Emergency Department

202 S. Park St.
Madison, WI 53715

Current Estimated Wait:

Signs & Symptoms of Labor

It is important to remember that not all women display the same signs of oncoming labor. This list is designed to help you become aware of the various symptoms you may experience. If you are concerned about symptoms you are experiencing or have any questions, please call your primary care physician or the Birthing Center's triage line at (608) 417-6228

What to expect when you have a baby during COVID-19

For a full list of hospital policies during COVID-19, please visit the Your Hospital Stay page.

How to Time Contractions

Time in minutes from the BEGINNING of one contraction to the BEGINNING of the next contraction. 

Signs and Symptoms of True Labor

  • Contractions occur at regular times. With your first baby, when contractions are five minutes apart or closer for one hour. If you have had a baby before, when contractions are six to eight minutes apart for one hour.
  • Time between contractions becomes shorter.
  • Discomfort increases - you have difficulty walking or talking through contractions.
  • Contractions are stronger when walking and do not subside when resting.
  • Bloody show (discharge).
  • Rectal pressure - feeling as if you need to have a bowel movement.

Signs and Symptoms of False Labor

  • Contractions may be regular or irregular (come and go) but do NOT get stronger.
  • Contractions subside or are less frequent when resting.
  • Time between contractions remains the same or contractions become farther apart.
  • No cervical change when examined by a physician or nurse.

Signs and Symptoms of Pre-Term Labor (Labor that begins more than 3 weeks before due date)

  • Menstrual-like cramps - stomach feels like it is "balling up."
  • Pelvic pressure.
  • Low backache.
  • A new vaginal discharge or any increase in vaginal discharge, especially if red or pink.
  • Pains/cramps every 10 minutes or less that do not subside after resting, drinking fluids or urinating.

Signs and Symptoms that Require IMMEDIATE Evaluation by a Physician

  • Bag of water breaks. Even if contractions are NOT present, you will need to be evaluated in the hospital. A gush of fluid or a steady trickle that you can't control are both signs that your water has broken. Fluid may be clear or yellow, green or pink tinged.
  • Constant, severe abdominal pain.
  • Bright red vaginal bleeding, like a period.
  • Constant rectal pressure.
  • Decreased baby movement or kicks - you count less than eight in two hours.
  • Continued or severe headache.
  • Blurring of vision or spots before your eyes.
  • Chills/fever.
  • Fainting spell or loss of consciousness.
  • Severe or continued nausea and/or vomiting.

What to Do When Labor Begins

  • Call Your Physician/Nurse Midwife - When you go into labor, contact your physician or nurse midwife following the procedure you were given.
  • Call Us - When you are instructed to go to the hospital, please call our triage line at (608) 417-6228 so we can prepare for your arrival.

Arriving at the Hospital – Directions & Parking: 

  • 6 am - 8 pm - Park in any visitor area in the ramp. (If you do not feel comfortable walking from the ramp, you can park temporarily in the drive in front of the main lobby doors. Your spouse or support person can move the car after you are admitted.) Go to the 4 North triage area where you will be admitted.
  • 8 pm - 6 am  - The lobby doors are locked during these hours. Park and enter through the Emergency Services entrance. From there, someone will escort you to the Birthing Center. Your spouse or support person can move the car after you are admitted.