How will I know when labour has started?

This is a common worry for first-time mums, but once labour really gets going you'll definitely know.

The early signs of labour are:

  • A show (the mucous plug at your cervix comes away and appears as a pinky-brown jelly-like blob or in pieces. See what a mucous plug looks like on the BabyCentre website.)
  • You might feel pains that feel like strong period pains (these are the start of contractions)
  • You might have pain in your lower back that comes in waves.

You may find that your waters break, in which case you know that labour is, or soon will be, under way, or you might start by feeling contractions. These will be different from the practice Braxton Hicks contractions that you may already have had. They feel stronger, deeper and more painful. Look out, too, for waves of backache, as some women find that this is where they feel their contractions.

Once labour has started, your contractions will become more regular and won't go away! When you are having a contraction every five minutes (and last 30-60 seconds), call your midwife, birth centre or hospital labour ward if you are giving birth there. If you have chosen a home birth, the midwife will come to you.

If this is not your first baby, or you are likely to have a quick labour, your midwife may advise you to call earlier than this.

If you're still not sure whether you're in labour, phone the labour ward or your midwife. They are used to dealing with false alerts so don't worry.

Wondering what to expect from those first twinges? Head over to the BabyCentre website to learn what contractions really feel like.

Read more about the symptoms of labour

Last reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.

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  • By Alicia (not verified) on 9 Apr 2018 - 14:55

    I have been getting cramps that is so painful since this morning its been going on whole day. Goes and comes. I need advice pls. I'm over my due date. 42 weeks today and they have booked me for Thursday to start an induction. I'm so confused its my first baby.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 Apr 2018 - 09:35

    Hi Alicia
    It does sound like your body is going into labour yes with your regular cramps that come and go - these sound like contractions, which is especially likely as you are now past your due date. Fingers crossed that you will not need that induction of labour! Please, if you have not already done so, go into your hospital to be reviewed by a midwife and obstetric doctor as soon as possible.
    Good luck with everything
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

  • By caren (not verified) on 8 Apr 2018 - 12:37

    I have been having severe back pains and abdominal pains for a week.I find it so difficult to stand and 38weeks pregnant. what could the problem be?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 Apr 2018 - 09:38

    Hi Caren
    It sounds like you really need to go into hospital to be seen urgently by a midwife and obstetric doctor with your pregnancy notes. Since you are now full term, it is possible that you are having contractions on and off, which can be felt in your lower back as well as the abdomen. It is also possible that you have a UTI which needs antibiotics as lower back pain can be a sign of this, as well as any itching,stinging or burning when you pass urine. Difficulty in passing urine or a strong odor can also be indicators of UTI.
    So please do go into be reviewed asap today.
    Good luck
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

  • By ADA (not verified) on 1 Apr 2018 - 20:00

    I Am 38 Weeks 3 DayS, I OBServed MucuS From My VAGINa Each Time I Clean After URiNaTiNG.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 3 Apr 2018 - 16:41

    Hi Ada
    it sounds as if your mucous plug may have gone which could mean that soon your body will be trying to get you into natural labour. This is normal and nothing to be worried by. But it would also be a good idea to call your hospital maternity unit and tell them so they know they you might soon need to come in once contractions have started.
    Good luck!
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

  • By Danielle (not verified) on 21 Mar 2018 - 20:59

    I’ve been having bad back pain and cramping in my lower abdomen since Friday when I started losing my mucus plug he’s dropped is it possible early stages of labor?? 37wks 1 day

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 22 Mar 2018 - 15:36

    Hi, Thank you for your comment.

    As you are 37 weeks, there may be every chance that you are going into labour. If you are still getting abdominal pain after all these days then it would be advisable that you are seen at your local maternity unit so that they can check you over to see if you are going into labour, any abdominal pain in pregnancy should be assessed. Good luck and we hope that all goes well, Take Care Tommy's Midwives x

  • By Modupekenny (not verified) on 12 Feb 2018 - 20:10

    Hi, am on my 38weeks, over a now av been av abdomen pain down to my vigenal what does dat mean

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 14 Feb 2018 - 11:02

    Hi Modupekenny
    Abdominal pains, esp at 38 weeks, could be an early sign of labour- either Braxton Hicks or actual contractions.
    Please do take yourself into your maternity unit traige/labour ward to be reviewed asap.
    All the best
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

  • By Lynette (not verified) on 16 Jan 2018 - 11:04

    Hi, I have been having this pain , that feels like menstrual cramp since morning.
    I have been timing the pain it comes every 4-5 mins and last 20- 40sec am in my 40wks+ as given by scan. Could it be a sign of labour.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 17 Jan 2018 - 13:22

    Hi Lynette.
    It does sound like things are happening for you. Please go into be seen urgently if this has continued and you have not sought medical review.
    Tommy's Midwife

  • By thembeka (not verified) on 14 Feb 2018 - 15:24

    Am also feeling that way

  • By Cally (not verified) on 26 Dec 2017 - 20:58

    Hi I have been getting very bad pressure Pains in my vagina every day for the last 3 days and find it a struggle to walk and my stomach has dropped. I 34 weeks but have had a 25week and 34qeek previous. Baby movements are not as much as they were a D looks like my bump is a lot smaller. Can u help

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 3 Jan 2018 - 11:28

    Hi Cally,
    a reduction in fetal movements needs to be investigated urgently by a midwife and doctor at your local hospital if you have not already done so. Having pressure pains can be normal, but should be reviewed before being ruled out as normal.
    Please take care of yourself
    Sophie Tommys Midwife

  • By Paige (not verified) on 15 Dec 2017 - 00:34

    i'm more dehydrated and have back pains and pressure in my virgina and a tingley feeling and im braking out in hives on my face im i going into labor?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 15 Dec 2017 - 16:56

    It is very difficult to understand what you are experiencing at the moment. I am unsure how many weeks pregnant you are but I would need more information to know what is happening. I would suggest you ring your midwife or maternity unit if you have noticed new symptoms.

  • By funke (not verified) on 5 Dec 2017 - 13:31

    I've been emptying the bowel (excretion) since yesterday till now 32 weeks pregnant with twins

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 5 Dec 2017 - 14:26

    this can be a symptom of labour but it is early for twins to be born at 32 weeks. It may be due to the fluctuation of the hormones that affect the muscle of your digestive tract. Have you got any abdominal pain, bleeding or could your waters have broken? If you have any of these symptoms contact your maternity unit now.
    If not have you eaten anything that has upset your stomach? Try to keep well hydrated and rest if you are suffering from diarrhoea. If the symptoms haven't settled in a week or you are becoming dehydrated you must contact your GP rather than visit the practice as gastroenteritis is highly infectious
    I hope you are feeling better soon
    Anna-Tommy's Midwives

  • By De.mowa (not verified) on 16 Nov 2017 - 23:13

    My wife can not sit for 20minutes as she keeps moving around tgr living room complaining of pain from her lower abdomen....she is 39weeks pregnant. Could it be that labor has set in.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 17 Nov 2017 - 11:29

    Hi, I am afraid I would need a little more information about what your wife is experiencing to know what is happening. If your wife is having constant pain, or any vaginal loss or concerns about baby's movements then she needs to contact her maternity unit straight away to be reviewed. If she is having pains every 20 minutes then this is still quite far apart, so does not sound like she is in established labour but in the early stages, in which case the best thing to do is to stay at home a little longer. Do call the labour ward for advice though if you are unsure of anything at all. Good luck! Tommy's midwives

  • By Anthonia (not verified) on 5 Sep 2017 - 14:56

    Hi pls I've been feeling dis pain for over 3days nw at my left side buttocks dat I find it difficult to walk, more so I've been feeling some pain at my lower abdomen going on and off but nt much. I'm 38weeks+

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 5 Sep 2017 - 15:52

    Hi Anthonia,
    I'm so sorry you've been in pain for 3 days, you must be tired. The pain in your left buttock, is it a shooting pain that goes down the leg or is the pain there all the time?
    Contractions can come and go but when you're in active labour there will be a pattern to them and they will take your breath away and command your attention.
    When do you next see your midwife?
    I think you could see if taking some regular paracetamol helps your left buttock pain, apply some localised heat, rest as much as you can, keep well hydrated and monitor your baby's movements. He or she should remain as active as normal if there is any change in pattern contact your maternity unit asap.
    You might also like to look at this website as I wonder if your baby is lying in a position that is affecting your left side?
    Let us know how you get on.
    Best wishes,
    Anna-Tommy's Midwives

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 21 Aug 2017 - 20:09

    Hi, Ive been having a constant heavy lower pain in my lower abdomen, feels like period pain and then every 40mins or so for the last 3 hours I've been getting sharp pains in the vagina and cramping sensations down there. Im very nervy and can't seem to sit still. the baby moves occasionally and i feel like i can breath better. Am i starting labour?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 24 Aug 2017 - 14:38

    Hi Thank you for your comment. Finding it easier to breath could be a sign that baby has dropped into your pelvis and you now have more room to breath. You don't say how may weeks you are in your pregnancy but it is important with any abdominal pain in pregnancy needs assessing. If you are concerned about your baby's movements and you are only feeling the movements occasionally, then again please contact your local maternity unit so that you can be reviewed and treated if needed. It is difficult to say that you are in labour so being seen face to face by a midwife or a doctor would be beneficial to you. Hope this helps, take care Tommy's Midwives x

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 19 Aug 2017 - 17:38

    Hi im getting alot of heavyiness and tightenings along with alot of pressure down below, the pains are coming and going eveeryday they last about 3-4 minutes aprt and 2-3 long do u know what this pains is its also causing alot of back pain im 38 weeks

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 21 Aug 2017 - 16:37

    Hi. You sound very uncomfortable. Not long to go now. With any abdominal pain at 38 weeks I always advise to be seen either on the labour ward or by your midwife. I can't reassure you without taking a full history and examining you. Try not to worry. The midwives are there to help and support you.

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 16 Jul 2017 - 22:23

    Been having cramping , sharp pains in vagina , pains in my stomach on the right side at the bottom and horrible back pains , is this the starting of labour?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 17 Jul 2017 - 15:22

    Hi, I hope you are feeling better today after your message last night. How many weeks pregnant are you and are the pains coming and going or are they there constantly? It may be the start of labour, but I can't confirm without more information. Perhaps you could arrange to see your midwife if you are unsure and would like some reassurance. Best of luck

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 9 Jul 2017 - 13:11

    Hi,am 37weeks pregnant, I don't walk with ease,heart burn @ its peak,pains in my lower abdomen,recently felt a sharp pain very fierce in my vagina,could be early signs of labour?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 Jul 2017 - 15:56

    Hi, The end of pregnancy is nearly there! Pain in your vagina is not generally a sign of labour, but we always take pain in your abdomen seriously. When are you seeing the midwife or GP again and has your pregnancy been normal so far? Why not make an appointment to be checked out or call your maternity department for advise. Best wishes and keep well. Tommy's midwives

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 2 Jul 2017 - 15:47

    Hi guy i am 31 weeks pregnant bt i have some pains that i cant tell its been a week now

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 3 Jul 2017 - 15:31

    Hi. If you have abdominal pain at 31 weeks please call your maternity unit or midwife for advice. Best wishes

  • By Ngobaby (not verified) on 2 Jun 2017 - 02:16

    I am 36 weeks ad having dis pinky discharge dat look like blood ad waist pain is it dat I will deliver very soon

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 2 Jun 2017 - 10:18

    Thank you for your comment
    If you are having a discharge that looks like blood and also having pain then you should contact your midwife or maternity unit as soon as possible for advice-they may ask that you come to the hospital for further checks.
    You are less than 37 weeks pregnant so it's possible you could be in early premature labour,
    I have attached some links with more information for you-

    Please contact us or call Tommy's PregnancyLine 0800 0147 800
    for further advice

    Tommy's Midwife

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 28 Apr 2017 - 13:21


    I am 40 weeks according to the scan I took and now I have some pains they feel like strong period pains they come and go after 30 minutes. I am not sure whether its false alert or labour pains because they started at around 3am this morning

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 28 Apr 2017 - 16:16

    It sounds like it could be your body starting to prepare for labour. The pains are usually quite irregular and far apart when they first start, and they can also come and go. This can go on for several days, stopping and starting. If you are getting pains that are about 2-3 in ten minutes, if you think your waters have broken, you have any constant pain or concerns about your baby's movements then it is important to contact your maternity unit to be reviewed.

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 11 Mar 2017 - 15:10

    Hello I have abdomen pain and back pain since morning I don't know what is it

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Mar 2017 - 10:37

    Hello and sorry not to get back to you sooner. We are not available for urgent questions at the weekend as we are here only Monday - Friday 9-5pm. I hope that you have been able to find help at your local maternity unit and that you are well.

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 9 Mar 2017 - 11:06

    I am 36 week pregnant ,my stomach Remains Very Hard From The Last Two Months .earlier The Doctor Said It Was Due To Not Of Adequate Liquor .but Now The liquor Is Also Adequate .ultrasound Report Said Everything Is Ok.but I Feel Problem In Walking and Sitting Due To Hardening Of Stomach.sometime I Do Not Sleep Whole Night Due To This.can U Tell Me what Was The Reason Behind It.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 9 Mar 2017 - 11:25

    Hi The 'hardening of your stomach' is most likely due to Braxton hicks which are described as practice contractions and are entirely normal. Braxton hicks contractions are not painful. Some babies are more active at night which can stop you sleeping but there are some suggestions to help you get comfortable on our link
    Good to hear that the doctors are happy with everything. Best wishes

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 2 Mar 2017 - 19:39

    Iam 39weeks pregnant i discharge a pinkish brown and cramping for every 15mins.. am i in a labor now.please help me.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 3 Mar 2017 - 15:44

    Hello. I hope that you are well and that you have already found some help. Our site is not available for urgent enquires and we are here only on Monday to Friday 9-5pm
    If you still have the same symptoms I would recommend contacting your maternity unit for advice asap. Or maybe you have delivered already? If so I hope all is well. Best wishes

  • By Tash (not verified) on 10 Feb 2017 - 14:08

    Hi again sorry to be a pain but I posted the other day about feeling really bad and irritable. Well it's getting worse I have my midwife in the morning tomorrow but I just don't want to eat I'm struggling to keep drinking aswell I'm still having irregular cramping pains like braxtons hicks. I'm not sleeping much for the last two nights just can not get comfy anywhere. I just don't know what to do.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 Feb 2017 - 16:09

    Please do not be sorry we are here to help and support you. I am unsure where your other post is however I am sorry to hear you are feeling so rubbish. It is great that you are seeing a midwife tomorrow, it is important to talk to her about how you are feeling at the moment. If you can try just drinks sips of water and snack on light foods that can help. I assume that you are more than 37 weeks pregnant, if you are less than this then I think you need to contact your maternity unit for review. Please monitor your baby's movements and if you notice any change or reduction then again please contact your maternity unit as soon as possible, also if your waters break or you have any bleeding. Try relax in a warm bath or shower too, that can help for some. Take care

  • By anvitha (not verified) on 19 Oct 2016 - 06:22

    iam 40week pregnant , now a days my breast was very smoother and small?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Oct 2016 - 14:31

    Hello Anvitha, are you concerned about your breasts not being large enough to feed your baby? I'm not sure whether this is your question but the size of breasts rarely affects ability to breastfeed.
    Please do get in contact again if you need more information.
    Tommy's Midwives

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 25 Jun 2016 - 09:37

    i have lower back for few days and cramps I'm not sure what's happening

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