Signs Labor Has Begun

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The baby’s due date gives an idea as to when the labor could begin. In general, labor can begin anytime between 3 weeks before the due date and 2 weeks after the calculated due date.

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True labor vs. false labor

Most women feel false labor before they experience true labor. False labor or latent labor is accompanied by typically short contractions that may not be painful. The frequency of the contractions is not regular and they do not accompany any leaking fluid or bleeding.

However, there are some signs that signal that true labor has begun. If the labor is true, contractions will occur regularly and frequently. Contractions will not stop at this point, and will typically last between 30–70 seconds or even longer.

Labor will cause the woman to feel sharp physical sensations in the lower back area and upper portion of the abdomen. Contractions can get stronger and increasingly painful as time passes. In fact, some pregnant women will be unable to talk to others or even laugh at a joke during this point in the labor process.

"Signs of Labor" How To Know When It’s Time: by

Sensing the six signs

Six signs that a woman may experience when the labor is near include:

  1. Dropping or lightening
  2. Pink mucus “show”
  3. Changes in baby movement
  4. Water breaking
  5. Diarrhea
  6. Nesting

Dropping or lightening

Dropping or lightening occurs when the head of the baby “drops” into the pelvis. The belly seems to appear lower and women can breathe with ease as the baby does not cause pressure on the mother's lungs. However, frequent urination is possible as the baby presses the bladder.

For women who are about to deliver their first child, lightning occurs a couple of weeks before the baby is born. For second-time mothers, lightning occurs once labor has started.

When the baby pushes the stomach upward, it causes the acids present in the stomach to move into the windpipe, creating heartburn. When the baby is dropped in the pelvis, these symptoms may improve.

Pink mucus “show”

The cervix begins to open up and the mucus becomes visible during labor. The mucus plug is a sticky, jelly-like substance that protects the opening of the cervix by preventing the entry of bacteria into the uterus.

The mucus plug passes through the vagina in a small amount, termed as “show,” either in one shot or in multiple pieces. As the mucus plug is blood-stained, it shows a pink color.

Normally, blood is mixed in small amounts with the mucus; therefore, if more blood is lost, it is a warning sign to contact the physician immediately. Labor may begin right away or may take a couple of days. However, in some women, a “show” is not visible.

Changes in baby movement

At the onset of labor, the cervix will open. The contractions of the muscles in the uterus begin at regular intervals. The uterus will relax between successive contractions. The baby will keep moving until the labor begins, and this movement will continue during the early labor.

However, the movement pattern may change. Instead of kicking the womb, the baby may squirm or shuffle.

The feeling of the baby's movement provides assurance that the baby is doing well. If the movement of the baby is reduced, it may mean that the baby is in trouble. Talking to a physician helps in these instances.

Reduced fetal movements may be linked to a stillbirth. Changes in movement patterns could be a sign that the baby is not well.

When the baby rotates into the right position, then women may experience lower back pain.

Water breaking

When a woman's water breaks, the amniotic sac breaks and the fluid passes through the vagina. The fluid may come out as a gush or sometimes as a trickle. In many cases, contractions begin within 24 hours of the water breaking. It is advised to let the physician know about water breaking, even if contractions have not begun.

At times it can be difficult to differentiate between urine and amniotic fluid. The amniotic fluid is a clear, pale straw-colored fluid, and might be blood-stained to a small extent when the water breaks. If the water is colored, smelly, or if more blood is seen, contacting the physician will help, as the baby may require immediate attention.

Owing to the changes happening in the body fluids, there can be a weight loss of about 2–3 pounds.


In some women, there is an urge to empty the bowels during labor. If this occurs and the stools are loose as compared to normal stool, these symptoms indicate that the woman is beginning to go into labor.

The hormones causing the uterus to contract can sometimes result in diarrhea. Increasing fluid intake and avoiding sugary drinks and milk can help improve the condition.


Most women get a sudden urge to clean and organize; this is known as nesting. It is generally believed that nesting is an instinct for women preparing for the birth of their baby.

The nipples may leak noticeably during the last few weeks of pregnancy. The milk, known as colostrum, is a nutrient-rich food for the baby.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine; two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are used in anticancer therapy.


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