A: I know it is hard as a first-time mom to really "know" what labor feels like, and it is ok to be anxious. First, your OB should start checking your cervix at each visit after 36 weeks, so she can tell you if you have started to dilate. Second, almost all of the symptoms you described are normal late in pregnancy. Last, there are four things I told my patients that they needed to go to the hospital to get checked for:
1) if you have regular, painful contractions that are 4-5 minutes apart and for more than an hour; they don't go away if you drink water or lie down (a contraction feels like your belly is getting squeezed from behind you and, in thinner patients, can actually make your belly change shape)
2) if you are leaking vaginal fluid, which may indicate your water broke
3) if you have any bright red blood that looks like a period (the placenta will need to be checked)
4) if you do not feel adequate fetal movements (at minimum, a baby should move at least 10 times in one hour or less for once a day).