Signs of Pre-Labor

When a woman is in the final stages of pregnancy, she can become very sensitive to every single change in her body, waiting for labor to begin. Before true labor starts, most women go through what is called pre-labor, during which the body prepares to deliver the baby. Pre-labor can be a short process, signaling that the birth is only a few hours away, or it can drag out over several weeks.

  1. Contractions

    • Most women already know that the biggest sign of labor is when contractions start. But how do you tell pre-labor contractions from the Braxton Hicks contractions that are present with what doctors call "false labor"? The short answer is, at first you can't. The contractions will get stronger and more frequent as you enter pre-labor. If they continue to get stronger, leading you into true labor, you are indeed in pre-labor. If they do not become stronger or more frequent and then begin to taper off, you are simply in false labor.

    Preperation of the Cervix

    • When pre-labor starts, your cervix will begin to ripen. It can be hard to pinpoint this signal without being examined by a doctor or midwife. Some women feel pain in their vagina or lower back. The cervix will become thinner and shorter---though the beginning of this process can only be confirmed by an examination. Finally the cervix begins to dilate, another process that can be measured during examination.


    • This is when the baby drops into the mother's pelvis. It should be noted that this often happens several weeks before true labor begins and usually only occurs with first-time mothers or doesn't happen at all.

    Vaginal Discharge

    • Women in pre-labor can expect a few things to be emitted vaginally before the baby comes. The first sign is a white or slightly pink discharge. This is usually followed by what is called the "bloody show," a discharge that is mixed with blood. Shortly before labor a woman will also lose her mucus plug, which acts as a seal on the cervix. Although the passing of the bloody show and the mucus plug can mean that true labor is imminent, it can also be more than a week before the baby arrives.

    Diarrhea and Vomiting

    • Pre-labor is often not easy on a woman's stomach. Both diarrhea and nausea are common before true labor begins.

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  • Photo Credit Alistair Berg/Digital Vision/Getty Images

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