4 ways your body gets ready for labour

At the end of your pregnancy, you may have some signs that your baby will arrive very soon, even though you may not go into labour for a little while yet.

1. You have Braxton Hicks contractions

During your pregnancy, you may feel your tummy tighten for a few seconds, then relax again. This can happen from the middle of your pregnancy and are thought of as 'practice' contractions. They do not mean you are in labour and are nothing to worry about.

As the end of pregnancy approaches, Braxton Hicks contractions may become more powerful, so it's easy to mistake them for the start of labour. Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular and don't last very long. Although they can be uncomfortable, they aren’t painful.

Find out more about the difference between Braxton Hicks and labour contractions.

Contact your midwife, birth centre or labour ward for advice if you're worried that the tightenings you're feeling might be the start of labour.

2. Your baby settles into position

Babies move around a lot in your womb during pregnancy but at some point in late pregnancy your baby will get into position for birth. If this is your first baby, you may find he or she is already in position by 35 weeks.

Remember, you should continue to feel your baby move right up to the time you go into labour and during labour. If you think your baby’s movements have slowed down, stopped or changed, contact your midwife or maternity unit immediately. Find out more about your baby’s movements.

The most common position for birth is head down with your baby's back facing outwards, which is called an anterior position. The is the ideal position for giving birth, because your baby may fit through your pelvis more easily.

If your baby is head-down but facing your tummy, this is called the posterior position. Some midwives and antenatal teachers believe that spending time leaning forwards (for example, being on your hands and knees or leaning forward over a beanbag or birth ball) can help encourage them to turn. 

Whether your baby turns or not, you may find it comfortable to be in this during late pregnancy and labour, so it's 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 are sitting bottom or feet down in the womb. If your baby is in a breech position at 36 weeks, you may be offered an external cephalic version (ECV). This is when a doctor tries to turn the baby into a head-down position by putting pressure on your stomach.

This is a safe procedure that will be done at the hospital. Around 50% of breech babies can be turned using ECV.

Find out more about what happens when your baby is breech.

Engaging

If this is your first baby, they will usually may move down into your pelvis before the birth. This is called 'engaging' and when it happens any breathlessness you've been feeling will probably ease. Second or later babies may also do this, but it may not happen as early.

Multiple pregnancy

If you're having twins or triplets, your babies may be in different positions. All the babies’ positions are important, but your healthcare team will be more interested in the position of the first baby when considering how you will give birth.

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 mucus plug starts to come away and you may notice it on your underwear. This is called a ‘show’, although not everyone will experience this.

The show is pink because it’s bloodstained. It’s normal to lose a small amount of blood with the mucus, but if you’re losing more blood it may be a sign something is wrong. Call your hospital or midwife straight away if you’re concerned.

Your labour may not start for hours or even days after you lose the mucus plug. Or you could already be in early labour. If you're full term when the mucus plug comes out, you may have other signs that labour has started.

If you think the mucus plug has come out before you're 37 weeks pregnant, call your midwife. You may not be in labour, but it’s best to get checked out. 

4. Your waters break

Your baby develops inside a bag of fluid called the amniotic sac. When your baby is ready to be born the sac breaks and the fluid comes out through your vagina. This is your waters breaking. Your waters may break at any time during labour. Some babies are even born in their waters.

You may have a big gush of water or just a trickle, so you may not be sure whether your waters have broken or you've just wet yourself. If you think your waters have broken, contact your midwife or hospital straight away as they may want to give you a check-up.

It is a good idea to make a note of when your waters broke so you can tell the midwife.

Tell your midwife straight away if:

  • the waters are smelly or coloured
  • you’re losing blood.

This could mean you and your baby need urgent attention. It may help to wear a sanitary pad (not a tampon) so you can show the midwife what’s happening.

If your waters break before you go into labour

Sometimes your waters may break before you go into labour. Most women go into labour on their own within 24 hours. If this doesn’t happen your midwife will offer to induce labour and you’ll be advised to give birth in hospital, if you’re not there already.

This is because your waters breaking before labour starts increases your baby’s risk of infection.

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

 

Read more about labour and birth

  • Heavily pregnant woman sat at home with soft lighting looking down at her bump with a neutral expression

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    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.

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    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.

  • Waterbirth

    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.

  • Woman with baby resting on her chest after giving birth.

    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

    If your waters break naturally, you may feel a slow trickle or a sudden gush of fluid that you can’t stop. Your waters may break before you go to hospital but are more likely to break during labour.

  • Pregnant woman holding her back.

    Braxton Hicks

    Braxton Hicks contractions are the body’s way of preparing for labour, but if you have them it doesn’t mean your labour has started. Here, we explain more about Braxton Hicks.

  • Pregnant woman in a yoga class

    5 positive ways to prepare for labour

    If you’re feeling a bit anxious about giving birth, there are things you can do that may help. Here’s some helpful advice from mums who’ve been there.

  • Pregnant woman sitting on exercise mat.

    Getting your baby into the best birth position

    The ideal position for your baby to be in for labour and birth is head down, their back towards the front of your stomach.

  • Pregnant woman being checked over by doctor.

    What is a membrane sweep?

    The membrane sweep is a drug-free way of helping to bring on labour when you are going past your due date.

  • Woman in hospital bed ready to give birth.

    What to do when labour starts

    You can call your midwife or hospital straight away if you think you’re in labour. You will usually be assessed over the phone.

Sources

Raines, Deborah A (2019) Braxton Hicks Contractions, StatPearls Publishing LLC

NHS Choices. What happens if your baby is breech? https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/breech-birth/ (Page last reviewed: 06/11/2017. Next review due: 06/11/2020)

NHS Choices. Signs that labour has begun https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/labour-signs-what-happens/#what-happens-when-my-waters-break (Page last reviewed: 09/11/2017. Next review due: 09/11/2020)

NICE (2014). Intrapartum care for healthy women and babies. National Institute for health and care excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190

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    Last reviewed on June 24th, 2019. Next review date June 24th, 2022.

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    Comments

    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.
    • By Adeola (not verified) on 19 Nov 2019 - 13:20

      I'm 39 weeks plus 5 days am having headaches and cold and leg pain what should i do

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Nov 2019 - 17:03

      Hi Adeola
      You need to go into your maternity unit to be seen urgently. Please don't forget your pregnancy notes!
      Tommy's Midwife

    • By Marivel (not verified) on 1 Nov 2019 - 08:19

      I have exam last 2days and I am 2cm after that, it's starts bleeding to pinkish red then later brown blood is is normal that until now it's still bleeding I only experience tightly tummy ,no pain only cramping on my left legs Everytime

    • By Nelly (not verified) on 15 Oct 2019 - 23:35

      I'm 40 weeks pregnant and never had any labour pain but I can't walk properly now for a whole month been trying to exercise it getting worse now I can't walk anymore not even to go to hospital

    • By Tamika (not verified) on 21 Oct 2019 - 23:07

      I am 29 weeks pregnant my legs started hurting me right in begin of my second trimester and its been hurting since so its nothing they will do to soothe da pain have been walking bad since five months

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 16 Sep 2019 - 11:41

      I am 40 weeks + 4days of my pregnancy,i have been having contraction for about 3 days now,on Saturday by 2am in the morning,i checked myself i sow some blood and after 2 hours i sow something like a discharge,a show coming out of my body,the pains will come but not for long they would stop,by 4:30am in the i went to my midwife to check my,she said it was labour,but the pains continue the way it was supposed to,so i went back home,and since then it has been coming and going,but the show has still been coming out for 3 days now,what is the reason why its happening like this?
      and it actually my first pregnancy,pls reply me.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 16 Sep 2019 - 15:57

      Hi , you should go into your maternity unit for review again as its now been 4 days if you have not already done so. The latent (early) phase of Labour in the first time mum can take a number of days, this is not uncommon. However, it would be a good idea to be checked on.
      Please get yourself seen and all the best with the birth.Take care, Tommy's Midwife

    • By pales (not verified) on 13 Sep 2019 - 16:15

      40 weeks already i am having pains for about a week now i experience mucus plug and is too much and the pain is getting stronger than before what should I do?

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 16 Sep 2019 - 15:58

      Hi , you should go into your maternity unit for review again as its now been 4 days if you have not already done so. The latent (early) phase of Labour in the first time mum can take a number of days, this is not uncommon. However, it would be a good idea to be checked on.
      Please get yourself seen and all the best with the birth.Take care, Tommy's Midwife

    • By charity ainembabazi (not verified) on 12 Sep 2019 - 08:50

      Have had little pains for some days at night and am 37wks and some days, I feel the baby's movements pressing hard on the pelvic mostly night, I wonder, would it be labor pains because I really want this baby out soon

    • By Nel (not verified) on 18 Sep 2019 - 15:20

      I wouldn't force baby out at this point let her or him come on her own I know things are frustrating around 37 weeks I'm.the same I'm 39 weeks 1 day and I've been getting pains on and off since 34 weeks with braxton hicks and I've felt so annoyed thinking yes this is it...but nope still nothing so I'm just taken day by day and leaving her to come when she wants

    • By Christina (not verified) on 8 Sep 2019 - 14:44

      Hi I'm 36 weeks today can I expect the labour pain from now on or what is my 3th child

    • By Anathi (not verified) on 17 Jul 2019 - 17:17

      I'm 40 weeks 2 days pregnant and its my first time snd and I have no labour pains

    • By Innocent mahlaule (not verified) on 25 Jun 2019 - 17:45

      Hi
      I am 36 weeks pregnant and having strong baby movements during the night that causes me unbearable pains n mostly when I wake up I find huge white/cream discharge. I don't even know if the baby has turned or not. I am confused because it is my first baby

    • By Conerned (not verified) on 11 Jun 2019 - 23:57

      Hi am 40 weeks today and got a sweep by my midwife. But my cervix us still very much closed and I feel no contractions only my womb has been very tight and strong for two days now with out any pain. What do I do?

    • By MissE (not verified) on 13 Jun 2019 - 10:12

      I was 40 weeks when I decided to go to the hospital and be induced, I couldn't anymore because I was not feeling any pain nor dilating..

    • By Pearl (not verified) on 13 Jun 2019 - 13:51

      Hi! All I am 39+3 pregant today with second baby. I had 31 weeks preterm labour with first one by vaginal birth. 3 cm dilated , due date is june 17th still have no labour pain . My doc wants to delivery me if baby doesn’t come on due date . I am scared of c-cection . Do you guys have any idea please !

    • By judy (not verified) on 20 Nov 2019 - 02:46

      I have also be experiencing tighting of the stomach (Braxton hicks)am 3o weeks plus so lets just hang on and wait for labour pains

    • By Tamieka (not verified) on 7 Jun 2019 - 09:23

      Hi am 39 weeks pregnant it's my first .having burn stomach ,cant sleep am wondering if am late to give birth. Or maybe am too excited . Baby is moving am happy

    • By Tinah (not verified) on 8 Jun 2019 - 15:00

      Me too

    • By Rias (not verified) on 2 Jun 2019 - 20:06

      Hi..this is my 3rd pregnancy..I am 39 weeks full..I need to know if what I feel is normal..I have been induced on all my previous pregnacy and I was attending gynae,but this time I attending clinic.so my worries is that I never feel the conttactions painful like this even they last for some few minutes,sometimes I feel my vigina as if something want to come out but don't know what might be and when the contraction occur I feel like I can urinate while on contraction cause I feel pain also at the back like cramps...of course the baby is head down..my stomach is sore..I s hard to get off bed and change side as pressure on my vigina doesn't wante to open wide my legs..what could this be.and the baby is moving and doing all sorts of rolls,kicks I feel that every day and at most time..please help

    • By Penninah (not verified) on 17 May 2019 - 01:56

      I have not seen any kind of discharge but am past the ultrasound and LMP due dates....yet I feel back pains and lower abdominal pains that comes and go...could it be a sign of labour
      And should j visit the hospital immediately

    • By Penninah (not verified) on 17 May 2019 - 01:55

      I have not seen any kind of discharge but am past the ultrasound and LMP due dates....yet I feel back pains and lower abdominal pains that comes and go...could it be a sign of labour

    • By Sibongile (not verified) on 7 May 2019 - 11:35

      I am 37 weeks and i feel bloated so i just want to know is this the sign of labour

    • By Star (not verified) on 21 Apr 2019 - 14:39

      Hy am 36weeks and i have been passing fluid for the past 1week I went for scan and they said everything is normal and also the baby's head is facing down.am I going to labour anytime soon

    • By Koech (not verified) on 28 Mar 2019 - 15:50

      Am 38 weeks 4days now, but I experience severe back pain and abdominal pain,my discharge are yellowish. Every time I feel my baby at the gate way of pelvis.so am worried if someone can give birth at 38 weeks.looking forward for your reply, thank you

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 24 Apr 2019 - 10:34

      Hi Koech
      I hope by now you have had your baby and that all has gone well for you. A pregnancy is considered term between 37 and 42 weeks so there would be no concerns if you delivered at 38 weeks if you and the baby were otherwise healthy

    • By Vue (not verified) on 26 Apr 2019 - 14:45

      Hi there, I guess you are experiencing signs that big day come near. I also experienced that back pains, my baby going to my pelvis because he is now looking for entrance to be ready, I think and folk said. So search for the signs what is the real labor and yes you can give birth at 38 wks.. 36 to 38th wks is called premature birth.. 39 to 40 is regular birth... But I guess u will not yet give birth at 38th wks for u just starting the signs of baby is preparing for his journey to come outside. According to my folks... I will experience that baby will stop moving then after that it will move circle or I will feel having big circle or ball inside that very hard... Then the 'show' might come out after that... But when u feel that u just get ready to pack things and go to hospital or you mightget shower first... I'm excited too waiting for my baby's arrival soon... Good luck

    • By Jewel (not verified) on 27 Mar 2019 - 14:09

      Hi ! I'm 38weeks 5 days, started feeling these pains that comes and go since last night. went to my midwive today and she checked my cervix that its closed & baby is lying transverse position. what can be done for baby to turn head down ?

    • By Mweya (not verified) on 27 Mar 2019 - 13:41

      Am in my late pregnancy but confused of which date to follow. I have got no digns of labour and i sleep very well. My other problem is that I've had muscle and born pains. Could this be caused by ice water that i prefare to drink or is it too much juices that i consume? My midwife is not of great help

    • By Precious (not verified) on 26 Mar 2019 - 12:52

      Am 37weeks plus 2day and my back hurt so much I can't walk fine and I pee so much and all of my children I don't get any show so what do I do now please am so tired this morning I just start vomating which I don't know the curse of it.

    • By Shama (not verified) on 24 Mar 2019 - 23:08

      Hi this is my first pregnancy and I feel period like pains last night which was coming from back I feel my baby head down just above the pelvic but ultrasound told me baby has double loop of cord around neck I feel good movements but I am confused is it a c section case or can be normal? Because my wildlife is famous for doing c sections but I dnt want c sec so plz suggest me Wat to do

    • By Makoma Gloria (not verified) on 22 Mar 2019 - 15:31

      Am 37 weeks and have back pain and period pain when baby kicks I feel like lightning what must I do as I have thick lot of off white discharge

    • By hafsat (not verified) on 19 May 2019 - 16:36

      37 weeks

    • By Anna (not verified) on 22 Mar 2019 - 05:01

      Just so people are aware..... ECV for breech baby is really painful!!!!!

    • By ASHLEY (not verified) on 13 May 2019 - 18:06

      I didnt find the ecv was painful. I was relaxed had no meds. My stomach was a but tender the days following. Mine was a failed version. My 4th pregnancy

    • By Ntipi (not verified) on 14 Mar 2019 - 05:12

      Hey I'm 35 weeks pregnant and feel like my baby will come out cous it is so uncomfortable,How possible is that?

    • By Mpinane Letele (not verified) on 5 Mar 2019 - 10:10

      Hi my edd is 38 weeks an says I will deliver my Bby on the 4 March is this possible ?because now it difficult for me to sleep, to work, to sit down my back is paining. An I didn't even here when she's turning the head down so I Dnt knw I need help pls

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 7 Mar 2019 - 12:24

      Hi - Thank you for your message.
      It is difficult to advise with the information you have provided. Please email [email protected] with some further details and we can advise.

    • By Hi I'm Grace (not verified) on 26 Feb 2019 - 10:30

      Hi I'm Grace my edd says 39weeks 6days today but my gestational said I'm 37weeks 4days which one is correct date .

    • By Freya (not verified) on 18 Feb 2019 - 22:23

      I’ve had A LOT of pressure down in my vagina, and when my baby moves I can REALLY feel it and it’s a bit swollen down there. I know it’s not possible but it feels like my baby is about to fall out!! I struggle to cough and sneeze as it’s so uncomfortable! I’ve been having a lot of Braxton Hicks and today my pelvis felt like it was coming away from my legs! Is this a sign I could go into labour any day?

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 21 Feb 2019 - 13:41

      Hi Freya, Thank you for your comment.

      It sounds like your baby is getting in a good position ready for labour but it is difficult to say when labour will start. If you are in pain or concerned in any way then please call your local maternity unit who can assess you and reassure you. Take Care, Tommy's Midwives x

    • By jacqueline (not verified) on 18 Feb 2019 - 21:31

      hey am 40 weeks pregnant now and they said i should come tomorrow if i don't hear any labour pains.since from 14 February until today...so am i going to be induced or what ???

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 21 Feb 2019 - 13:37

      Hi Jacqueline, Thank you for your comment.

      Induction will all depend on your hospitals procedures and when they induce if you are past your due date. If you are unsure then I would contact the labour ward and discuss this with them so that you will get a better idea of what to expect when you go into hospital tomorrow. Hope this helps, Take Care, Tommy's Midwives x

    • By tiwatope (not verified) on 11 Feb 2019 - 07:46

      I am having severe back pain since two days ago and also having a jelly like discharge, I am 40 weeks today. I went to hospital and I was told that the baby is ready to be delivered anytime I have strong contractions that I shud be coming but the only thing is d back pain and the baby moving around my Tommy so fast, what am I to do

    • By Yazzill (not verified) on 10 Feb 2019 - 08:59

      My pee is usually yellow I am 38 weeks and 6 days
      This morning I ran to the washroom and my pee was clear and transparent I was surprised bc my pee is always yellowish but I thought maybe I’m drinking more water..but I’m not a water drinker as muchas I should be I’m not.
      A couple minutes later I pee again and THAT pee was normal it was tinged yellowish and the rest of thenday i continued to pee yellow I find it odd how only that one time i peed allot looked down And it was as if I never peed at all the water was as clear and transparent as can be

      Could that be been my water breakages

    • By vanity (not verified) on 4 Feb 2019 - 13:28

      Im 38weeks and 4days pregnanct today and since last night i have lower back pain which is gone now but instead of it lower abdominal pain on my left side has started and since yesterday i have diarrhoea also and my tummy feels rock hard is my time for labor now?

    • By Annie (not verified) on 4 Feb 2019 - 13:03

      Hello, pls based on my last period and the first scan I did my EDD was for 10th of March and an currently 35+3days gone but based on the scan carried out today an 38 weeks gone and new EDD is 14th February, I av been avin pains below my abdomen but I don't know which date to follow.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 15 Feb 2019 - 11:40

      Hi Annie,
      The most accurate time to date a pregnancy is at the dating scan which is done at about week 11-14 and this would be the EDD used, therefore you should go from your original due date given at your dating scan. If you are having on going pains then do see your midwife for a review.
      Best wishes
      Tommy's midwife

    • By NAKAGWA Juliet (not verified) on 27 Mar 2019 - 11:38

      My edd is 20 of April and I last saw my periods in August I am now confused

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