It’s the middle of the night, you’re in your 39th week and all of a sudden you feel a strong tightening in your abdomen. The first thing you think is, Am I having contractions? Is this labor? For first time parents, one of the most crucial parts of pregnancy is to know when you’re actually having contractions, and when it’s time to pack up and head on over to the hospital. Not to worry, though, false contractions are very normal. If you end up making a few trips to the hospital and they tell you you’re not ready, you don’t need to worry. Many women have been through false alarms during pregnancy.
How To Know It’s Not Time Yet
Contrary to what we may watch on television shows or in movies, actual labor does not start suddenly; there is a general progression of events that happen prior to that. When you go into labor, your body has been preparing itself for weeks before it’s time for the baby to arrive. More often than not, first time mothers in their third trimester can trigger false contractions due to stress or hormonal changes, even dehydration. Even when you go into labor, it can be hours before you have your baby.
Signs of Labor or False Alarm?
There are several events that happen which are associated with labor. When these start happening to a woman, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to grab your overnight bag and jet to the hospital. It may be a false alarm, or it may be very early labor. These signs include:
Lightening is when your baby settles down lower into your pelvis, getting ready to make his or her arrival. When the baby moves further down, it helps you breathe easier, and an added bonus is if you suffered from heartburn throughout your pregnancy, this may be a temporary relief. However, the increased pressure on the uterus will mean more frequent trips to the bathroom. Lightening might happen right before labor or weeks before; there is no exact time.
- Passing of the Mucus Plug
The mucus plug is a seal that shuts off the cervix during pregnancy. When the cervix starts widening during the end of the third trimester, the mucus plug may be dislodged. This discharge might be clear or slightly bloody. In many cases, discharge can occur even a week or two before you go into labor.
Contractions are one of the most common false alarms that women experience when in the later stages of pregnancy. False contractions are usually known as Braxton Hicks. They tend to cause the abdomen to tighten up and relax but don’t continue on at regular intervals. These contractions are quite different from actual labor contractions, which come in more regular intervals.
Signs of Actual Labor
The best way to tell whether you are in actual labor is to time your contractions. Keep in mind they usually start slowly and build over time. Time from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next – this is how often they are happening (frequency). The length from the beginning to the end of a single contraction (duration) is important, too. If you call your healthcare provider, he or she will want to know both the duration and the frequency of the contractions, as well as how intense they feel to you. Once your contractions are coming every 4-5 minutes and they have been that way for about an hour, it may be go-time.
The other sign that labor has started is the rupture of your membranes, sometimes referred to as your bag of waters breaking. If you think your waters have broken, note the time, amount, color and odor (remember the word TACO), and notify your healthcare provider. Most of the time, contractions start soon after your water breaks; but, for some women, it could take as much as 12-24 hours.
In the end, those few extra trips to the hospital won’t hurt. When it’s time for labor and you see your precious baby, everything will be worth it.
If you have any fun labor stories to share, or can share some tricks to know what is a false alarm, let us know!
Written by Manal, first time mom and writer
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a trained medical doctor. Health & Parenting Ltd disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, which is provided to you on a general information basis only and not as a substitute for personalized medical advice. All contents copyright © Health & Parenting Ltd 2017. All rights reserved.