Contractions will begin slowly with the hardening or balling up of your uterus. You can feel the strength of the contractions by placing your hand on the top of your belly. The pain will come from the back, down around to the front of your belly, and just above the pubic bone.
If your water does not break but your contractions begin to come more frequently over a few hours, it may be a good idea to call your care provider and describe what's happening. At this point, if it is during office hours, your care provider may have you come in to check your cervix for dilation. If contractions begin after office hours, you may be asked to go to the hospital and have a doctor or a nurse check your cervix. He or she will also check your blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and temperature. Usually, you will be asked to lie down so that they can evaluate the baby's heart rate and your contractions with a fetal monitor, which gives a constant reading of the baby's heart rate. It traces the heart rate onto a strip of paper. The people caring for you in the hospital will evaluate the readout of the baby's heart rate pattern, as these patterns can provide some indication of how the baby is doing at a given point. The fetal monitor cannot tell everything, but it can tell how your baby is tolerating labor, whether or not the placenta is working well, and if the umbilical cord is getting pressed. If there has been no change in your cervix, they will probably have you walk around for a couple of hours and then recheck your cervix. If there still has been no change, they may even send you home for a while. Don't get discouraged if this happens -- many women make several trips to the hospital before the real thing; the excitement of going into the hospital stops the contractions, or getting to the hospital and rehydrating with fluids stops them. Labor is an "all or nothing" game. All the pieces need to be in place before it will actually happen.
A Few Words About Inducing Labor
The process of inducing labor involves stimulating the cervix to soften and dilate and the uterus to contract. Many high-risk pregnancies must be induced for the safety of the mother or baby, and many women ask to have their labor induced around thirty-eight weeks, primarily because they are too big, too tired, and too stressed about waiting for something to happen. This is not an acceptable reason for induction. Medical reasons, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, or if you are past your due date, are reasons for induction of labor.