Am I in Labor?

A frequently asked question is “how will I know that I am in labor?” or “Am I in labor?!?!“. You probably know to look for contractions and/or your water breaking, but you don’t know what those things feel like because you haven’t experienced them yet. In movies, you often see a pregnant woman walking through the store when suddenly – SPLOOSH – her water breaks and they rush her to the hospital. The truth is, only around 10% of women experience their water breaking as the first sign of labor. Typically, contractions come first and your water will break after having regular contractions for a while.

If your water does break during labor, remember this acronym:


Time, Amount, Color, and Odor.

Amniotic fluid (“the waters”) are usually clear, minimal odor (slightly sweet), and can vary in amount. If the waters are dark brown or green, it can be an indication that the baby has passed its first poo in the womb (called meconium), which is something your provider will want to monitor the baby for. If it has a foul odor, it could indicate a potential infection or meconium. It does not always mean that there is an immediate emergency, but it is something your provider needs to make note of in order to provide the best care and advise you on how to proceed.

What does it feel like?

During early labor, one may feel excited, nervous, irritable, and anxious. Contractions are not likely to be very intense during this stage, and so the mother usually isn’t feeling uncomfortable yet. As the contractions become regular and confirm that this is likely “D-Day”, the mother can feel nervous about the impending labor or worry about caring for the baby or things still left to do. She may also feel irritable and anxious as her hormones are starting to ramp up, combined with the strange combination of excitement and nervousness. Many mothers will feel a nesting urge at this moment, wanting to finalize everything she can before the intensity ramps up.

Anxiousness, restlessness, irritability, and nesting can often be the first signs of labor starting. During the last trimester, many women may experience Braxton Hicks contractions, which are “false contractions”. They aren’t exactly “false”, as many mothers will tell you, but they do not progress labor and, therefore, are considered “not real” contractions. Early labor contractions may start off feeling like these Braxton Hicks contractions, just a slight tightening or cramping in the abdomen, or may feel like you need to have a bowel movement.

What do I do?

If you suspect contractions, you should start timing them. To properly time contractions, you’ll want to start timing at the beginning of a contraction. From start to finish of one contraction is called the duration. From start of one contraction to the start of another contraction is how far apart your contractions are. The typical rule for when to head to the hospital, or when active labor has begun, is the 5-1-1 rule. When contractions are less than 5 minutes apart, at least 1 minute in duration, and this pattern continues for at least 1 hour. There are many phone apps designed to time contractions so that you just hit start/stop at the beginning and end of each contraction and it will log it all for you and give you this basic information.

5 Early Signs of Labor


Consistent, regular contractions are an early sign of labor. Contractions help move baby down the birth canal and increase with intensity throughout labor.

Bloody show

As your cervix effaces and dilates (thins and opens), you may notice a thick discharge that can also be tinged with blood. Your mucous plug acts as a barrier from the outside world and is released in early labor.

Water breaks

When the amniotic sac ruptures, you may feel a popping sensation, gush of fluids, and/or a small trickle of fluids. Do not use a tampon, have sex, or take a bath after waters have broken unless consulting with your care provider first.


This is when baby drops and engages in your pelvis to prepare for birth. You may notice less heart burn and less trouble breathing; but in return you’ll likely feel more pressure on your bladder and pelvis. This may happen weeks before labor begins.


Although not pleasant, many women experience loose bowels or diarrhea during early labor. This is because the hormones in your body for labor cause muscles to loosen and the movement of contractions can stimulate your bowels as they are so closely located to each other.