation during both of my pregnancies. I was 4cm dilated with my first before I was induced and 5cm dilated with my second before I actually went into labor. This was the best part of going through weeks of prodomal labor: when it was time for real labor I was already half way there!
There are probably many women that experience prodomal labor and don’t know about it. Sometimes this is the reason why you end up in the hospital thinking you’re in labor only to be sent home a few hours later.
So, how do you if you’re in labor?
I’m going to disappoint you with this answer but the only way to know if you’re in labor is after you’ve had constant contractions for a few hours. The contractions will be painful (although not too intense at first) and you’ll feel your uterus tightening during each one. You can actually touch your belly when it’s happening and it’ll feel rock hard.
I used to time contractions as soon as I got them but soon realized it was a waste of time because it was prodomal labor. If you can keep on going about your day while feeling contractions you’re either not in labor yet or in the early stages. I recommend you start timing your contractions when they’re getting more noticeable – as in you have to stop what you’re doing when you’re having one.
With my second pregnancy, I realized I was truly in labor because I had been feeling contractions for 5 hours, and as time progressed I felt like I had to stop what I was doing and breathe through each contraction.
When you’re pregnant, and probably feeling miserable, you just want to take anything as a sign that you’re in labor. I googled labor signs every night for about 2 weeks because I wanted to be in labor so bad but the reality is that the only real sign is having contractions for a few hours. (However, if you’re wondering if you’re in labor, don’t hesitate to call your doctor – that is exactly what they’re there for. Call as many times as you need to call.)
I have to admit that as much as I hated hearing this advice it is so true: “you will know when you’re in labor”. It won’t feel like any of the contractions you felt before, the intensity and pain will be different, they will come many times in a lapse of an hour and they will get stronger. Labor made me think of my first orgasm – I didn’t know what it felt like before I had one but once it happened I knew that had to be it. When you’re in labor you will know, believe me.
How did you realize you were in actual labor? Leave a comment down below!
If you’re wondering about being induced or waiting for birth to start on it’s own, read my experience of these two types of birth.
Looking for a natural birth plan? Download this one for free!