Early Signs of Labour

Labour begins with something called the latent phase. Your contractions will be different in how strong they are and how long they last. But they will get stronger over time. Try to stay at home unless you’ve had a fast birth in previous pregnancies.

There are common signs that can show your body is getting ready like:

A ‘show’

The mucus plug may come out when labour is about to start or has already started but not always. This is called a ‘show’.

It’s not a sure sign labour has started but it’s a sign your body is preparing.

Pain like strong period pains:

These pains are contractions starting. As your labour moves forward, your contractions usually get longer, stronger, and happen more often.

When your contractions have a regular pattern and last at least 60 seconds, and happen every 5 minutes, or you think you are in labour, call your midwife or maternity unit for advice.

Lower back pain:

You might feel a pain in your back or a heavy, hurting feeling.

Feeling like you need to use the bathroom a lot:

This happens when your baby’s head pushes on your bowel.

Your waters breaking:

Your baby grows in a bag of fluid called the amniotic sac. When it’s time for your baby to come, this bag usually breaks, and the water inside comes out of your vagina. It might feel like a small leak or a big rush of water that you can’t stop (it can be hard to tell it apart from wee and might also have a bit of blood at first). This is called “waters breaking” and is spontaneous. It can happen before or during labour.

Usually, labour starts within 24 hours of your waters breaking. If it doesn’t, you might need help to start labour.

Inducing labour – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

This is because your baby could get an infection without the amniotic fluid. You should ring the maternity unit as it is most likely they will ask you to come in to check if you’ve started labour.

Until you start labour, or if you choose to wait for it to start naturally, tell your midwife right away if:

  • Your baby moves less than usual
  • The colour or smell of the fluid from your vagina changes
  • You should also check your temperature every 4 hours when you’re awake. Tell your midwife if it’s high. A high temperature is usually over 37.5C, but you might need to call before this – ask your midwife.

When to Call the Hospital or Midwife

You can call your midwife or hospital right away if you think you’re in labour. They will likely ask you some questions on the phone.

They will ask:

  • How you feel (tightening, bleeding, or if your waters have broken)
  • About your birth plan and any worries, you might have.
  • About your baby’s movements, and any changes in this.
  • They will tell you what you can expect at the start of labour, including ways to help with pain.
  • They will offer support and help with pain if you need it.
  • They will tell you who to call next and when to do it.

NHS Video - How will I know I'm in labour?