It's 10pm and you just crawled into bed for the night. After a full day of work, the back and forth of what to eat for dinner, and a Netflix binge of This is Us, you've had a good cry and are ready for bed.
Bed. It's such a lovely thing. But by the time the end of the third trimester comes, sleep feels like somewhat of a novelty. You climb into bed and after an hour long battle of finding that comfortable position, you FINALLY fall asleep.
20 minutes later you wake up to a strong, rhythmic cramping sensation. This is what they all talk about! This may be labor!
When does labor start? How do I know when I am in labor? What is the difference between labor contractions and Braxton Hicks contractions?
These are the million dollar questions.
When I was pregnant with my first, I was SO READY to be done around week… cough* cough* 6 when I was uncontrollably throwing up all day every day. This lasted until around week 22 of my pregnancy. My hypermesis graviderum, also known as HG, finally let up (this is a diagnosed medical condition during pregnancy that is essentially morning sickness on steroids).
If you’ve known someone who has dealt with HG, they basically resemble a superhero. Going through that (and I didn’t have it nearly as bad as others) is quite possibly the worst thing ever.
Once I hit 22 weeks, the summer heat started to creep in. I spent the bulk of my third trimester pregnancy in the peak of summer’s heat. Yuck.
There is PLENTY of sweat that already happens while pregnant, but add a whopping dose of 90-100 degree weather, a touch of humidity and no air conditioning and it sends just about anyone over the edge!
Then we rounded the corner toward the home stretch and once I hit my due date I had real contractions!
If you’ve ever heard this term, I’m assuming you’re either a birth professional or you’ve personally experienced it. And if you’ve personally experienced it, you know how exhausting it is and what an emotional rollercoaster it creates.
Prodromal labor sucks. Here’s the big question that (nearly) every woman dealing with false labor asks…
How will I know when labor actually starts?
These prelabor or false labor contractions are believed to tone your uterus and prime it for labor. How cool and yet annoying is that! Am I right?!
During that time, I thought my water broke twice on top of thinking I may be in labor several times. So I went into the hospital twice only to get sent home feeling quite defeated and as if I’d be in labor forever!
I dealt with that false labor for 7 LONG days until the real thing started. I still recall my first real contraction. Oh boy it was intense!
Labor contractions take your breath away.
There was a distinct shift in intensity I experienced once my labor took shape. I was able to time my false labor contractions but they did not take my breath away.
With a majority of the women who I’ve worked with as their birth doula, this is also the case. They are able to delineate between labor contractions and braxton hicks/false labor contractions once they have experienced their labor contractions.
Over time, labor contractions will become longer in duration, stronger in intensity and closer together.
This means that over a couple hours, you should notice that the contraction pattern is changing. To time a contraction, start a timer once you feel it begin. Then stop your timer once the tightening has diminished.
The duration of the contraction is exactly as it sounds. It is characterized as the time elapsed from the start of the contraction to the time that it ends.
Intensity is characterized by how you experience the contraction relative to other contractions you have felt. Be careful not to over think this as we dont want you obsessing over what the contractions feel like. Some women feel overwhelmed in the earlier stages of labor and begin to doubt their ability to make it through labor. Keep in mind that your body will continue to progress in various ways, including providing you with endorphins (our bodies natural pain killer) as you experience more discomfort.
The time in between contractions is calculated as the amount of time that passes from the start of one contraction to the start of the next contraction.
We highly recommend doula support as we are trained to recognize the onset of labor and can assist you in knowing when to contact your care provider or when to go to your chosen birth location. North Cascade Doulas is excited to support any birth center birth or hospital birth. Contact us to schedule a free consultation today!
We go more in depth into this information around what the onset of labor looks and feels like in our childbirth education series. If you would like to join us, check out our current schedule of classes offered in Whatcom County and Skagit County.
How did you experience the onset of labor? Was it gradual? Was it obvious from the first contraction?
Author, Kristina McMurtrey, is a passionate doula who aims to see families supported regardless of their unique way of navigating pregnancy, birth and parenting.
North Cascade Doulas provide care for families looking for Labor Doulas, Postpartum Doulas, Placenta Encapsulation and Childbirth Education Classes. We support all parenting philosophies and birth plans.
Our doulas have experience in a variety of areas, such as:
(natural) unmedicated birth / (surgical) cesarean birth / epidural birth / induction / planned induction / planned cesarean / VBAC / TOLAC / waterbirth / hypnobirthing / multiples / breastfeeding / bottle feeding / formula feeding / NICU / PPD / PPMD / bed rest / high risk / low risk / advanced maternal age / miscarriage / IVF / and more.
Areas we Serve:
We serve Whatcom and Skagit Counties and the neighborhoods of Alger / Anacortes / Bellingham / Big Lake / Birch Bay / Blaine / Bow / Burlington / Clear Lake / Custer / Everson / Ferndale / Glen Haven / La Conner / Laurel / Lynden / Mount Vernon / Sedro Woolley / Sudden Valley / Maple Falls / Everson / Stanwood