1. Your contractions hurt

The biggest confusion when it comes to labour is that it can be hard to distinguish between false and real contractions. As you approach your due date, you may feel something labor-like - namely, contractions that are mildly uncomfortable and vary in intensity. Unlike the benign, preparatory contractions of false labor, real contractions are painful. They build in intensity so you can't walk or talk through them.

2. Labor Contractions Are Strong, Repetitive, and Persistent

When contractions are five to seven minutes apart for at least an hour, with each one just as intense as the last, you're in labour. Call your doctor or birthing unit as soon as they are 15 minutes apart. If you know you live a long way from the hospital, call sooner.

3. Your Water Breaks

A gush or a persistent trickle of musty fluid is a major sign that your membranes have ruptured and that labor has begun. What's confusing here is that women in the latter stages of pregnancy can become somewhat incontinent as the baby's head presses against the bladder, which causes urine leakage. How can you tell if it's urine or amniotic fluid ("water")? With incontinence, a pad won't immediately become saturated because the fluid leakage isn't continuous. Keep in mind that you don't need to be having contractions for your water to break.

Signs That Labor is 24 to 48 Hours Away

- You get the runs. Sometimes women will have diarrhea a day or two before going into labor. This is the body's way of emptying the bowels so the uterus will contract well. Indigestion and vomiting prior to labour are also possible.

- You're carrying especially low. When the baby's head drops into the pelvis, lining itself up for labor, this is known as lightening. The weight of your baby is no longer pressing on your diaphragm, and you may be able to breathe more freely as a result.

- You get a burst of energy. You're exhausted, but suddenly you want to cross everything off your to-do list. The sense is that you don't want to leave any unfinished business at home. If you do feel a spike in the nesting instinct, don't knock yourself out, because you'll need your energy for labour.