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Labor is the beginning of the active birth process. Many expectant mothers ask themselves the important question "Is this it?" more than once in the late weeks of pregnancy. Sometimes they feel a slight contraction and then nothing more. Such contractions, known as Braxton-Hicks contractions, are relatively painless and begin as early as the sixth month and may continue throughout the pregnancy. Real labor contractions cause more discomfort, occur with greater regularity, and are intensified by walking.

Other signs may or may not indicate that labor is beginning, such as an ache in the small of the back, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, indigestion, "show" (a small amount of blood-tinged mucus emerging from the vagina), and the "water breaking" (a discharge of fluid from the vagina). The discharge of fluid, which is caused by the rupture of membranes, can occur some time before actual labor begins. The only certain signs of labor are the appearance of the show and the onset of regular, rhythmic contractions that increase in frequency and strength. When the fluid from the amniotic sac is discharged, the first line of defense against infection is broken. Often, if labor does not begin after the water breaks, the physician may induce labor.

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 1Birth - Labor, Stages Of Labor, "gentle Birth" Techniques, Alternate Birth Centers, Midwives, Complications