Q&A: I want to know if there is a clear way to know when I'm in labor.
How will I know if I'm in labor? What if my water breaks? And what if I get sent home from the hospital?
Your healthcare provider will definitely review the signs and symptoms of labor with you well before your due date. These symptoms include:
- Breaking your bag of waters.
- Lower back pain or cramping (this may start intermittently and later become regular).
- Tightening of your abdomen.
- Cervical dilation (opening of the cervix; this will be checked at your weekly doctor visits).
- Cervical effacement (thinning of the cervix; this will be checked at your weekly doctor visits).
- Loss of mucus plug (this plug has been tucked inside the cervix, protecting the opening).
- Contractions becoming regular. When timing them from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next, they will be at least 30-75 seconds long. The pain will build and your belly will harden and then soften as the contractions pass.
- Regular contractions (about five minutes apart) are a sure sign of labor.
- If you can’t make the contractions go away by lying down, emptying your bladder, or drinking fluids, chances are great that you’re experiencing labor.
Call you doctor and let her know if you experience any of the symptoms above. When in doubt, always call!
What should I do when my water breaks?
The best answer to this question is: Laugh! Some women may experience a “gush” when their waters break, while others may barely notice a small trickle or leaking. Some women think they may have wet themselves or that it is even normal vaginal discharge. Unfortunately, this all happens without warning … and there’s little you can do to stop it. (Again, best to just laugh!) If you are unsure of what’s happening—call your doctor’s office and check in. Your healthcare provider will want to know what’s going on.
Ideally the water (amniotic fluid) should be clear or have a slightly yellowish tinge. If it is green or dark in color, or has a strong foul odor—be sure to tell your doctor or midwife right away. In this event, your healthcare provider may have you come to the office to check you out, or request that you continue to check in to keep tabs on how you are feeling via telephone.
It is important to let your healthcare provider know when your water breaks. Within 24 hours of your water breaking the risk of infection goes up, so your doctor will want to have you deliver within that timeframe. Also, if your water breaks and you are not close to your due date, it is very important that you call your healthcare provider immediately.
If you’re concerned about your water breaking at home, you can try sleeping on a waterproof pad or towels to protect your bed if your water breaks while you are sleeping. You can also pack a small towel in your purse in case your water breaks when you are away from home.
What if I get sent home? Many women are concerned that they might be sent home if they are in early labor or if what is happening is a “false alarm.” Your body does a lot of practicing with Braxton Hicks contractions, which can be often mistaken for actual labor.
Don’t worry and don’t feel foolish if you do get sent home after a trip to the hospital. This happens more often that you might think.