Am I In Labor?

You've made it, maybe you're 39 weeks, maybe you're at 41+2days, but you are closing in on your baby's birthday, and boy-oh-boy are you ready already!  You're on the couch with your partner and/or dog after a long day doing the very hard work that you do all day, and your enjoying a good snuggle while catching up on last week's Game of Thrones, when suddenly you feel a small twinge.  You can easily breathe through it, but then about 8 minutes later you feel another.  Then another 10 minutes later you feel another.  Is this it?  Are you finally going to be meeting your baby soon?

am I in labor

How to tell if the contractions are real?

First off, let's be fair, all contractions are real contractions.  They all serve a purpose, and most are helping your body prepare for true labor.  They just might not actually BE true labor, which is defined as contractions that grow consistent, more frequent, and cause a change in your cervix.  You can have Braxton-Hicks contractions as early as your 2nd trimester (and earlier in subsequent pregnancies).  And they might pile up on you, toward the end, in what is called Prodromal Labor (or VERY early labor).  If you want to know if your contractions are Braxton-Hicks or the onset of true labor, then ask yourself these questions:

  • Are the contractions timeable?  (Can you say you know there is a definite start and stop with a peak?  Or is it just a general feeling?)
  • Are they increasing in duration, frequency and/or intensity?  (Don't get that contraction timer out just yet-- we're talking over-all, from last hour to this hour, are they longer, stronger, or closer together?)
  • Are you fully hydrated? (Dehydration can cause contractions, as can over exerting yourself physically.  Try drinking a glass of water to see if they subside a bit.)
  • Do they continue if you change latitudes?  (If you were walking, have a seat.  If you were sitting, then lay down.  If you were already laying down, then try to get up and move a little bit.  If they go away when you change positions then they were probably just Braxton-Hicks.
  • Do they continue through and/or after sleep?

If you've answered no to two or more of these questions, then its likely that your body is not (yet!) telling you that its game time.  If you're still uncomfortable, (or just annoyed) try the following:

  • Drink a glass of water.  Or two.  Its not hard to be under-hydrated when you've got another being inside of your own.
  • Change positions.
  • Take a nice shower or a warm (but not too hot!) bath. 
  • Ignore them.  (I mean, if they aren't going anywhere, you won't be able to ignore the contractions for much longer.  But if they are just kind of there, happening occasionally in the evenings, try to keep your mind occupied with other, more important matters.
  • Get some rest.  A nice snack with a drink and a nap can do wonders to help settle down an "irritable uterus".  (It makes sense, I know I'm much less irritable after a refreshment and a good rest!)
  • Relax.  Enjoy yourself.   Turn on some music, light a candle or two, and enjoy your last bit of being pregnant.  (Its not always easy, we know!)

If you answered mostly yes to the questions above, or if you are really uncomfortable (like if they really hurt), or if you see any major change in what happens when you're in the bathroom, then you should definitely let your doctor or midwife know, as they can best help you determine if true labor has arrived.

Either way, its nice to let your doula know what's going on, and its probably good for an extra foot rub while you enjoy that next episode! 

Victoria McCollum

Victoria McCollum is a birth and postpartum doula and owner of Doulas of Fredericksburg, in Fredericksburg, Virgina. She resides there with her husband and three precocious sons.