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Pregnancy Labor Signs and Symptoms

What is pregnancy labor?

The onset of labor is the most anticipated event of pregnancy. Many pregnant women fear they will miss the early signs of labor and be unprepared for the delivery of their child. Fortunately, the body provides several clues that the onset of labor is approaching. There also are signs of pre-labor that indicate that the body is preparing for delivery in the weeks to come. Since a normal gestation is 40 weeks, signs of pre-labor may be apparent at 38 or 39 weeks' gestation. In most cases, labor begins between 37 and 42 weeks after the onset of the last menstrual period. Of course, in some cases, labor may begin prematurely. Although gestational age can be helpful in predicting when the signs of labor or pre-labor will develop, there is no proven way to predict precisely when labor will begin.

What causes pregnancy labor?

No one knows exactly what triggers the onset of labor. Some researchers think that hormonal changes within the fetus cause the placenta to produce increased levels of a substance known as corticotrophin-releasing hormone. This changes the balance of the mother's hormones, which have kept the uterus in a relaxed state. Once the process is triggered, the cervix begins to soften and thin out. In most cases, contractions signal the initiation of labor.

True pregnancy labor vs. false pregnancy labor

On many occasions, it is not possible to distinguish between true and false labor. If a woman is uncertain, it is always advisable to go to the chosen facility to rule out labor. Generally, the contractions of true labor increase in frequency and intensity over time, while those of false labor remain irregular, vary in intensity, and will frequently disappear over time. The contractions of false labor also decrease with ambulation or movement. In true labor, contractions persist despite movement and/or change of position. With false labor, discomfort is typically located only in the front, whereas true labor pains generally begin in the back and migrate forward.

How do I prepare for pregnancy labor and delivery?

It is important for both you and the health-care professional (for example, family doctor, obstetrician, midwife, or nurse practitioner) to plan an appropriate course of action once labor begins. Important topics to discuss include the choice of a hospital or birthing center, the anticipated travel time to the facility, and what personal items will be necessary during the stay. Such considerations should be considered long before the anticipated onset of labor.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/3/2016
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