While spending time on the labor and delivery unit recently, I decided to poll some of the labor nurses about what they would like people to know before they come in to have a baby. Many of the nurses said that women need to know the signs of true labor, to differentiate it from a false alarm.
Two words to the wise first:
1. This article is for mothers-to-be in the last month of pregnancy. Before that time, preterm labor can be mild, and is much easier to treat if you come in early on. So if you are more than a month before your due date, these guidelines are not appropriate for you. If you think you may be having signs of labor, call your doctor or midwife, or go to your hospital!
2. It is always a good idea to get advice from the professional who knows you best. If you have had rapid labor in the past or if you have complications of pregnancy, individualized specific recommendations from your doctor or midwife will be most useful. These recommendations are not one-size-fits-all for every mother-to-be.
Are You Having Contractions?
The contractions of real labor are typically strong and regular, and get stronger over time. In true active labor, contractions are typically uncomfortable enough that you have to change your activities to get through. You may need to pace around, or change your breathing, or make yourself relax. During true labor contractions, people around you can usually tell that something is happening-they can see it in your face. When contractions are strong like this, coming every 2-5 minutes for at least an hour, it is usually time to head in.
Did your water break?
If you have any question that you broke your water, call your practitioner. About ten percent of women break their water before labor begins. Although usually a pop and then a gush, constant trickling can also be a sign that amniotic fluid is leaking. Once the bag of waters has opened, the baby is less protected from bacteria from the vagina, and infection can occur. If you don’t go into labor on your own shortly, induction of labor is usually advised. On the other hand, most women don’t break their waters before labor, so you most moms can’t wait for this sign to tell them it is time to head in.
Are You Bleeding?
A small amount of vaginal bleeding, usually mixed with some mucus, is common within a week or two before labor. This is the “mucus plug”, and is of no significance. It is also common to have a little bleeding after an internal examination or after intercourse late in pregnancy. Bleeding like a period is never normal in pregnancy, and should lead you to immediately contact your practitioner or go to the hospital.
What do you do if this seems like real labor?
Most practices want to hear when their patients are coming in to the hospital. You should receive a phone number to call in case of emergency. If they don’t give you a special number, the office number that you use to make appointments probably is forwarded to an answering service on off-hours. Be sure you have appropriate contact information for problems and that you know what you should do when you are in labor.
And don’t forget to do a dry run of how you are going to get there, and have bags packed a few weeks ahead! The big day is almost here!