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How do I know I'm in labor?

With my first pregnancy I remember sitting on the exam table when the nurse practitioner I was seeing asked me, "do you have any questions?" To which I asked, "How will I know I'm in labor, and what if I don't notice?" She smiled and responded, "you will know." I remember thinking how unhelpful that was, and then when I was in labor I remembered our conversation and smiled. Now, I find myself in that same situation as a doula when clients ask, "how will I know I'm in labor?"

This question comes from a desire to have control of the situation, as humans we don't like not knowing when something will happen and what it will feel like. The comparison we hear most often is that the contractions will feel like period cramps when they begin.

Each stage of labor has its own indicators or symptoms, let's take a look:

Early Labor

0-6cm, lasts approximately 2-24 hours

Nagging backache: My first encounter with labor gave me a nagging backache. Every time it started bugging me, I switched my position in bed to try to continue sleeping. After an hour of this I gave up and got out of bed. It was more annoying than anything, so I continued on with my day just earlier than I had anticipated.

Loose stools: let the poop come! A big fear people have in pregnancy is pooping in labor, but the truth is your body tries to clear itself out before pushing starts. You will likely experience more loose stools than normal if you are in early labor.