What is early labor like?
April 24, 2011 2:43 PM   Subscribe

What is early labor like?

I know the text-book info about the three stages of labor and how early contractions become progressively closer together, but what was your very early labor like? Did contractions hit you like a meteor, or was there a gradual build-up? Did you have mild/manageable braxton hicks-type contractions that gradually fell into a regular pattern? I've had Braxton hicks on and off for several weeks, but in the past few days they've become more frequent, accompanied by occasional mild period-like cramps. I know I'm moving in the right direction (I'd better be, as I'm four days past my due date). I'm just curious about what led up to your realization that actual labor was underway.

Bottom line: Describe for me please how you felt before -- and as-- you officially went into labor.
posted by cymru_j to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It was the regularity that clued us in that labor was starting, but every woman and every pregnancy is different. Call your doctor's office and tell them how you're feeling and what's going on. They'll be able to guide you better than the internet can.
posted by incessant at 2:48 PM on April 24, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks. I've received very helpful and particular information from my midwives, including the fact that I am progressing in the right direction, but I'm just interested in getting a broader perspective about what various women have experienced.
posted by cymru_j at 2:53 PM on April 24, 2011

I also had experienced Braxton-Hicks contractions for at least a week... I can't really say what clued me that this was Real Labor, coz I remember it not physically feeling much different... yes, some menstrual-cramp-like feelings... but mostly, I just felt an INSTINCT. Sorry, can't explain it any differently than that. I just KNEW it was time to get to the hospital. My son was born about 6 hours later, after increasing menstrual-cramp-like sensations that I breathed with (and visualized myself opening up, etc. -- I had an unmedicated delivery that I've posted about previously). So, please don't delay if you get THAT INSTINCT. Or even if you don't!!

Best of luck to you. And Mazel Tov on becoming a mom!!
posted by RRgal at 2:58 PM on April 24, 2011

I was induced, and the early labor felt just like menstrual cramps to me. There was a gradual build-up over a few hours.
posted by Joh at 3:11 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

For me it felt like stronger menstrual cramps, but like incessant said (eponysterically), it was the regularity that made me certain - they kept getting closer together, but in sets of 5-10 minute intervals each time. Then I had back labor set in (feels like the worst lower back ache you've ever had), but fortunately I was already pulling up to the hospital, because yikes!
posted by Mchelly at 3:15 PM on April 24, 2011

It was like menstrual cramps that gradually got worse.
posted by k8t at 3:27 PM on April 24, 2011

I have had two children, both unmedicated. My first labor was 21 hours long. My second was 6 hours, and got intense much more quickly, as though I had skipped the first 14-15 hours of my first labor.

I agree with the menstrual cramp analogy. Each individual cramp sort of climbs, then peaks, then relaxes. I had a few loose bowel movements during early labor as well, both times, which I have heard is common -- your body's way of cleaning itself out and preparing. In fact, the first couple of contractions of my first labor I mistook for tummy trouble because of this. I noticed it was happening regularly, every ten minutes or so, and that was what clued me in. To me, they felt very different from the Braxton-Hicks contractions I had been having so frequently, which were a painless sort of tightening sensation. I did not have any prodromal labor with either kid -- once the contractions got crampy it was the real deal.
posted by fancyoats at 3:28 PM on April 24, 2011

I didn't have Braxton-Hicks at all. We attempted to induce my labor first by stripping the membrane. This caused heavy, irregular cramping that died down after a few hours.

The second effort to induce labor was effective. My contractions were nothing like menstrual cramps. They were sharp and hard. It took some time before they became regular enough, and close enough together, for the hospital to invite me in. I don't remember what the hospital's contraction-time sweet spot was.
posted by moira at 3:33 PM on April 24, 2011

I have very long buildups and long labors. Braxton-Hicks on and off, becoming regular and closer together, then slowing down or outright stopping, then starting again, etc. The two signs of "actually starting labor" for me were losing the mucus plug, and regular contractions painful enough they stopped me short - I could barely walk or talk through them. Again, however, I dilate really really slowly and painfully until I get an epidural, so those were quite early signs for me compared to other women, but once they started that's when I knew for sure. (Twice I went into labor on my own, twice I was induced - on my own, I still didn't deliver for more than a day after the beginning signs.)
posted by flex at 3:35 PM on April 24, 2011

I really had nothing noticeable in the days prior. I woke up one morning, went to the bathroom and wondered, "Could that be bloody show?" About an hour later I started with some mild contractions that felt like menstrual cramps or even bad gas. The only tip-off for me was the regularity with which they came. As we pulled up to the hospital about four hours after I had woken up, I was still not convinced that this was actual labor. (I remember thinking how embarrassed I would be if it was actually just gas.) My admittance exam showed I was at a seven.
posted by wallaby at 3:39 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

"regular contractions painful enough they stopped me short - I could barely walk or talk through them"

Yes, this.
posted by moira at 3:39 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

With all three, I had Braxton-Hicks contractions for weeks. About two days before the real thing they started getting uncomfortable, and the day before showtime they turned so uncomfortable that I didnt want to be around other people, but not yet the official "can't talk through it" kind. Everybody is different. My water never broke and yet I know women who had no Braxton-Hicks. One friend had no contractions until her water broke, and her baby was born 3 hours later (no joke).

Good luck! And congratulations!
posted by ellenaim at 4:21 PM on April 24, 2011


That's what tipped me off.
posted by Lucinda at 4:34 PM on April 24, 2011

I knew it was go-time when I couldn't walk or talk or do anything but squat on the floor and breathe during each contraction. They were about 5 minutes apart at that time, too, and had been for a good 20 minutes.
posted by cooker girl at 4:44 PM on April 24, 2011

It was funny -- the night before I was driving and I had this thought "Something feels . . .odd . . . huh, I sort-of feel like I'm about to get my period. How interesting." I have no idea why I was able to name the sensation, but I was.
Next morning around 8 am, I have a little contraction. Curious, but that was about it. Except I had another one about an hour later. And that continued through the day, about once an hour or so. By lunch I was thinking, "Huh, seems like this could be *it*". I was scheduled to go to the hospital to have some gel put on my cervix that evening (prep for induction the following morning), so I figured I'd mention it then.
And I did, and they strapped me to a monitor, and watched me contract for a while, and finally sent me home at 11pm.
Around midnight, the contractions started becoming intense enough to panic me a little. I mean, I knew that first babies are slow, and once you get to 5 minutes apart there are still (typically) hours to go -- so I knew it wasn't like the baby was going to come flying out -- it was more like when they crested I had a 2-3 seconds of "I can't deal with this . . ."
And I kept feeling like I had to pee, but nothing came out. I laid down, rolled this way, rolled that way, went and sat on the toilet, nothing happened, went to lay down again -- over and over again.
At around 4 am, I peed! It was WONDERFUL. I think I was able to fall asleep for a couple minutes after that.
Back to the hospital at 6am, and I keep telling everyone the pee story 'cause it seemed really pertinent, and random people are feeling my cervix and ignoring my story. Then my OBGYN came in and glared at me and said "Why didn't you tell us your water broke?!?"

Aha. It wasn't pee.

And shortly after that my uterus decided this was an unsafe environment and stopped producing strong enough contractions blah blah pitocin blah blah: and by 6:30pm I was a c-section statistic.

So for me: built slowly. If you wanna pee but can't, that may just be your water trying to break.
(and I hope you have a wonderful OB who's kind & compassionate to you!!!).
posted by MeiraV at 7:03 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I felt what I thought was trapped gas pain due to the kid being in the way of everything. I was trying to take a nap and just couldn't get comfortable argh and then heard a little sound like a knuckle crack and all that pressure went away! That was my water breaking.

I had back labor and the discomfort was less wavelike than I was expecting--there were peaks and troughs but even when I wasn't feeling a lot of pain, early labor demanded I pay it exclusive attention in a way that surprised me. Just putting on shoes to get to the hospital seemed really complicated; my husband and doula needed to slide flip-flops on for me and do all the last minute organizational stuff (I'd been reading stories about women who baked cookies through early labor and thought throwing some handy semiperishable snacks into the hospital bag would be well within my abilities--hah!) And yet the pain level wasn't too bad. Really weird stuff.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:38 PM on April 24, 2011

I had a lot of BH contractions in the weeks leading up to my daughter's birth. Just achy tightening sort of contractions accompanied by some back pain. My actual labor was pretty short. The first thing that happened was my water broke, then no contractions at all for over an hour, the first contraction that hit was like a very painful menstrual cramp, with another stronger contraction a few minutes later, and full-blown labor started soon after that. I was in transition maybe 45 minutes after that first contraction, with each contraction crashing into the next, it was very fast, very scary because I expected things to, well, take a while. My daughter was born maybe an hour and a half after the first contraction. At the first check at the hospital, I was barely 2cm (where I'd been at my last ob appt 6 days prior), half an hour later I was at 10 and pushing, yeesh. I think my labor is somewhat atypical in how fast it progressed. People always say to me oh, you're so lucky to have such a short labor, but really, it was crazy, the dilating that most women do over hours and hours, I did in half an hour and that shit was wild.
posted by upatree at 8:29 PM on April 24, 2011

I never had the menstrual cramp feeling, my contractions came in the form of back labour, which was a burning sensation in my lower back. After the first couple contractions they settled into a rhythm of five minutes apart, and there was no mistaking it. From first contraction to birth, my labour was fifteen hours, and it was all back labour. The good thing about back labour though is that you can have someone apply counter pressure, which really helps with the pain. I asked my husband to press so hard that my lower back was black and blue with bruises! But it felt great at the time.
Whatever kind of labour you have I wish you all the best!
posted by meringue at 9:56 PM on April 24, 2011

I had a partial induction with membrane stripping and cervadil. The BH began getting closer together and more regular and more painful. Like some others have said above, I just knew when it was time to go back to hospital. Then I had to convince the midwives I was actually in 'active' labour, because they thought I seemed too calm. (You'd think, with all L&Ds being so different, that midwives would be more open-minded huh?)

As an aside: you mention the '3 stages of labour'. I was quite surprised to find that there was no clear line between the labouring, transition, and pushing stages. From all my reading, I was expecting a definite point where I would hit 10cm and then switch to pushing, with or without a little pause first. But it was more like this: at about 8-9cm, I started to feel a pushing urge toward the end of each contraction. I was shit scared that I was pushing too soon, but the midwives said it was fine to go with the pushing urge at that point. Then the contractions morphed completely into pushing. At some point, they told me to hold off pushing sometimes. It all worked out quite well in the end, but there's a massive element of luck in all of this. I hope you have a comfortable and safe birth!
posted by 8k at 10:15 PM on April 24, 2011

I've had one labor, unmedicated.

After my water broke (before any noticeable contractions) I called my midwife and said "well, I'm having cramps, but not contractions." Decided to stay home for a while. That's all I really had. After a couple of hours, I just sort of got the feeling that I should go to the hospital. I only had about 2 or 3 "real" contractions before I got the "I need to push" feeling and the baby was born a bit after that.

So really, it wasn't much. In retrospect, I was having contractions many hours before my water broke, I just wasn't paying attention to them because I was trying to finish my book, and really, they weren't any worse than the Braxton-Hicks type ones I had been having for months. Also, everyone kept saying "if you're not sure it's a contraction - it's not a contraction" so I was sure the baby was a long way away when in fact she was born just after we got to the hospital.
posted by gaspode at 6:47 AM on April 25, 2011

Count me in the menstrual cramp camp.

A good friend, who is also a Labor and Delivery nurse, told me "when the pain makes you say "oh shit," that's when it's time to go." And this was true.

My labor was unusual, because he was my first baby and my total "active" labor was only a few hours (my water broke at 8:30, he was born a few minutes before noon). It was July, and I'd been up since 4 am because early in the morning was the only time it was cool enough for me to sit at the computer and get any work done. When my husband left for work around 7 I knew I'd been having weird, very low-grade menstrual type pain for a few hours, and I said "this could be the day". He said "we'll see."

The cramp like pain got worse and worse, until I had to get up and move around. It had peaks and valleys but never really went away. After I found myself saying "shit, this hurts" -- saying it OUT LOUD -- I recalled our friend's advice and called my husband. He said "call me back in an hour." Ten minutes later, my water broke.

I'll also offer a couple of answers that you didn't ask for:
1) laboring in the tub was SO MUCH EASIER AND BETTER than being outside the tub. If you are able to get fully immersed in water, do it, and let your body relax and do its thing in the water. My labor was on the fast track anyhow, but I think my labor was sped along quite a bit (and made more comfortable) by being in the tub.

2) I know it can be hard not to be afraid of it hurting, but if you can relax - do whatever it is that you do to make your entire body (and mind) less tense, it will go faster and be better. My aforementioned friend (the L&D nurse) believes that 2nd labors often go faster, in part, because the mother doesn't have as much trepidation and fear about the labor - she's been through it, she knows what it feels like and what's going to happen, and that leads to less stress and a faster labor.

Good luck to you and your family and your beautiful baby!
posted by anastasiav at 8:18 AM on April 25, 2011

Usually for a couple of hours on the first day of my period I have such painful cramps that I can't do much besides lie in bed with a hot pad and a movie. Early labor felt like that. Actually, thinking of it that way was a huge comfort to me--right up until transition I kept telling myself, "Oh pssh, I've had worse." (I'm not sure that was true but it helped me to think it.)

I was also very antsy, and I got a lot done during the day before heading to the hospital.
posted by milk white peacock at 10:11 AM on April 25, 2011

I've had two babies, and the labors were very different. However, what was the same was that I had a hard time recognizing early labor. I had had Braxton-Hicks for months, so it didn't really help to be told "you'll just know!" because I didn't. My contractions didn't necessarily become regular, either. With the first baby, I got the idea that I was in labor, eventually, when the contractions became unbearably painful. With the second baby, the contractions were quite bearable and I figured out I was in labor when they moved from being centered in the front (menstrual-like) to wrapping all the way around to my lower back.

In short, call your doc or midwife at any point and let her help you determine (if you want). They can tell, by listening to you talk through a contraction whether you are getting close.
posted by Knowyournuts at 2:08 PM on April 25, 2011

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