What Are the Signs of Labour?
Learn about the signs of labour (and what you can do) and be prepared to meet your baby!
Reading Time: 5 min read
Labour is a natural, beautiful thing – and perhaps a little terrifying too. Understandably, because it’s the great unknown. Even if you’ve been through it before, there’s no guarantee this time will be the same as your previous experience(s).
Let us help you through your journey into the great unknown. We’ll explain when you might go into labour, what signs to look out for, and what to do if you’re in labour.
Remember that although labour may last hours (or days), you get a lifetime with your baby. It’ll be worth it, we promise.
When can I go into labour?
Having your baby on their due date is rare: only about 1 in 20 women manage this. Usually labour starts somewhere between 1 week before your due date and 2 weeks after it.
If this is your first baby, the start of labour is normally gradual. It can last hours and stop and start over multiple days.
You know in the movies where a woman’s waters breaks, and suddenly she’s in labour and having to rush to the hospital where she sneezes out a baby with a few high-pitched yells? Yeah, it doesn’t quite happen like that.
The start of labour is usually a slow process. You’ll have plenty of time to talk to your lead maternity carer (LMC). You’ll also probably hang out at home rather than dashing to the hospital straightaway.
Early labour is also called pre-labour or the latent phase. Signs to look out for that you might be in labour are:
- An achy, painful lower back.
- Pain low down in your tummy that feels like period pain and cramps.
- Irregular contractions or tightenings which may stop and start.
- Your waters breaking. This can happen long before labour starts but let your LMC know.
- A show – this is a plug of mucus that’s been in your cervix during your pregnancy. It comes away just before labour starts. It’s a sticky, jelly-like pink mucus. It’s normal to lose a little blood mixed with the mucus. The show indicates that your cervix is starting to open but not all women have one.
- An upset tummy or loose bowels.
- The need to go to the toilet (a lot) because baby’s head is pressing on your bowel.
There’s only one sign that shows you’re definitely in labour: regular contractions (i.e. that don’t start and stop) that get more intense.
What should I do in early labour?
You might think that once you’re in labour, it’s all action. In fact, it can still be a wee while until you meet your baby.
So, the best thing to do is relax, rest and stay calm to help you prepare for the work ahead. This could look like:
- Watching a movie or favourite show.
- Going for a walk.
- Pottering around at home.
- Napping or resting.
- A warm ache-easing bath or shower.
- Roping someone in to rub your back and ease any discomfort.
You might feel hungry, so eat and drink if you feel like it. Try small amounts of high-energy foods and isotonic drinks to keep your energy levels up. If you feel queasy, there’s no need to force yourself to eat.
As labour progresses try any relaxation and breathing exercises you’ve learnt. This will help you manage the contractions as they get stronger and more intense.
When should I call my midwife or doctor?
You’ve probably discussed with your LMC when to contact them. It’s possible they’ve told you to only call when you’re in active labour. There’s no harm in ringing your LMC when you’re in early labour. It’s good for them to know how you’re progressing and when they might be needed!
Plus, by speaking to you, they’ll know how frequent and intense your contractions are and how you’re coping.
Now you know about the signs of labour, you’re ready to learn about the stages of labour …and what it may feel like!