pregnant woman in labor with no pain
3rd Trimester Labor + Delivery Being Pregnant

Yep, You Can Be in Real Labor and Not Even Know It

By Mallaury Agyei

I remember being pregnant with my first baby, my daughter, and thinking about what “real labor” would feel like. I Googled everything I could possibly think of.

What does real labor feel like?
How to know if I’m in real labor?
Real labor symptoms.

I had out-googled Google.

Then one night, I started experiencing painful contractions. I just knew it was the real deal. I couldn’t talk through my contractions, which, thanks to Google, I’d learned was a sign this was the big show. Seven hours later, she was here.

Enter my second pregnancy

Although my first pregnancy abided by the Google Rules of Labor, my second pregnancy went rogue.

The entire afternoon prior to my son’s birth, I experienced what I thought were Braxton Hicks contractions gone nuts.

I felt a rhythmic tightening in my abdomen every couple of minutes, all damn day long, but I wasn’t in any kind of pain.

I honestly thought my uterus was just irritable from all the walking I’d been doing that day, so I ignored it. As the day progressed and dawn turned into dusk, the tightening continued but increased in intensity and frequency.

After much insisting from my mother, I called my midwife, who advised me to go straight to L&D where she’d meet me.

Surprise! Real labor can be sneaky

I waddled in with my husband, already mentally prepared to be sent back home because duh I was not in labor.

Several minutes after checking in, my midwife began assessing me and after a bit of digging around…her jaw dropped. “You’re 9cm dilated,” she said.

I only started to feel actual labor pains when my waters were broken. My son was born not long after that.

I was most definitely in “real labor” but I felt zero pain. Had I ignored my mother’s pleas for me to go to the hospital, I would’ve given birth at home. This would’ve been totally fine had I actually planned for a home birth, but I planned to have my unmedicated birth in a hospital.

Where Google and my “How to Know You’re in Labor” checklist led me astray

Throughout the course of my two pregnancies, I encountered the same message from the “real labor” checklists I received from both my healthcare provider and Google:  If you’re in real labor, you should not be able to talk during your contractions.

Though being unable to talk through contractions may be a sign that you’re in labor, it’s not an exact science.

After this experience, I did some research and found that many other women had experiences similar to mine. Perhaps it isn’t the norm, but it most certainly is possible to have painless labor, sometimes even after having a “normal” labor with “regular” pains – which I can confirm are no joke!

Here are some things to watch out for:

✅ Painless rhythmic contractions

Just as with “regular” labor, the contractions will be rhythmic and you’ll be able to time them. If you can time the contractions and notice a pattern, you may be in real labor.

✅ Painless contractions are increasing in intensity

My contractions began earlier that morning and grew in intensity and frequency as the day progressed. They weren’t painful, but the squeezing sensation was really intense. I went from literally being able to walk through them, to having to stop walking every couple of steps.

If you have to stop doing what you’re doing during the contractions, you may be in real labor.

✅ Painless contractions are increasingly uncomfortable

As the contractions get stronger and more frequent, they’ll become even more uncomfortable. I remember mine being so intense that each time a wave of contractions came, I felt like I was going to pee myself. That’s how hard my uterus was contracting.

If this is the case for you, then there’s a possibility that you’re in real labor.

The truth is “real labor” can look different for everybody

If you feel any of the symptoms I mentioned above and are unsure whether you’re in labor, call your healthcare provider. The last thing you want is to start crowning in the middle of a freaking checkout line somewhere.

Many of us worry about being a nuisance and getting sent home, but this isn’t the time for all of that, ok? If you have even the tiniest inkling that something could be going on, call your healthcare provider!

Related: “How Do I Know if I’m in Labor?”

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