One of my worst fears during my first pregnancy was not knowing when and where I would go into labor. Can you go into labor sleeping? Would I be at the grocery store casually picking out the bananas when my water breaks with a gush all over the floor of the produce section? Would I be at work, typing away my frustrations about working up to the very end of a grueling pregnancy as the contractions hit? TBH, I couldn't stop thinking about waking up in a panic from a dead sleep. But is that a thing? Can you go into labor while sound asleep?
All of these questions raced through my mind for nine entire months, and I am sure that I am not the only one who has wondered almost obsessively about where I would be when labor starts. The truth is, you will never really know when labor will begin. That is really a call only your body can make. However, I can tell you that going into labor in your sleep is actually a very real possibility.
In fact, going into labor at night is something that is not only possible, but statistically probable when you take a look at the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that claims most births in the United States occur between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon. This means those births would have labors that would probably begin sometime during the nighttime hours, since the average time active labor lasts is between four and eight hours, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Going into labor at night is likely due to the amount of melatonin your body produces to fall and stay asleep that can co-mingle with the pregnancy hormone oxytocin to jump start contractions, as a study in the obstetric journal Reproductive Sciences reported.
"Labor beginning during the night while you are sleeping is incredibly common," Megan Davidson, a Brooklyn-based doula and author of Your Birth Plan, tells Romper. "Sometimes people are able to sleep through the mild contractions of early labor, much like you might sleep through menstrual cramps or other bodily discomforts, and other times the contractions wake them up. Either way, as the contractions grow stronger, they will wake you up."
This is amazing news for those of you who are worried about your baby just popping out of you and taking you by complete surprise as you're catching some much needed Zs. I was very much concerned about this possibility as a first-time mom, so it's nice to be able to provide some reassurance to other moms who might have the same concern. I promise, you're not alone.
So, if you do happen to go into labor while you're sleeping and your contractions wake you up, should you try to go back to bed, or is it time to make the journey to the hospital in the dead of night? Truly, it depends on how far apart your contractions are, so it is best to call the after-hours line for your midwife, OB-GYN, or doula. If they tell you to wait a bit longer, Davidson has some sage advice for expectant moms who wake up to this exact situation.
"If labor begins during the night and you are able to continue sleeping through the contractions or to rest during the space in between, that’s excellent," Davidson tells Romper. "Labor is hard work, and there is a newborn at the end of it! Getting as much sleep as possible at the beginning is so helpful to combat the exhaustion that often makes labor and postpartum even harder to manage."