This information will help you become aware of the various symptoms of early labor you may experience. However, remember that not all women have the same signs of labor. If you have any questions or concerns about your symptoms, you should call your OB/GYN or midwife.

Signs & Symptoms


Labor Signs & Symptoms

  • Your contractions will occur at consistent times. Start timing (in minutes) from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next contraction. With your first baby, it is when contractions are five minutes apart for one hour. If you have had a baby before, it is when contractions are six to eight minutes apart for one hour. 
  • The time between your contractions becomes shorter.
  • Your discomfort increases. It can be difficult to talk or walk during contractions.
  • Your contractions get stronger when you're walking and do not lessen when you're resting.
  • You have a bloody discharge.
  • You feel like you need to have a bowel movement.

If you think you are in labor, your water breaks or have any concerns, contact your OB provider for instructions.

False Labor

False Labor Signs & Symptoms

  • Your contractions come and go. They may be regular or irregular, but they do not get stronger.
  • When resting, your contractions don't happen as often or aren't as strong.
  • The time between contractions stays the same or they are farther apart.
  • There is no cervical change when you're examined by a physician or nurse.


Pre-Term Labor

Pre-Term Labor Signs & Symptoms

Pre-Term Labor is labor that begins more than three weeks before your due date.

  • You have cramps that are like having your period. Your stomach feels like it is tightening into a ball.
  • There is pressure on your pelvis.
  • Your lower back aches.
  • You have a new vaginal discharge or more vaginal discharge, especially if red or pink.
  • You have pains or cramps every 10 minutes or less that don't go away after resting, drinking fluids or peeing.
Immediate Evaluation

Labor Signs & Symptoms that Require Immediate Evaluation

  • Your water breaks. Even if you aren't having contractions, you will need to be seen in the hospital. When your water breaks, there is either a gush of fluid or a steady trickle that you can't control. Fluid may be clear, yellow, green or pinkish.
  • You have constant and severe abdominal pain.
  • You have bleeding like your period that is bright red.
  • There is constant pressure like you need to have a bowel movement.
  • Your baby has decreased movement or kicks. For example, you count less than eight kicks in two hours.
  • You have a constant or severe headache.
  • You see spots or your vision is blurry.
  • You're experiencing chills or fever.
  • You faint or lose consciousness.
  • You are vomiting or have severe nausea.

If you think you are in labor, your water breaks or have any concerns, contact your OB provider for instructions.

Common Labor Complications

When complications occur during labor, it can be alarming. However, being educated and aware of the complications that could possibly occur can help ease your fears and help you feel better prepared for the unexpected. Listed below are some common labor complications.
Labor doesn't progress
If your contractions aren't strong enough to move the baby down, or if your cervix isn't dilating despite your contractions, your doctor may tell you that your labor isn't progressing. If the contractions aren't strong enough, your doctor may hook you up to an IV and administer Pitocin, a synthetic oxytocin to strengthen your contractions. If your labor still does not progress, your doctor may then do a cesarean birth.

Your baby doesn't tolerate labor
If the fetal heart monitor shows your baby's heart is decelerating, your doctor may inform you that your baby is not tolerating labor. Doctors can identify what a well oxygenated baby looks like on the fetal heart monitor screen, and know what actions to take in order to regulate your baby's heart rate.

Forceps or vacuum delivery
If your baby is low enough in your birth canal, and you are too tired to continue pushing or the baby's heart rate has dropped, your doctor may opt to use a vacuum extractor or forceps, two tools used to help you give birth to your baby. Your doctor will discuss with you the risks and benefits to these tools versus doing a cesarean delivery.

Breech delivery
A breech baby is one whose bottom or feet are situated to emerge first instead of his/her head. In most situations, your doctor will be able to detect that your baby is breech during one of your prenatal appointments and may attempt to manually turn the baby before your due date. However, not all breech babies are detected ahead of time as surprise turns can occur. If you arrive at the hospital in labor and your baby is breech, your doctor will perform a cesarean.

Elective Labor Induction

What is elective labor induction?

Sometimes, when a woman is nearing the end of her pregnancy, she may have her labor started (induced) rather than waiting for labor to begin on its own. This is called a labor induction. When your health care provider recommends a labor induction for your health or for the health of your baby, it is called an indicated labor induction. When labor is induced for a non-medical reason, for matters of convenience or preference, it is called an elective labor induction.

When is elective labor induction appropriate?

Electing to have your health care provider induce labor may appeal to you. However, elective labor induction is not always best for your baby. Inducing labor before you have completed 39 weeks of your pregnancy (one week away from your due date)- or before your cervix is ready-has risks. Your health care provider will follow the guidelines described here to help determine if and when elective labor induction is okay for you and your baby.

The following guidelines are based on advice from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Your health care provider uses these guidelines to make a safe decision about whether or not an elective induction is right for you and your baby. If you do not meet these guidelines, your health care provider may recommend letting labor take its natural course. Before inducing labor:

  • Your healthcare provider must discuss with you if you have previously had a Cesarean delivery (C-section) or major surgery on your uterus to agree on the method of delivery.
  • Your health care provider must be certain of your due date to prevent starting labor too early, before your baby is fully developed.
  • You must be at least 39 weeks along in your pregnancy.
  • Your cervix must be soft and ready to open (dilate). Your provider can tell this by examining your cervix to determine a Bishop Score, which is the standard measure for assessing the cervix's readiness for labor. A Bishop Score of at least 10 for first-time moms (8 for others), is a common point of readiness. With this score, the likelihood of having a vaginal delivery after induction is similar to that of spontaneous labor.

For more information on elective labor induction, please talk with your OB provider.