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2535 E. Washington St.
East Peoria, Illinois 61611

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Signs of Labor and Contractions

You have what feels like a contraction. How do you know if it's labor? Should you go to the hospital? What is labor and delivery really like? These questions often cause anxiety, especially for first-time moms.

At UnityPoint Health – Methodist Birthing Center, our experts will work with you and your provider to evaluate your labor progress. You'll get the care you need throughout your labor and delivery. We tailor your care to your birth plan and preferences as much as we can while keeping you and your baby safe.

How Do I Know I'm in Labor?

You and your provider will usually communicate and decide when you should come to the hospital. Your labor might happen more quickly than expected, and you may come to our emergency department. Our ED team works closely with the OB/GYN department to move you to a labor room as soon as possible.

As you get closer to your due date, you'll be watching for signs of labor. These signs help you decide when to leave for the hospital.

If you think you are in labor, call your provider for guidance. Make sure you think about the weather and driving distance as you are deciding when to leave. Read more about having your baby at Methodist.

Braxton Hicks contractions 

These are your body's "practice" for labor and delivery. They feel like a tightening in your abdomen that comes and goes. These contractions do not:

  • Get closer together
  • Increase with walking
  • Increase in duration
  • Feel stronger over time

Initial labor signs

Your body might signal that labor is starting soon with:

  • Backache
  • Menstrual-like cramps
  • Soft bowel movements
  • Nesting urge — a surge of energy with an urgency to get ready for the baby
  • Lightening, when the baby settles or lowers into your pelvis (often causing you to urinate more often)

First stages of labor

These events mean you are in the very first stages of labor:

  • Bloody show — your body releases thick mucus that may be tinted brown, pink or red
  • Non-progressing contractions that don't get stronger or closer together

Active Labor

You know you are in labor when the following occur:

  • Progressing contractions (getting stronger and/or closer together)
  • Gush or leaking of amniotic fluid from the vagina (your water breaks)

When to Go to the Birthing Center

Make sure you know how long it will take you to drive to the Birthing Center. You should call your provider and go to the Birthing Center when you have:

  • 4 or more contractions per hour before 37 weeks of your pregnancy
  • Contractions that are 5 minutes apart for an hour (after 37 weeks for your first baby)
  • Contractions that are 8 minutes apart (your second or third baby)
  • Leaking fluid
  • Bright red bleeding
  • Sharp abdominal pain
  • Change in your baby's movements

What to Expect During Labor and Delivery

You may think of labor in terms of how powerful the contractions are. Some call contractions either "early" or "active" labor.

Your doctors and nurses divide your labor and delivery into 4 stages. Knowing what each stage includes can help you understand your labor. These stages are:

Stage 1

Stage 1 is the dilation of your cervix (the opening to your uterus) from 0 to 10 centimeters. Stage 1 happens in 3 phases known as "early," "active" and "transition."

  • Early phase: Your cervix dilates from 0 to 4 centimeters.
  • Active phase: Your cervix dilates from 4 to approximately 8 centimeters.
  • Transition phase: Your cervix finishes dilating at about 10 centimeters in preparation for your baby's birth.

Stage 2

Stage 2 is the descent and birth of your baby.

Labor contractions are more frequent, intense and shorter in this stage. Your uterus is pushing your baby down the birth canal and out of your body through the open cervix.

Stage 3

Stage 3 is the delivery of the placenta and membranes

Soon after you give birth, your uterus will push out the placenta (the afterbirth). The placenta is an organ that connects you and your baby during pregnancy. It takes oxygen and nutrients from the mother's body and supplies them to the fetus.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is your recovery and move to postpartum

During this stage, you and baby will bond. We'll make sure you are stable and get you ready to move to your private postpartum room.

Contact the Birthing Center

You can call 309-672-4852 to schedule a tour of the Birthing Center. Tours are held:

  • Mondays  at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Wednesdays  at 5 p.m.
  • Fridays at 10 a.m.

For information about childbirth preparation classes, see our Classes and Events page or call 309-671-2522. Preregister now to reserve your space.