When your due date is approaching, feeling any type of contraction can make you want to run straight to the hospital. Many moms do just this, only to be told that they aren’t in labor quite yet. Nothing can be as disappointing as learning that your new little one isn’t ready to make his or her debut. If this is your first pregnancy, it can be difficult to tell if you are really in labor. Use these tips to tell if you are truly in labor before heading to the hospital.

Braxton Hicks Contractions vs. Labor Contractions

Braxton Hicks contractions are your body’s way of preparing you for labor. They are intermittent uterine contractions that typically begin early in pregnancy. You may not notice them until you are approximately halfway through your pregnancy, and some women never notice them at all. Braxton Hicks contractions happen randomly, are infrequent and are short in length.

Labor contractions differ from Braxton Hicks contractions in that they happen at regular intervals and are uncomfortable. They will get longer and closer together as your labor progresses.

If you are still uncertain of what type of contraction you are having, try resting and drinking a glass of water. Braxton Hicks contractions will normally stop with rest, while real labor contractions will continue to progress.

Signs and Symptoms of True Labor

Your body has drastically changed over the past nine months. These changes can make it difficult to know if the symptoms you are feeling are a normal part of pregnancy or are a sign that your body is going into labor. Look for these symptoms to determine if you are truly in labor:

  • You have vaginal discharge that is tinged with pink, red or brown blood. This is known as your “mucus plug” and it can be passed all at once or slowly over the course of several days.
  • Your contractions are more intense and are at regular intervals. Timing the length of your contractions and how far apart they are can help you determine if they are regular. True contractions will continue to get more intense as your labor progresses.
  • You feel the contractions in your back, rather than in just your uterus.
  • Your water breaks. This can happen in one gush or a slow trickle of fluid.

What to Do if You are in Labor

If your contractions are regular or your water has broken, it’s time to call your doctor or midwife. He or she will give you guidelines about when it’s the right time to go to the hospital or birthing center. Typically, doctors recommend going to the hospital if your contractions last one minute or longer and are five minutes apart.

There are certain circumstances when you need to call your doctor immediately. These circumstances include:

  • Having regular contractions or having your water break when you are less than 37 weeks pregnant.
  • Feeling less movement from your baby than usual. If this occurs, try drinking some cold juice. If you still don’t feel your baby moving as often, call your doctor right away.
  • Experiencing vaginal bleeding, severe uterine pain and/or a fever.
  • Having a severe headache, a change in your vision, abnormal swelling and/or tenderness in your upper abdomen. This could indicate you have a serious condition called preeclampsia.

The last trimester can seem to go on forever as your pregnancy gets more uncomfortable and you get more excited to meet your new baby. Use this time to prepare for your new little one by packing your hospital bag, finishing the final touches on your little one’s nursery and acquiring a breast pump if you are planning on nursing. Staying busy will make the time go by more quickly and will ensure that you are ready when your baby is (finally) ready to be born.