Early Labor Signs and Symptoms

Early Labor Signs and Symptoms

As you throw back Tums, become closely acquainted with all local bathrooms, and lovingly rub your stretch marks throughout pregnancy, you’re almost always in a day-dream-like state. You’re dreaming up baby names and memorizing paint swatches and you may be able to recite the signs of labor with the ease of someone who has earned a medical degree. But, many women don’t know about signs of an early or pre-term labor – which is labor that happens before the 37-week mark. A normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks.

Women carrying multiples, women with a history of premature births, and women with uterine or cervical abnormalities are at an increased risk for preterm labor. But, according to the America Pregnancy Association, early labor happens in 12% of pregnancies.

Sometimes, an early labor can be halted with medical intervention, so whether you are at increased risk for early labor or not, it’s a good idea to be aware of these early labor signs and symptoms, so you can get to your doctor quickly if something is wrong. 


When you first got pregnant, you might have had some light spotting. Throughout your pregnancy, you’ve probably experienced the joy of peeing your pants multiple times a day because you sneezed/coughed/laughed/moved/did nothing at all, but you still peed yourself. You’re used to all that. Leaking is different. If you are noticing any blood or fluid leaking, call your doctor right away. Your water may have broken. If the discharge is brownish-looking, it might be your mucous plug.


I was induced and had a top notch epidural with my first baby, so during my second pregnancy I kept asking people what contractions felt like. I’d had lots of aches and pains all throughout pregnancy, but the big difference with contractions was that I’d have abdominal pain with hardening of my uterus. I had Braxton Hicks contractions (false labor) all throughout my third trimester. But, with those, they were irregular and I could get them to stop when I changed positions. My whole stomach would become hard like a rock and then it would soften. If your stomach gets hard and then softens and this is happening every ten minutes or more frequently than that, call the doctor! You may be in labor!

Vision Changes, Headache, or Swelling

These three symptoms can be common throughout pregnancy, but if you experience a sudden, noticeable vision change, an intense headache, or severe swelling that is abnormal in comparison with the rest of your pregnancy, call your doctor right away. These symptoms point to possible preeclampsia, which is very serious and needs to be addressed right away.

Back Pain

Many sources list back pain and lower abdominal pressure as signs of early labor. These are common symptoms of a normal pregnancy, but if you are experiencing drastic abdominal pressure or if your back pain feels like it’s worse than it should be, and you haven’t yet hit the 37-week mark in your pregnancy, you should go ahead and give your doctor a call. It’s hard to gauge what is normal and what isn’t when it comes to pregnancy pains, especially if it’s your first pregnancy. But, even in subsequent pregnancies, there is really no way to know if your back pain is just a nuisance or a sign you need to go seek some stirrups. So, just play it safe. Call your doctor. They will likely want you to come in for an exam and they can steer you from there.

If you’re experiencing any labor symptoms, it’s important that you lie down and rest while you call your doctor. Sometimes, your doctor will put you on bed rest and that will postpone the labor. But, it’s always good to err on the side of caution.

With my second child, I was having contractions and I was a week from my due date and sure that it was TIME. After a few hours of monitoring, they sent me home. My contractions stopped when I was resting. I felt so embarrassed but the nurses were very reassuring and told me that false labor brings women in ALL. THE. TIME. And that it’s definitely important to seek medical attention if you’re in doubt.



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About Scarlet Hiltibidal

Scarlet has written for and managed various publications - her articles reaching over 38 million readers. She has a degree in counseling and worked as a 4th grade teacher before entering the media realm. Currently, she writes for Smart Mom and is also writing children's curriculum for a church in Miami. Her favorite things to do are tell her husband every thought that crosses her mind, play with her two little girls, and connect with other moms on the SmartMom app! Visit her blog at scarlethiltibidal.com and follow her on Twitter @ScarletEH.