The signs of labor can vary from one woman to another and even from one pregnant woman to another. There are a few signs that a woman is laboring, but there is no way to know how long it will last. It's not clear what starts labor.

Science is still figuring this out.

When certain hormones are produced by the fetus, labor is likely to start. There are more details on the physical signs of labor.

This article has been medically reviewed by

Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP


Signs of labor

According to the International Journal of Childbirth Education, there is a sign that labor may be approaching in a matter of days. Although tired at this late stage, some women may feel a sudden burst of energy and desire to cook, clean and organize their home before the baby arrives.

According to a study done by Canadian researchers in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, a woman's third trimester of pregnancy is when she is most likely to have a baby. Similar to its role in the animal kingdom of preparing a safe environment for the new arrival, nest in women may also serve a protective function.

There are other clues that a woman may be going into labor. The signs of labor are listed below.

Pregnant woman preparing cot

One of the signs of labor women may experience is a "nesting" instinct, or the sudden desire to prepare things for baby's arrival.  (Image credit: Getty)

1. The baby drops

Lightening is one of the signs of labor. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this occurs anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks before labor begins, and a woman may look and feel as though the baby has dropped into a lower position. The baby is getting ready to be born. Women who have previously given birth may not see lightening until labor begins.

It's easier for a woman to breathe when the baby settles into a lower position. She has to go to the bathroom a lot due to the pressure on her bladder and pelvis. A woman with a waddle may have a lower and more protruded belly.

2. Regular contractions

It is possible that contractions are a sign of labor. A woman has a uterus that contracts during her pregnancies. She said that the Olympic event is going to happen because of the muscle.

The baby will be pushed out into the world when the uterus starts to contract near the end of the pregnancy.

It takes more than an hour or two for labor to become close to five minutes apart. She said that the contractions start in a woman's back and move to the front.

The abdomen is like a basketball and then it relaxes. It feels like a real contraction.

Signs of labor: Pregnant woman winces in pain as she feels a contraction while lying on the couch.

One of the signs of labor may be contractions, although false labor or early labor contractions may be a false alarm.   (Image credit: Getty Images)

False labor contractions vs. real labor contractions

According to the journal Social Science and Medicine, it can be difficult to distinguish between false and real contractions. If a pregnant woman is having more than six contractions every hour, and they become stronger and rhythmic, and the baby is on it's way, then pay attention. Even if a woman moves around or lays down, labor still continues.

People don't know how to time contraction correctly. Timing from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next is what it is done by.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, false labor contractions can occur at irregular time intervals and they don't get closer together over time.

Unlike true labor, false contractions are usually felt in the front of the body in the lower abdomen, are usually weak, and may stop when a woman rests or changes her position.

3. Water breaks

Baby in womb

An unborn baby is surrounded by a protective liquid called amniotic fluid. (Image credit: Getty)

There is a fetus in a woman's uterus surrounded byamniotic fluid. According to the Journal of Advanced Medical and Dental Sciences Research, some women experience a gush of liquid while others don't.

A pregnant woman's water can break days before labor starts, during labor or not at all, in which case an doctor will break it during the delivery. She said that mothers-to-be should call their doctor when their water breaks to get a description of the fluid's color and smell. A health professional can use this information to determine if an expectant woman is leaking urine or amniotic fluid.

According to the U.K.'s National Health Service, once a woman's water breaks, the baby is no longer surrounded by the protective sac and could be at risk of developing an infectious disease. The baby will be delivered within a day or two if the water breaks.

4. Lower back pain & cramping

A woman might experience pain in her rectal areas during labor. She might feel a dull ache in her back.

Most people feel pain in the abdominal area according to a study. For some, back pain can be felt during labor, while for others, it's always low back pain.

More than one third of women experience back pain during labor.

Pregnant woman with back pain

Back pain can occur at the beginning of labor. (Image credit: Getty)

5. Bloody show

It is possible for a woman to notice an increase in vaginal discharge as labor begins. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this discharge is caused by a mucus plug that blocks the opening of the uterus during pregnant women. During the first stage of labor the mucus plug loosens as the uterus dilates.

6. Diarrhea or nausea

Some women may vomit at the beginning of labor because of loose stools. She explained that it's often not known which started first, for example, if labor started and caused a case of scurvy, or if it started and caused a case of colon cancer.

Old wives' tales and cultural beliefs about what might start labor are common. Some of the labor-induction methods are effective.

In one study of 200 women who had just given birth, more than half of the women said they had tried at least one method to deliver their baby. 85% of those women had tried walking, 45% had sex, 22% had eaten spicy food and 15% had stimulated their nipples.

Pregnant woman walking

Many pregnant women exercise when trying to induce labor. (Image credit: Getty)

A woman won't bring on labor if she eats spicy foods, drives down a bumpy road, or takes long walks. Sex and stimulation of the nipples are two techniques that may start the process.

Prostaglandin, a hormone-like compound, is found in the sperm of pregnant women and can help with labor and delivery.

She said that stimulating the nipple can help bring on labor for a pregnant woman who is at her due date. It is possible that this method can help release a hormone that can cause uterus contraction.

It is possible for a woman to try nipple stimulation by rolling her nipple between her fingers. She should stop rolling and wait for the contraction to be over before doing it again. For an hour or two, this method can be used. It's recommended that women never roll both nipples at the same time because it can cause problems.

Additional resources

In this article, learn about the stages of labor and birth. The Cleveland Clinic has a page about fetal positions for birth.

We recommend the following books if you want more information on this topic.


There is evidence of a psychology during pregnancies. There is an article on evolution and human behavior.

When labor begins, how to tell? How to tell when labor begins is available from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Fetal-Maternal Hormonal signalling in pregnancy and labor is reviewed in this minireview. There is an article titled "Molecular Endocrinology" in the academic section of the website.

"Teaching about the set of labor" is a basic revision. The International Journal of Childbirth Education was published in 1992.

There is a test of a decision-making guide for pregnant women. There is a social science and medicine article.

There is a study of different concentrations of Butyl bromide. The journal of advanced medical and dental sciences research is open.

During labor, there is low back pain. The American Journal of OB/Gyn was published in the late 80's.