Am I In Labor?

Not All Contractions Mean You're In True Labor

2022-01-03Updated: 2022-04-28 Mansfield Miracles, Paul Daum, M.D.

Labor at term is about trying to decide if it is time to go to the hospital for your newborn's arrival. If it is timed properly, it will prevent frustrating visits to the hospital which result in going back home. Many women have described a contraction as "The baby balls up". What is really happening is the uterus contracting down around the baby.  

During a contraction you will feel that the entire uterus is hard or tense. You can feel your stomach and notice that the uterus is hard, and as the contraction eases, the uterus becomes soft again. Contractions are not all painful, but the key to telling true labor from false labor or Braxton Hicks contractions has to do with the consistency and regularity of the pains (contractions). 

During a true pregnancy labor pain, most women have a hard time talking normally, and tend to feel some changes in their breathing. If you are walking, a real labor pain will usually cause to to stop and  wait until the contraction passes.

True pregnancy labor has the following characteristics:

  • Contractions (pains) are regular, predictable, and increasing in strength and duration
  • Contractions are uniform, they are all strong, not some big and some little
  • Contractions are 5 minutes apart or closer
  • Contractions last about 1 minute, not 20 or 30 seconds
  • You may see change in vaginal discharge, with a bloody discharge (bloody show)
  • Your water may break

There is an easy to remember helper about labor. 5:1:1. It is probably time to go to the hospital when contractions are  5 minutes apart or closer, lasting 1 minute, and have been 
5 minutes or less apart lasting one minute for at least  1 hour.

Your water breaking usually is obvious, and often there is a large gush of water from the vagina. Sometimes it is less obvious, but there are several helpful things to watch for. When your water breaks there will be repetitive leaks. You will have water coming out which you cannot control, and happens over and over again. 

Usually if there is just one small leak, it doesn't happen again, and it happened when you were doing something active, it probably wasn't your water breaking. Watch for it to happen again, and if you notice more episodes of leakage, contact Dr. Daum to decide if it is time to go to the hospital.  You don't have to stay home with labor and wait until your water breaks. Sometimes that can be very near the end.

If your water breaks before labor, you should still go in to be checked, even if the contractions aren't strong yet.

Methodist Mansfield, for security reasons, locks all the entrances to the hospital late at night. If you need to go to the hospital between  10:30 PM and 4:30 AM, park in front of the emergency room, go into the emergency room, and the emergency room personnel will take you to labor and delivery.

If you are not sure what to do, or you are not sure if your water is broken, call Dr. Daum @ 817-477-0200