What is it Like to Go Into Labor?


TV has us pretty well-trained. We’re going to be at a party or giving an important speech, and then a splash of fluid will appear underneath us. There will be some anxious rushing, spouse tripping and falling, and possibly even some shrieking as we race to the hospital where, only moments later, the doctor will hand us a perfectly clean six week old baby.

I mean, it sounds like a decent deal.

In reality, the onset of labor can look completely different for everyone – even between the same person’s pregnancies. Here are a few different examples of what it feels like to go into labor.

  • Slow and Steady Contractions

When your labor begins, you may notice some short and mild cramps which are annoying, but not yet painful. They may come every several minutes, or just a couple times per hour. It’s hard to get a good read on them if you try to time them. After a while, you may notice them getting longer and more intense. You may have to stop and breathe through them. If you try to use a contraction timer app, you’ll probably begin to see a more regular pattern of contractions 7-10 minutes apart.

  • Physical and Emotional Changes

Many moms report feeling “different” before and during the onset of labor, and this could include quite a few symptoms. You may lose some blood-tinged mucus (the “bloody show”) at this time. You may feel crampy, or experience nausea. Loose stools are also very common in the beginning stages of labor. Another thing to think about is that labor isn’t just physical: it’s also very much mental and emotional. A sudden feeling of overwhelm, teariness, elation, or anxiety is completely normal. After all, your life is about to change forever! Your support people should be aware that sudden emotional changes can happen at the onset of labor and they are very normal and just require a little extra support and understanding.

  • Dramatic Water Breaking

Would you believe that only about 10% of births start out with your water breaking like on TV? Yet, it definitely can happen that way, so be prepared for anything. Your water may break with a big gush, or a small trickle. In fact, it can be hard to tell amniotic fluid from urine or vaginal discharge sometimes. If you’re not sure, try lying down for an hour – if fluid has pooled in your vagina, you’ll be able to feel it when you get up. Your support person should record the time your water broke, as well as the approximate color and odor to report to the doctor or midwife. You may begin having contractions right away when your water breaks, or they may not start until later. In some cases, an induction of labor may be indicated if your waters have broken without any other signs that the birth is near.

I Think I’m in Labor: What Now?

If you are having any of these symptoms and believe that you are going into labor, here’s what you should do.

  1. Stay calm. Don’t wear yourself out for the hard part! Try to relax and ignore the contractions until you can’t any more. Have your support person ensure that the bag is in the car, the kids are with the sitter, and you have a cool drink on hand.
  2. Time your contractions. Once you cannot ignore your contractions any longer, whip out your favorite contraction timing app. It can be very helpful to time the contractions for about an hour to report the duration and intensity to your care provider.
  3. Contact your doctor or midwife. They should have provided you with some information on when and how to get in touch with them in labor. They, along with your doula, can help you make the decision of when to arrive at your birthing location.
  4.  Make your way to the birthing location. Put a towel down on the seat of the car, and contact your doula and photographer (if you have one). Close your eyes and practice deep, steady breathing during the trip.


You’re ready to have a baby! This is a big deal, and can be very overwhelming, but you can do this. Listen to your intuition, and lean on the guidanc