Learning how to identify true labor pain may help you get to the hospital or your chosen birthing center in plenty of time for the delivery. Just as every woman experiences varied degrees of menstrual cramping, every woman has a slightly different labor experience. No one can tell you exactly what your labor pain will feel like, but there are signs to look for that indicate true labor pain versus Braxton Hicks, or false, contractions.
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Record the frequency of your contractions. Labor pains will occur at regular intervals and should be getting more frequent as the baby's birth draws near. They may start as far apart as every 20 to 30 minutes. Call the doctor when contractions are five minutes or fewer apart.
Note where you feel the pain. Labor pains will originate in your abdomen, similar to a firm menstrual cramp, or in your lower back, like a strong, cramping backache. The pain will then wrap around to either your low back or your abdomen, depending on where it started.
Get up or walk around if you can. Labor pain may increase with activity; it will not diminish or go away. False labor pains usually diminish or go away completely with activity.
Look for the pains to increase in strength and intensity. Labor pains will progressively get stronger up until your baby is born. The contractions will also last longer -- usually starting at about 30 seconds per pain, the contractions can extend up to 90 seconds at a time as labor draws near.
Watch for a mucus-like vaginal discharge, sometimes called a "bloody show," to accompany the pains. If you see this mucus, which is sometimes runny or blood-tinged, it means that your cervix is beginning to dilate in preparation for labor.
Watch for a leakage of clear fluids from the vagina to accompany pains. The membrane around the baby will rupture as birth draws near, which will cause the clear, odorless amniotic fluid to leak. As opposed to what is seen on TV, in reality many women do not even notice this symptom.