What happens to your body in labor?

When the contractions of labor begin, the walls of your uterus start to contract. They are stimulated by the release of hormones (oxytocin). The contractions cause the cervix to widen and begin to open. As labor progresses the amniotic sac can rupture causing a slow or a fast gush of fluids (breaking of water), and labor will usually begin within 24-hours. As contractions become closer and stronger the cervix will gradually start to open (dilate). As the labor progresses, pain increases, but your body naturally helps with this by releasing hormones called endorphins. High levels of endorphins are known to be more effective than medications. To encourage your body to make these hormones, which makes labor easier, stay relaxed. We show you how here.

Is it real or false labor?

False labor, also called Braxton Hicks contractions, is a painless tightening in the lower abdomen. You can start feeling these Braxton Hicks contractions in your second or third trimester of pregnancy, but they typically get stronger in the last month of pregnancy. They do not mean you are going into labor; it is just your body’s way of getting prepared. There are a few signs that differentiate true labor from false labor:

REAL Labor


  • Contractions are regular and come at increasingly shorter intervals and become longer and more intense.
  • Timing of the contractions are irregular and do not become more frequent or more intense.
  • Breaking of waters that result in a trickle or a gush of fluid. Contractions may start before or after.
  • Contractions stop during rest, when mother stops what she is doing, walking, or changing position.
  • Passing the mucus plug. Labor could still be a few days away, but it is coming.
  • Contractions are inconsistent in strength (strong one minute then weak the next).
  • Persistent pain in the lower back, especially if accompanied by a cramping, premenstrual feeling.
  • Location of pain is in the front only.

Signs that labor might be coming soon

Here are 12 signs that labor might be coming soon. You could still be a few weeks or a few days away from labor, but they do show things are moving in the right direction:

  1. ‘Lightening’ (2-3 weeks before) which means your baby drops and allows you to breath more deeply.
  2. Increased urge to urinate (more pressure on bladder).
  3. Decreased compression of stomach allowing increased food intake.
  4. Increase in Braxton-Hicks contractions.
  5. Weight loss of 0.5-1.0 kg (usually water).
  6. Increased backache.
  7. Increased pelvic pressure.
  8. Increased vaginal secretions.
  9. Diarrhea, nausea & vomiting.
  10. Sudden burst of energy (often 24-48 hours before labor).
  11. Softening & thinning of cervix.
  12. Loss of mucus plug.

Stages of labor

Labor isn’t like what you see on TV. You aren’t necessarily in pain and screaming, sometimes water doesn’t break until after the baby comes out and the baby almost never pops out shortly after labor starts. For most women, especially first-time mothers, active labor takes about 6-8 hours, but can go up to 18 hours or more. Every woman's experience is different. It might help you to understand the distinct stages of labor and how long each typically takes:

Stage 1 (consists of three phases):

  1. Early: this is where your husband and other family or friends can help by keeping you distracted, relaxed and rested. It’s best to stay at home during early labor as you will be more comfortable and you can have family or friends around you for help. You should urinate often. You can also have your husband time contractions, get your hospital bag and make sure he has transport to the hospital.
  2. Active: you should be at the hospital by now. At this time in public hospitals in Kosovo family or friends are unable to be with you once you are admitted to the maternity ward, but we hope this changes soon! Studies show that women who have labor companions have shorter labors and fewer complications than woman who labor alone. Your contractions get progressively stronger and closer together as active labor continues.
  3. Transition: this will be the toughest time for you as your cervix dilates the last few centimeters. Don’t worry, this part does not usually last long and it means you are in the home stretch! You will see your baby very soon!

Stage 2 – involves pushing and the birth of your baby. The average time for first-time mothers is one hour.
Stage 3 – is delivery of the placenta, usually within 5-30 minutes after baby is born.


When to go to the Hospital

It depends on each individual situation: pregnancy complications/high risk, first baby, distance from hospital, and personal preference all affect when you should arrive at the hospital. You do not need to go to the hospital at the first sign of contractions, and in fact it is better to stay at home in early labor as you will be much more comfortable.

You can have your husband help time your contractions and go when they are regularly at five minutes apart unless you live a long distance from the hospital, in which case you should leave sooner. In any case, it’s always best to call your doctor to check when you should go to the hospital. Other reasons (danger signs) you should go to the hospital immediately is if:

  • Your water breaks or you are leaking amniotic fluid and it is yellow/brown/greenish or bloody.
  • Baby is less active than normal.
  • You have vaginal bleeding (unless it's just bloody show/spotting), constant severe abdominal pain, or fever.
  • Contractions before 37 weeks (not Braxton Hicks contractions; see below).
  • You have severe or persistent headaches, vision changes, intense pain or tenderness in your upper abdomen, or abnormal swelling. These are signs of preeclampsia.
Category: Stages & Signs of Labor

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