Labor: When Is it the Real Thing?
As many women approach their due dates, they may become apprehensive about knowing when to go to the hospital. The timing of going to labor and delivery varies. Certainly a high-risk patient needs to go with any unusual occurrence. But what if you’re a normal pregnant mother? How do you tell when it is time?
What is Labor?
Labor is defined by obstetricians as a change in the dilatation and thinning out of the cervix, determined by an exam. There are many labor false alarms, especially for first-timers, when what seems like real contractions turn out to be false labor, when evaluated at the hospital.
The onset of labor comes gradually, and isn’t as easy to discern as turning on and off a light. Imagine instead a dimmer switch being slowly adjusted up and down . . . and up and down. Irregular Braxton-Hicks contractions can begin around mid-pregnancy. As time goes on, these sequences become more organized, until at the end labor is the final result of the continuum of all of this activity. False labor is nothing more than one peak among the many peaks and valleys of early labor (the activity 24 to 48 hours before active labor).
Although the contractions of early labor, also called the latent phase of labor, don’t do much in the way of dilating the opening of the womb, they do thin it out and cause the baby’s head to descend, so that active labor will have a yielding target when the real forces begin.
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