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Can labor start while you’re sleeping? Can you sleep through early labor? How can you sleep through some of labor. Let’s explore those topics.
But first…. Hi, I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse 👩⚕️. I have been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of OB nursing experience, I am also the curly head behind Pulling Curls and The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. 🩺 After triaging thousands of patients, I am an expert on when labor starts and what you can expect.
Come join me in The Online Prenatal Class for Couples where we talk all about how labor progresses and what to expect as your body transitions into active labor.
Can Labor Start While You’re Sleeping?
In a word, yes. Labor can start at ANY time. While you’re in the shower, having sex, at work, or at a doctor’s appointment. There is no time that your body will stop labor if it’s in the mood to do it. Contractions starting during the middle of the night isn’t unusual at all.
How Does Labor Start?
Labor starts with just some mild cramping and not feeling well. The good news is that your body is also VERY tired, so sleeping is often something that will come naturally, even if you don’t feel well.
I have a whole post on how to know if you’re in labor — because it CAN be confusing. Labor sort of creeps up on a person, so getting some ideas on how it will start and what to watch for can be super helpful. I also have a whole podcast on how to know if you’re in labor:
Braxton Hicks contractions and labor are both very similar, except that labor keeps going and Braxton Hicks contractions stop or become irregular contractions. Many people call those mild contractions false labor or “practice contractions”. All of them are contractions of the uterine muscle, it’s mostly what they are producing (if it makes you dilate) that make them different.
Labor also has a few more symptoms that I talk about in my article called Am I In Labor? Labor signs include:
- bloody show (read that article to learn more — bright red blood can be problematic, so call your provider if you see much of that)
- lower back pain
- stomach cramps/upset stomach
- vaginal discharge
- loss of the mucus plug
- overall malaise
It’s more likely to be “real” labor when you see other signs than just contractions If you’re wondering what the other things are to watch for join me in here.
The beginning of labor often feels like getting your period and then the pains progress from there. Read my post on where you feel contractions if you’re wondering that as well. If you wonder what contractions feel like it’s very normalI– it’s hard work, but tricky too!
If you’re before 37 weeks along, labor that early isn’t often — and is called preterm labor. Call your healthcare provider ASAP!
However, once you get into the active phase of labor (some call this the second stage of labor) — with “real contractions” call your provider or hospital staff to see when you should head into the hospital (or take their advice if you’ve already talked about it).
And yes, I have a whole bonus video on the phases of labor in here.
Can Your Water Break While You are Asleep
I actually hear this a lot. Women were asleep with some early labor (many people call this the latent phase of labor as it can take a while) and then wake up when they feel a pop. When they stand up warm fluid (amniotic fluid) gushes onto their carpet.
Remember, most women’s water does not break on its own — so it’s not OFTEN but it’s definitely possible — especially as you get closer to your due date.
I have a whole post on the signs your water might break soon.
Most often, once water breaks labor begins to be more painful and you head into more active labor, FYI.
Water breaking is a sure sign of labor (many of us count it as the start of labor) — once your amniotic sac is broken most providers want to see you have your baby in the next day or so. If your water is broken, your big day is here! Get your hospital bag!
Of course, it’s not always as cut and dry as this makes it sound — I have a whole post on my sister site on how to tell if your water is broken.
Pro tip: Make sure you have a waterproof mattress pad on your mattress in your third trimester — just in case. 🙂
Should You Sleep During Labor?
During labor, I recommend you do one of two things:
- Sleep — sleeping during labor gives the pregnant woman energy and it also can allow your cervix to soften/open while you are obtaining that energy. Sleeping is GREAT and don’t discredit it. I honestly think it’s the best thing when possible.
- Move — if you’re NOT sleeping, I recommend moving a lot! I don’t mean constant movement (but I am a big fan of “the sway” or sexy hip circles on a yoga ball) — but finding a new position to rest in every 30 minutes or so. Find a comfortable position, but change every so often. Having a family member remind you can help too!
Wondering WHAT moves will make a difference. I have some labor movement cards in here that can help you out!
A lot of women find their first instinct is just to sort of curl up in a ball and be miserable and THAT is not a good plan.
True sleep or moving, that should be your plan.
Reminding you to move is a great job for your partner! I have some awesome easy things partners can do that make a difference in The Online Prenatal Class for Couples.
A lot of people ask if they can take something for pain relief in early labor. I’d ask your provider if there is something they recommend.
How Can I Sleep During Labor?
YES, this is a great question. I have a few ways you can work on sleep during labor (these tips can help in general towards the end of your pregnancy) — these are aimed at trying to increase your oxytocin:
#1 Lower the lights. Studies prove that the bright lights we use in the hospital can actually prevent labor. As soon as my patient was settled into bed I tried to keep the lights low to help bodies enhance that labor process.
In fact, most women naturally go into labor during the night. It is likely because they are relaxed and frankly — when they’re not so busy doing other daily activities they can more acutely be aware they ARE in labor.
#2 Meditation. One of the best things you can do is get into meditation — earlier in your pregnancy. By having these coping skills it can help you relax your mind and body to sleep more during early labor. In fact, I am personally doing some hypnosis for anxiety lately and the techniques are SO helpful for my early morning wake-ups, I can’t recommend it enough. I have some anxiety remedies you can try.
If you’re not into meditation, many people like a warm bath or a warm shower (warm, not hot). It just helps you relax!
#3 Take something. Ask your health care provider if there is anything you can take to help with sleep as you get more uncomfortable later in your pregnancy. I can’t give you any guidance in this area, but it’s definitely worth a talk. Options could be a pain pill or a sleeping pill.
I also have a whole post on pregnancy sleep you might find helpful.
Can I Eat When Labor is Starting?
If you’re hungry, I say have small snacks and/or meals. I don’t recommend large meals as your stomach sometimes likes to get in on the cramping and you don’t want to see that meal a second time. Again, you’re likely heading into something you’ll need a lot of energy for. Remember to balance carbs and some protein for long-term energy.
Honestly, there’s no better option than early labor starting while you’re getting some sleep, so don’t stress about it. Remember, early labor can last quite a while, so even if it “started” while you were asleep, you likely have quite a bit of time in front of you. I have a whole post on the first stage of labor you might find helpful as well.
I will say that as baby’s head goes deeper into the birth canal, many women don’t want to eat. Not unusual at all.
Can Labor Start While Sleeping FAQ’s:
Yes, some women are able to relax into the pain of contractions — think of sleeping with a large headache.
Yes, as labor progresses the pains will wake you up. But, you will benefit from the sleep that you got before waking.
Not really? I do love a left sims position to help baby rotate and come into the pelvis. That’s where you lay onto your side towards your belly– usually with your upper leg on pillows.
Not usually, but contractions may stop while you are asleep. It is normal for early labor to stop and start — and often it will start late at night and then stop mid-night. At some point it will keep going and you’ll have a baby. But actually sleeping won’t stop labor.
When the lights turn off it it raises your oxytocin and your body finally feels able to put you into labor. Studies have shown that most women who go into labor naturally do so during the sleeping hours as melatonin rises.
AND, as I talked about before — if you’re looking to know more about labor, how it starts and what to expect — NOW is the time to jump into The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. There I answer what to do in early labor and give you the perfect equation for when to head to the hospital.
And, if you’re not quite sure you’re ready for that whole thing, check out my free prenatal class. It’s your first step toward getting in the driver’s seat of your birth.
- About the Author
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A nurse since 1997, she has worked in various fields including pediatrics, geriatrics & hospice.
She has 20 years of labor and delivery experience in the San Jose, CA and Phoenix, AZ areas.
She is also the curly head behind the website Pulling Curls and is the creator of The Online Prenatal Class for Couples — the #1 hospital-based prenatal class on the internet.