How do I know when I’m in labor?

If you are having strong, steady contractions that are about 5 minutes apart, and each one lasts for approximately 1 minute, and this has all been going on for an hour, you might be in labor! Think of it as the “5-1-1” rule.

When you are pregnant with your first baby, it is sometimes hard to know if the contractions you are feeling are true labor contractions versus early or false labor. Timing your contractions can help you figure this out. Another sign you may be in labor or that labor will be starting soon is if you feel a large gush of fluid that looks like water—this may be your bag of waters breaking.

If you are having contractions that are consistent with the 5-1-1 rule or you think your water broke, you should check in with your doctor or midwife. And if you aren’t sure, it’s okay to call and ask. Labor can present differently, and you should never sit at home worried. While other signs, like increased mucous discharge or pelvic pressure, are important to note, they tend not to be specific for timing when labor will begin.

If you are still pre-term, you should definitely let your provider know if you are feeling any contractions that don’t get better with rest or drinking fluids—you should not wait for the 5-1-1 rule!

Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, December 2018

Comments

  1. Thanks for this article! I’m a first-timer and need all the advice I can get!

    Reply
    1. You bet – we are here to help! Good luck with your pregnancy and delivery!

      Reply
  2. My labor began in a very unexpected way for me. I had no indications, no contractions, no funny feelings, and my water just broke! I was in bed and jumped out so it wouldn’t ruin the mattress! I didn’t know what to do because I had only prepared for “normal” labor where your contractions come regularly, etc. My husband was freaking out (mostly because I woke him up from a dead sleep). I called my OB, and she said to go to the hospital. Contractions finally started regularly about an hour or so after my water broke. But now I know not to wait for the contractions if your water just randomly breaks! 😉

    Reply
  3. Great info! While I was pregnant with my twins I had a lot of Braxton Hicks and towards the end of my pregnancy I felt like I just couldn’t tell them apart so needless to say I spent a lot of time going back and fourth to the hospital!

    Reply
  4. I remember thinking “this is it, I must be in labor!” About 10 times before the day actually came. It is a strange place to be in those last few weeks. I was so excited to meet my baby, but also nervous and a little scared. I think it is impossible to be completely calm and relaxed as a first time mom. I went into labor on my due date. We had just finished our last dinner out as a family of two, and on the way home I had a contraction that was clearly different from the Braxton Hicks contractions I had been having. That was the beginning of a long hard journey with the most beautiful ending!

    Reply

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