4 ways your body gets ready for labour

As you near the end of your pregnancy your body begins to prepare for labour. Here are some signs that your baby will arrive soon, even if labour has not yet started.

1. You have Braxton Hicks contractions

From the middle of pregnancy, you may have felt your tummy tighten for a few seconds, then relax again. These practice contractions are known as Braxton Hicks contractions .They are one of the ways your body gets ready for birth, but they do not mean you are in labour. They are nothing to worry about.

As your due date gets closer, Braxton Hicks can become stronger. They differ from labour contractions in that they are irregular and tend to be quite short. Labour contractions are more regular and last longer. Though Braxton Hicks can be uncomfortable, they should not be painful.

Contact your midwife or hospital, if the contractions you are having do not feel like Braxton Hicks. They should be able to put your mind at ease, or let you know if this really is the start of labour

Find out more about the difference between Braxton Hicks and labour contractions. Learn about what abdominal pain and other symptoms might mean in our pregnancy symptom checker.

2. Your baby settles into position

Your baby moves around a lot in your womb during pregnancy. At some point towards the end they will get into position for birth

You should still be able to feel your baby’s movements right up to and during labour. If you think their movements have slowed down, stopped or changed in any way, contact your midwife or hospital straight away. If your baby is unwell, they may not move as much as usual. So, it is always best to get checked as soon as you can.

Find out more about your baby’s movements.

What position will my baby be in?

Your midwife may be able to feel where your baby is during one of your antenatal appointments. They will do this by feeling your tummy (palpating) and checking where your baby’s head and back is. Or you may have a scan in late pregnancy and find out your baby’s position then.

Anterior position 

Most babies take a head-down position for birth, facing away from your tummy.  This is called the anterior position. It’s the ideal position for giving birth because it allows your baby to flex their back and neck with ease.

Flexing their neck means that the narrowest part of your baby’s head rests against your cervix, helping it to open during labour and birth. It also allows your baby’s head to pass through your pelvis more easily. 

Posterior position (back-to-back) 

If your baby is head down but facing your tummy, it is called the posterior position. Because their back is against your back, this position is often known as back-to-back. You may find that having a back-to-back baby causes back pain in late pregnancy and during labour.

Some midwives and antenatal teachers believe that spending time leaning forwards can help your baby to turn. You could get on your hands and knees, or lean forward over a birth ball. 

Although there is not much to suggest that this approach can help to turn your baby, these positions can make you feel more comfy during late pregnancy and labour, so could be worth a try.

Find out more about getting your baby in the best position for birth.

Breech position

Your baby is in breech position if they have their head up with their bottom or feet down towards your cervix. If your baby is in this position at 36 weeks, your midwife may offer you an external cephalic version (ECV). This is a procedure carried out in hospital. A doctor will try to turn your baby head-down by putting pressure on parts of your bump. 

Although it can be uncomfortable, ECV is safe. It works for about half of breech and transverse babies.

Find out more about ECV and what happens when your baby is breech


In the last few weeks before birth your baby's head will likely move down into your pelvis. 

This is called engaging. When it happens any breathlessness you have had may ease, and you might notice your bump dropping lower. First babies tend to engage earlier, but some babies do not engage at all until labour starts.

Multiple pregnancy

If you are having twins or triplets, your babies may be in different positions, as there is not a lot of room. If your first twin is head-down, this is a simpler position for a vaginal birth. Once your first baby is born, your medical team will check the position of your second baby, and so on. Some people need a caesarean for their second twin, despite having a vaginal birth for their first twin. 

3. You have a 'show'

When you are pregnant a small plug of mucus blocks the entrance to your cervix (the neck of your womb).

As your cervix begins to stretch and get ready for the birth, this plug starts to come away. You may see it on your pants or when you go to the toilet. This is called a show, and it may appear in one blob or in pieces. Some people do not notice their show at all. 

The show looks a little like pink jelly. That’s because it is bloodstained.  Many people lose a small amount of blood with the plug, but if you are losing more, it may be a sign that something is wrong. Call your hospital or midwife, if you are worried. 

Your labour may start hours or even days after you lose the mucus plug, or you could be in early labour. If you are full term when the mucus plug comes out you may have other signs that labour has started. If you think your plug has come out before you are 37 weeks pregnant then call your maternity unit or midwife to get checked out.

4. Your waters break

Your baby grows inside a bag of fluid called the amniotic sac. When they are ready to be born the sac usually breaks and the fluid comes out through your vagina. This is what’s known as your waters breaking. It can happen at any time before or during labour. 

A tiny number of babies are still in the sac when they are born. Sometimes, a doctor or midwife will offer to break your waters during labour to help it to progress. 

When your waters break you may feel a mild popping feeling, a trickle, or a big gush of water. You might notice a dampness down below or feel as if you have wet yourself. 

Tell your midwife or maternity unit straight away if:

  • the waters are smelly or coloured. It’s ok if the fluid is a little bloodstained to begin with but it should generally be clear and pale
  • you are losing blood.

This could mean you and your baby need urgent care. Put a pad (not a tampon) in your knickers if you can. This helps your midwife check the colour of the fluid if they need to.

If your waters break before you go into labour

If you think your waters have broken before labour has started, contact your midwife. Most women and birthing people go into labour within 24 hours of their waters breaking. If this does not happen, your midwife will offer to induce labour. They may also suggest you give birth in hospital if you are not already there.

This is because your baby’s risk of infection increases slightly if your waters break before labour. Being in hospital means your baby can be treated quickly if there are any problems.

Find out more about what to expect when your waters break.


NHS (2021). Your baby’s movements. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/your-babys-movements/ (Accessed February 2024) (Page last reviewed 12/10/2021. Next review due 12/10/2024) 

NHS Inform (2023) How your baby lies in the womb. Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/ready-steady-baby/labour-and-birth/getting-ready-for-the-birth/how-your-baby-lies-in-the-womb (Accessed February 2024) (Page last reviewed 19/12/2023)

Guittier MJ, Othenin-Girard V et al. (2016) 'Maternal positioning to correct occiput posterior fetal position during the first stage of labour: a randomised controlled trial'. BJOG. Dec;123(13):2199-2207. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.13855.

NHS (2023). What happens if your baby is breech? Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/what-happens/if-your-baby-is-breech/ (Accessed February 2024) (Page last reviewed 01/11/2023. Next review due 01/11/2026)

NHS (2021) You and your baby at 39 weeks pregnant. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/week-by-week/28-to-40-plus/39-weeks/ (Accessed February 2024) (Page last reviewed 13/10/2021. Next review due 13/10/2024)

Marshall, J. Raynor, M. (2020) Myles Textbook for Midwives, 17th ed. Edinburgh/London: Elsevier

NHS (2022) Giving birth to twins or more. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/what-happens/giving-birth-to-twins-or-more (Accessed February 2024) (Page last reviewed 31/10/2022. Next review due 31/10/2025) 

NHS (2023) Signs that labour has begun. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/signs-of-labour/signs-that-labour-has-begun/ (Accessed February 2024) Page last reviewed 09/11/2023. Next review due 09/11/2026) 

NICE (2023). Intrapartum care. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng235. (Accessed February 2024) (Page last reviewed 29/09/2023)

Review dates
Reviewed: 29 February 2024
Next review: 28 February 2027