Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Ages & Stages

The duration of most pregnancies is between 37 and 42 weeks. Labor contractions are the clearest indication that your body is getting ready to deliver your baby. When labor starts, your cervix (the lower end of the uterus) will open, and the uterus will begin contracting or squeezing. The cervix must be effaced (or thinned out) in order for the baby’s head to move into the birth canal. Each time a contraction occurs, your uterus and abdomen will become tighter and firmer. Between contractions, the uterus will soften, and you can relax for a short time while awaiting the next contraction.

Although most women know when they are nearing labor or when labor has started, it isn’t always easy to tell for sure when this process has begun. That’s because “false labor” can occur, in which contractions are sporadic and relatively weak. Even so, don’t be embarrassed to call your doctor or go to the hospital if you’re uncertain whether this is the real thing!

With actual labor, you will experience:

  • Repeated contractions, cramps, and increases in pain levels corresponding to the opening up (dilating) of your cervix and the baby’s descent through the birth canal.
  • A slightly bloody, pink, or clear vaginal discharge that is the mucus plug at the cervix.
  • A breaking of your water, which is really a rupture in the amniotic sac that contains watery fluid that surrounds and protects your baby.

As labor progresses, the contractions will become stronger, they’ll occur more often, and they’ll continue for about 30 to 70 seconds each. The pain of the contractions will tend to start in your back, and then move forward to the lower abdomen.

When should you call your doctor or go to the hospital? Hopefully, you’ve already discussed this with your doctor. In general, you should head for the hospital or phone your doctor if your water breaks (even if you aren’t having contractions yet), you’re experiencing vaginal bleeding, or the pain is severe and persistent even between contractions.

The doctor may induce labor before you go into labor on your own. This induction may be chosen if your doctor determines that your health or the health of your baby is being threatened. Perhaps you have a chronic disease such as diabetes or high blood pressure that may pose risks to you or your child. Or your doctor may recommend inducing labor if tests indicate that your baby’s growth is unusual. With certain medications (such as oxytocin or prostaglandin drugs that may be given intravenously in the hospital), the mother will have contractions and her cervix will start to open and efface. The doctor can also intentionally rupture the membranes that surround the fetus or use other means to get labor started.

 

Last Updated
3/28/2014
Source
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.