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.)
  • 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? Find out what contractions really feel like.

Read more about the symptoms of labour

Read more

  • A photo of a heavily pregnant woman sat on the sofa listening to music with her eyes closed

    What is hypnobirthing?

    Hypnobirthing is a method of pain management that can be used during labour and birth. It involves using a mixture of visualisation, relaxation and deep breathing techniques.

  • A new mum and dad looking down at their newborn baby

    Having a home birth

    You might like to consider giving birth at home for a more relaxed experience in familiar surroundings. Find out whether this is the right option for you.

  • A photo of a woman holding her baby after giving birth in water

    How to prepare for a water birth

    Are you thinking about having a water birth? Find out about the advantages and disadvantages of giving birth in the water, what to wear and what the pain relief options are.

  • A photo of a woman just after she's given birth with her newborn baby on her chest and stomach having skin to skin contact

    Delayed cord clamping (DCC)

    Cutting the cord immediately after the birth has been routine practice for 50-60 years but more recently research is showing that it is not good for the baby.

  • Pregnant woman holding her back.

    What to expect when your waters break

    Your waters can break before you go in to hospital but they are more likely to break during labour, or they can even be broken for you by your midwife to speed up your labour (a process known as artificial rupture of membranes).

  • Pregnant woman holding her back.

    Braxton Hicks

    Braxton Hicks is the name given to the action when the womb contracts and tightens with your bump becoming hard to touch; it then relaxes again, becoming soft.

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

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  • By Mariam (not verified) on 9 Jul 2018 - 18:09

    Am 37 weeks with some days, am having severe back, waist and abdominal pains, it comes and goes, my water hasn't broke yet, is it time for labor

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 12 Jul 2018 - 12:45

    Hi Mariam,
    It could be that you are in labour, you may have had your baby by now! If you are having severe pains then if you haven't already, do speak with your maternity unit. Do be monitoring your baby's movements closely, if you notice any changes, particularly if they they slow, then call your maternity unit straight away.
    Good luck!
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Regina (not verified) on 9 Jul 2018 - 14:26

    Am in my last month and my back is paining me nd severe stomach pain it will come and go please what is that?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 9 Jul 2018 - 16:20

    Regina, I think that you are in labour. This is quite normal in your last month and is a sign that your baby is coming. Please contact your midwife and let her know what is happening.

  • By Sammie (not verified) on 8 Jul 2018 - 12:20

    37 weeks pregnant, had previous 38 week and 35 week deliveries. I've been having period type.pains for a few days, lower back pain.. abdomen tightening and loose stools. Stabbing pains in cervix. Period pain comes with tightenings. Only lasting 20-30 seconds every 20 minutes or so... my first labour was silent.. waters broke and I had been contracting (shown on monitor) but they were painless.. and my second labour contractions just started every 3 minutes and midwife broke waters. I haven't experienced this slow.. painful... type yet and am wondering if it could be labour or just normal?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 9 Jul 2018 - 16:26

    Yes these are symptoms of labour but if it has been happening for a few days I would advise to go to your maternity unit for assessment. It is unusual for this type of 'latent phase' in a mother who has had two previous deliveries although not unheard of. Best to get checked out to be sure. Take care

  • By Goriola (not verified) on 3 Jul 2018 - 12:29

    I am 37weeks now.... And have been feeling dizzy and vomiting since two days ago.... I dnt no maybe is labour sign

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 4 Jul 2018 - 15:43

    Hi Goriola
    Feeling dizzy and nauseous isn't usually linked with going into labour. I would like you to be seen at your local hospital by a midwife/doctor. Whilst you are there, i would like you to have a blood test to check your iron levels as having a low iron level can make you feel very light headed and dizzy and sometimes even nauseous. If your iron level is low, they may put you on iron tablets until 4 weeks postnatally.
    Please do go to be seen as soon as possible!
    Take good care of yourself! Not long to go now!
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife :)

  • By phindile (not verified) on 24 Jun 2018 - 22:35

    Hi! Im 32 weeks having pains for about 4days now but today the are quit stronger.and the baby movement is painful also but my dr did mc donald stitch due to my previous early labour and i also have fibroid should i be worried.or should i relax till my next appointment thanks

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 27 Jun 2018 - 12:00

    Hi, I hope you have seen your Dr now as I am responding to your post 36 hours after you posted it? With your history of premature labour and a stitch in situ you need to be seen urgently and your team wilkl assess whether your pain is due to premature labour or your fibroid. Really hope you and your baby are ok.
    Warmest wishes
    Anna-Tommy's midwife

  • By Past due date n... (not verified) on 4 Jun 2018 - 22:58

    I am 2 days past my due date and i have not had any sign of labour except that i am always at the loo, loweR back pain sonand i am struggling to breath

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 6 Jun 2018 - 12:31

    I 100% recommend that you go to your maternity unit asap today if you have not already been seen since you sent this message, to be reviewed in view of your shortness of breath and your lower back pain. They need to rule out a number of things in relation to both of these symptoms quite urgently.
    Please don't forget your pregnancy notes!
    All the best
    Sophie,Tommy's midwife

  • By maureen (not verified) on 4 Jun 2018 - 14:27

    hi, am 40weeks pregnant having severe back pain and abit of pains at the abdomen and also difficulties in walking. could this be a sign of labor?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 6 Jun 2018 - 12:35

    Hi Maureen
    Back and abdominal pain (if they are contractions) can both be a sign of labour, so please do take yourself into your maternity unit as soon as possible as you will need to be reviewed by a midwife and obstetric doctor. Don't forget your pregnancy notes! All the best
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 31 May 2018 - 08:34

    Hey I am 41 weeks but no signs of labour the doctor said they will induce labour tomorrow.. What could be the problem?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 1 Jun 2018 - 10:40

    It is usual that for a low risk uncomplicated pregnancy, induction is offered about 1-2 weeks after the due date. This is mostly because the chance of a stillbirth starts to increase beyond this time as the placenta is becomes less likely to work properly. It should always be your choice as to whether you would like to be induced or to carry on the pregnancy with monitoring. When you have the discussion with the doctor they should explain any risks involved in both induction and carrying on a pregnancy so that you have the information you need to make the decision that is right for you.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • 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 Susan (not verified) on 10 May 2018 - 19:20

    And if the scan Show you're supposed to have your baby on 6th May n when you see doctor says that you're supposed to have on 12th May which One is true

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 11 May 2018 - 10:50

    Dear Susan,
    Your due date would always be the one that is given when you have your dating scan at about 12 weeks of pregnancy, this is the most accurate time to date the pregnancy. Could it be possible that your doctor was discussing the other date in the context of being induced? your due date is only estimated however if the pregnancy is going well then it can be very normal to go on up to two weeks after your due date. It maybe worth just checking with your doctor to make sure it is clear what your care plan is.
    Best wishes,
    Tommy's midwives

  • 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

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