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You may have Braxton Hicks contractions for weeks before real labor begins. These “practice” contractions can make you think you are in labor when you are not. But there are certain changes in your body that mean real labor is near:

  • Lightening—As the fetus’s head settles deep into your pelvis, you may feel that the fetus has dropped lower. Because the fetus isn’t pressing on your diaphragm, you may feel lighter.
  • Loss of the mucus plug—A thick mucus plug forms at the cervix during pregnancy. When the cervix begins to dilate (open), the plug is pushed into the vagina. You may notice an increase in vaginal discharge that’s clear, pink, or slightly bloody.
  • Your water breaks (rupture of membranes)—The fluid-filled amniotic sac that surrounded the fetus during pregnancy breaks. You may feel the fluid trickle or gush from your vagina. Call your ob-gyn if your water breaks.
  • Contractions—As your uterus contracts, you may feel pain in your back or pelvis. This pain may be similar to menstrual cramps. Labor contractions happen in a regular pattern and get closer together over time.

See How to Tell When Labor Begins to learn more.

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Published: October 2020

Last reviewed: October 2020

Copyright 2020 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Read copyright and permissions information.

This information is designed as an educational aid to patients and sets forth current information and opinions related to women’s health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care, nor does it comprise all proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for a treating clinician’s independent professional judgment. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.