Identifying actual labor can seem tricky. As that birthday draws nearer there’s no stopping the anticipation and excitement–or the everyday jumpiness.
Oh! I feel something! Is this it? Oh! What’s that? Am I in labor?
If this is your first baby, just know that we’ve all been there.
Even experienced moms go through the “wondering” at times, especially since every birth is different.
Speaking of every birth being different, there’s something you ought to know about identifying actual labor.
Aside from some pretty consistent, medical indicators, all the other “pregnancy signs” are subject to change based on the fact that you’re, well, you.
You may experience things completely differently than that coworker or family member who just had their baby.
I’m going to share some things that happened to me as the big day arrived.
You’re probably going to experience things a little differently, but it’s still good to know about how things can happen, to help you prepare.
Identifying Actual Labor
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5 Signs the Labor is Right Around the Corner
Here are some of my experiences and some odd things that I learned about identifying actual labor. After working with other moms, I discovered these signs may be a lot more common than we realize and we might want to give them some credit.
Now let’s look at some not-so-obvious ways of identifying actual labor.
1: Draining Exhaustion Before Actual Labor
I noticed that at the end of my pregnancy I felt tired–a new kind of tired that made me antsy and even irritable.
The third trimester can be exhausting by default, but a few days before Kai was born, I felt utterly exhausted.
I just got to this place where I felt like, “I’m done,” I was particularly impatient with others and with myself.
Sleeping was a bit of a challenge because of my nice, round size, which didn’t help matters. I was worn out.
You’ll notice it, too, where you’ll be tired during your third trimester, and then, at the end, you’ll hit the wall.
You’ll discover a new level of tired that you haven’t experienced. Just think of it as your body being super busy inside, preparing to go into labor any day.
Pro Tip: Make sure you’re supporting your back properly during pregnancy! Use a pregnancy pillow to improve the quality of your sleep and align your hips.
Identifying actual labor.
2. Restless and Jittery
I was beyond tired, but I couldn’t just sit.
My mind was reeling with a sense of urgency. I felt I needed to “finish this,” or “make sure that’s done,” and I was all over the place.
The day I went into labor, I was walking through the store doing some last minute shopping.
Last minute? My baby wasn’t technically due for another week-and-a-half, but instinctively I knew if there was something I wanted to do, I’d better do it now.
You may not even notice when this takes place, but others around you probably will.
They’ll likely comment about it, cluing you in that your little frenzy isn’t exactly your norm. When that happens, take note.
3: A Different “Look”
This is another odd one in identifying actual labor.
Right before my labor started, I got an extra onslaught of the “you look exhausted” comments.
Yeah, I didn’t exactly appreciate that, but after so many of them, I started to wonder. Did I really look that much different than before?
Turns out Kai was born within a matter of hours after all those comments. So, yeah, I know I must have looked very different.
Something about me had changed, had “graduated,” so to speak. I was entering the next phase of my pregnancy. I was at the end.
It was annoying, but it was also an indicator, as I later realized, that something was right around the corner.
If you’re at the end of your pregnancy and you notice people are remarking that you seem or look different, get ready.
You might be in your nesting craze and not even realize how close you are to labor.
Pay attention, friend! It’s probably very soon!
4: Abdominal Tightening
This one is the biggie for first-time mommies while identifying actual labor.
The famous question: “Is this Braxton Hicks or actual labor?”
I felt my tummy get tight every now and then.
I’d read a little on the differences between Braxton Hicks and actual labor, but I couldn’t tell the difference by experience.
To this day, I still don’t know when the Braxton Hicks stopped and the occasional, real contractions started.
All I know is that when the day came, the tightening started and it didn’t go away. It grew more intense, and I noticed a rhythmic pattern.
Of course, my water breaking was also a pretty obvious indicator, too.
Pay Attention If You Can’t Walk During Some Tightening
Getting out of the car and walking into the house got interesting when I had one contraction that made me pause and wait until it eased before walking the rest of the way into the house.
That was a very real contraction, but there weren’t any others like it as I got ready for bed so I went to sleep and was awakened by my water breaking at 3:00 that morning.
Honestly, as far as contractions go, if it’s at all possible, just don’t think too hard about it.
I know that sounds crazy, but if it’s the real thing, it will keep progressing and you’ll eventually know.
Your body will do its thing when the time comes.
The other tricky thing is that you can have an actual contraction here and there without it progressing any further.
If you’re on pins and needles, jumping every time you have a contraction or Braxton Hicks, you’ll be a hot mess when real labor arrives.
Just relax and be ready for anything.
If you’re still at the place where you can’t interpret if it’s Braxton Hicks or actual labor, then even if it is actual labor, you’re still in the very early stages.
Relaxing and taking it easy is the best thing you can do at that point, regardless.
5. Increased Appetite
Not everyone may experience this exactly the same way, but hours before my water broke, we were coming home from church and I was ravenous.
It felt like I hadn’t eaten in a week.
We stopped to grab something to eat and I downed enough food to fill two grown men.
Up to that point my appetite was touch and go. I was hot and tired most days and food just wasn’t all that appealing.
But as we headed home from church, I was suddenly so hungry I had to eat now.
Before we got home I’d had some contractions. They weren’t painful but it was less that 12 hours later that I was holding my newborn son.
That noticeable appetite increase was obviously an indicator that my body was revving up for labor.
When Your Labor Actually Begins
When the real thing arrives, there are some key signs.
The first thing you’ll probably notice are contractions.
Real ones don’t go away, so the best thing you can do is relax and wait.
If you feel some tightening, keep track of the time until the next one comes. If it’s the real deal you’ll notice a pattern eventually.
What will your bump be doing?
You’ll feel tightening through your tummy and your bump will become extremely firm.
You’ll feel it on the inside, but you’ll also be able to notice it from the outside, too.
Rub your hand over your belly during that tightening and you’ll feel how firm it is.
This can happen before actual labor begins as well, so the best thing to do is to wait and watch for changes.
I’ve heard and read that Braxton Hicks are mainly felt in your tummy, while actual contractions involve your whole trunk, even around to your back.
My honest opinion?
I couldn’t really tell that much of a difference between the two.
What I can say is that when my actual labor started, the contractions became steady and rhythmic.
It honestly will do you no good to get jumpy each time you feel a contraction. If you can, focus on relaxing and waiting. You body will clearly let you know when it’s really time.
At 3:00 am I awakened with the instinctive sense that something was up. I wasn’t having a contraction, and I wasn’t sick.
I had just started awake–like wide awake and alert, which isn’t like me.
And then I felt it.
The best way to describe the sensation is like a water balloon gently breaking.
I can’t guarantee it will be exactly this way for you, but for me, I actually was aware of a little, tiny pop. It wasn’t a burst or an explosion. Think of popping a full water balloon gently with a tack.
I hurried to the restroom, because when your water breaks it makes a hasty exit.
Note: Your water may not break in one, single famous gush. I felt it a few times, accompanied by the fluid making an exit.
For me this was a unique, distinctive experience. I have heard about women who didn’t recognize when their water broke. That was not the case for me.
There was no questioning what it was when it happened.
Contractions Pick Up Speed
Once my water broke, I noticed that my labor graduated.
I was now experiencing solid, easily identifiable contractions. They were intense enough that I had to stop walking when they occurred and breathe through them.
I didn’t rush to the hospital when my water broke because I wanted to be home and comfortable until the end of my labor.
Because I was home, calm and relaxed and comfortable with the setting, this part of my labor was peaceful and smooth.
It was work, but I was able to breathe through my contractions and work through it–no screams, panic or terror. It all just felt natural.
When the real thing happens your labor is just going to progress.
One of the easiest things to do is to over-analyze every twinge and breath as you await baby’s arrival.
But when the real thing happens, it will just happen.
I can’t stress it enough–just relax. Wait. If you can’t figure out what’s going on, give it some time.
Your body will tell you. Trust your body and your instincts. Stay tuned in and relaxed. The calmer you are, the better you’ll enter your labor.
Want to boost your confidence and get ready for childbirth without the political mumbo jumbo and TMI? Check out Simply Mama Fearless (A One Day Read). You’ll be glad you did!
Extra Tips for During Labor:
- Stay hydrated. Your body will function more smoothly if you have ample fluids and you’ll feel better, too.
- If you feel hungry, eat something. Listen to your body. Give it what it wants. When you’re in the middle of active labor and transition, the last thing on your mind will be food. Eat while it’s still appealing.
- Use your birthing ball. Exercises on your birthing ball will help you relax, but it will also help position your pelvis for birth
- Try and stay inclined. Let gravity work for you. If you absolutely feel like you need to lie flat, follow what feels best. But if you can, stay inclined to allow gravity to work for you in getting both you and baby ready.
Just remember, when the time comes, you are more than capable. You are incredible, and your body is incredible! You have so got this, mama–you have so got this!