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.

You're nearly ready to go into labour and you are likely to have one of more of these signs that your baby is ready to be born and that your body is preparing to give birth.

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 not regular, don't last very long and although they can feel strong they should not feel painful.

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

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's already in position by 35 weeks.

Positions for birth

The most common position for birth is head down with your baby's back facing outwards but not all babies face this way.

Some babies are head down with their back facing your back (called 'posterior') while others are feet or bottom first (called 'breech'). A few babies lie across the womb and this is called a 'transverse' position.

Find out what happens if your baby is breech.

Posterior

If your baby is in a posterior position, some midwives and antenatal teachers believe that spending time leaning forwards - being on your hands and knees or leaning forward over a beanbag or birth ball, for instance - may help encourage them to turn. 

Whether your baby turns or not, you may find being in this position comfortable in late pregnancy and during labour, so it's worth a try.

Breech

If your baby is breech, you may be offered a procedure where a doctor will try to gently turn them round. This is called 'external cephalic version (ECV)' and is done in hospital so your baby can be monitored while it’s done to make sure they are not affected.

The doctor will press on your stomach to put pressure on the baby to turn. It is not painful but it can feel uncomfortable.

Multiple pregnancy

If you're having twins or triplets, your babies may be in different positions but your healthcare team will be more interested in the position of the first baby, as the second will have space to turn after the first is born.

Engaging

If this is your first baby, he 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 might also do this but it may not happen as early.

3. You have a 'show'

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

As your cervix begins to stretch and get ready for the birth, this jelly plug starts to come away and you may notice it on your underwear. It is called a ‘show’. The show may have streaks of blood in it or may be pinkish.

You could have a show days or weeks before labour starts or it might not happen until you're in labour.

4. Your waters break

The bag of amniotic fluid - your waters - that surrounds your baby in the womb usually breaks after your contractions have started but sometimes it can happen before labour begins.

You may have a big gush of water or just a trickle, in which case 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. If the water is coloured let the midwife know as soon as possible as this could be a sign your baby is in distress.

Read about your body after the birth.

Read more about labour and birth

  • 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).

  • caesarean section

    C-sections - everything you need to know

    What is a c -section? What are elective versus emergency c-sections and who decides if you need one? Find out everything you need to know here.

Sources

  1. Hunter et al, Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group (2007) Hands and knees posture in late pregnancy for labour or fetal malposition (lateral or posterior), 2007:http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001063.pub3/full
  2. RCOG (2008) A breech baby at the end of pregnancy, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 2008:https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/pregnancy/a-breech-baby-at-the-end-of-pregnancy.pdf
  3. NICE (2012) Quality statement 11: Fetal wellbeing – external cephalic version, Natilnal Institute of Health and Care Excellence:http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs22/chapter/quality-statement-11-fetal-wellbeing-external-cephalic-version
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Last reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.

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Comments

  • 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 Molly (not verified) on 31 Jan 2019 - 05:29

    Hello, I’m 39weeks and 4 days I’m having sweep next day or two little nervous I’m huge! And I can’t sleep walk very well laugh or cough cos hurts as she’s so low down haven’t lose mucus plug.. today I rolled over and one side of my pelvis extremely hurt for 15 mins baby is fine felt movement but I had tears down my cheeks and screaming... I’m scared because this is my first I don’t know what it is and if that hurt what’s my labour going to be like... I thought maybe ligaments as I’m due in 3/4days but surely both hips pelvis bone sides would hurt? Very confused

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 31 Jan 2019 - 10:32

    Hi - Thank you for your message.
    So sorry to hear you are finding these last few weeks so painful and difficult. The pressure of baby's head can be difficult and affect how well you sleep and walk.
    It sounds as though you may have a little bit of pelvic girdle pain. For some women in pregnancy the pelvic joints become stiff or less stable. This can cause inflammation and pain, which varies in severity. The pain can range from a dull ache to severe pain. Most sufferers are in the mild to moderate category.
    Certain types of movement, such as widening the legs or leaning on one leg, can make the pain worse - which is what may have happened when you rolled over.
    Be careful with your movements, take it slowly and avoid widening your legs too much - its also important to discuss this with your midwife when you attend fro the sweep, she can advise and also ensure that she doesn't worsen your pain whilst carrying out the sweep.

  • By Emma Porter (not verified) on 28 Jan 2019 - 19:01

    Hi,

    I'm due in 12 days and tonight got very tight tummy all over.. not like Braxton Hicks. Not painful. Been walking alot today and just had a mild Chinese.. first one since being pregnant. Bubba is moving normally. Have I just over done it or is this early signs of Labour... First Baby and excited but just wondering what day Bubba will arrive.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 29 Jan 2019 - 14:30

    Hi Emma. It's possible that your body is "niggling" i.e warming up for labour. Staying active is really good for you, so well done for staying fit and well. If these tightening's continue and then become more regular, then it might be that you are in the very early latent phase of labour.
    All the best, Tommy's Midwife

  • By Liyanda (not verified) on 28 Jan 2019 - 08:33

    Im 35 weeks 1 days as per second scan but 37 weeks 2 days as per first scan done at 8 weeks...for the past week i have been having alot of discharge,pains i cannot describe but are very uncomfortable at night sometimes while walking i feel like i cant anymore because the baby will actually be pressing right down my pelvis so much i feel like his head is right on my bladder or opening..a day ago i had sex and during the deed fluid came out not little but a bit,did not smell nd was not light as water actually seemed thicker..i agnored it even though both me and my patner noticed it because it was all over him and again after a few minutes into da deed the water came again this time after the water was some sticky fluid like discharge and it became more painful then nice because i was getting pains directly in my stomach...ever since then im not quite okay but its pains i dont really know how to explain..im a previous c section and have refused a Vbac but i dont have a date booked yet..please advise me on what is going on as i dont remember what labour feels like because it was 6 years ago..my first born is turning 7 this year and he was a csection baby because of fetal distress at labour.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 29 Jan 2019 - 14:27

    Hi Liyanda. You need to go to your local hospital urgently to get checked over as your waters may have broken if there was a large amount of fluid that came out on both occasions. Both you and your baby will be at risk of infection if the waters have broken (and for over 24 hours now) and you may need intravenous antibiotics if an infection is suspected. Equally they will listen into your baby and check you over. This is very important and you need to be ASAP!!! Take care of yourself, Tommy's Midwife

  • By Thembie (not verified) on 23 Jan 2019 - 06:11

    I am 39 weeks 5 days today and honestly I am tired and I can't wait to see my little one. On Sunday baby was not moving went to see my mid wife who did a membrane sweep (Oooh God it's so painful)and suggested a scan that confirmed that the baby was moving ( I did see him move but didn't feel it). Till today no sign of labor only a few bearable cramps. Should I request for an induction? I really want this baby out now

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 29 Jan 2019 - 11:14

    Hi Thembie
    You might have already had your baby by now - if you have - Congratulations!
    If you are still concerned about fetal movements, then please go back to hospital for review and to discuss induction with your obstetric Dr if they feel that this is appropriate. All the best, Tommy's Midwife

  • By Nelly (not verified) on 23 Jan 2019 - 05:54

    I'm 37 weeks pregnant with my first baby, my baby used to play a lot but now doesn't play as much as it used to, must I be worried? I don't think I've had any signs of labour because I do not suffer from any pain

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 25 Jan 2019 - 15:55

    Hi Nelly,
    If you feel that your baby's movements have reduced then it is important that you go to the maternity unit as soon as possible to be reviewed.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Sara (not verified) on 22 Jan 2019 - 15:43

    Am 30weeks bt my doctor told me am 32,i feel pain in my lower tummy, can't sleep comfortably, can't walk for long distance plz help me


  • By Esther (not verified) on 21 Jan 2019 - 06:35

    Am 38weeks and I keep on having "show"
    I also feel a sharp pain when the baby stretch at my lower abdomen .......pain at my lower back during the night what could be the problem

  • By Dionne (not verified) on 20 Jan 2019 - 15:47

    Hello, I am just over 28 weeks, this is my second my pregnancy. I lost my first baby to turners syndrome at 20 weeks last June. I caught pretty much straight away (4 weeks after loosing Scarlett) with a healthy little boy. He has been doing great and no issues. I went for a scan yesterday and they told me he is head down facing my back, is this normal for this stage? I have been feeling a lot of pressure down there and been having a few pains but nothing major. I know my midwife did say I could be at risk of a premature labour because of how quickly i caught. But I just wanted to sure if him being head down already is common or not. Thank you xx

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 25 Jan 2019 - 15:33

    Dear Dionne,
    I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your daughter Scarlett.
    It is very normal for your baby to be in a head down position at this stage. He may move out of this position or stay there right until the end of the pregnancy.
    If your pains are constant or getting worse then do see your midwife for a review.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Cathy (not verified) on 12 Jan 2019 - 17:49

    Hello! I am 37+6 today with baby number one... the past 3 days I have had period type pains on and off in the front and back of my pelvis. Sometimes I have had shooting pains right at the top of my vagina too. Baby is moving, lots of milky discharge, no show or bleeding. Could this be the start of something? I have been having relatively painless irregular braxton hicks too, which get stronger on a night, but planning a home birth and don’t know when is best to ring up!!! Thanks xx

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 15 Jan 2019 - 09:50

    Dear Cathy,
    How are you after your post on Saturday? Please feel free to give us a call on 0800 0147 800 if you have any questions.
    Anna-Tommy's Midwife

  • By Kat (not verified) on 16 Jan 2019 - 04:17

    You will know when it is a time. You are almost there and congrats. I still have 10 more weeks to go.

  • By Promise (not verified) on 24 Dec 2018 - 05:33

    Hy I am 39 weeks pregnant I use to eat but now I hardly eat I don't have appetite I vomit when I eat something can this be a sign of labor I don't understand now because this is my first baby I am so worried

  • By Emerenthia (not verified) on 15 Dec 2018 - 18:40

    Hi I'm 37 weeks pregnant I find it hard to walk can't sleep throughout and had diarrhea now and then also lower back pain nipples leaking,the baby dropped a week ago is it a sign of near labor

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Dec 2018 - 16:35

    Hi Emerenthia
    It does all sound like good signs. Baby's can come anytime from 37-42 weeks gestation. Wishing you all the best - Tommy's Midwife

  • By Cathy (not verified) on 17 Nov 2018 - 13:20

    Im 27 years primigravida at 36wks and my tommy looks too big but a confirmed singleton by 4D scan. I have no pains only the heartburn thats bothering me. Can the big tommy be the sign of going in labour before the EDD?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Nov 2018 - 13:50

    Hi Cathy, No sorry, there is no evidence that a big tummy increases the chance of early labour. All women carry their babies differently and as long as your midwife is not concerned about the growth of the baby there is nothing to worry about.

  • By Dorithy (not verified) on 14 Nov 2018 - 21:25

    Hi, am 37+3 weeks per scan but my midwife said im 38+5 am confuse. I also severe upper back pain n its more severe at night

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 15 Nov 2018 - 13:19

    Hi Dorithy, Thank you for your comment.

    It is difficult to understand what you are saying about your dates, if you are confused then we would suggest that you call your midwife so that she can explain why she has place you further on in your pregnancy. If you have ongoing back pain this could be a sign of a urine infection or kidney infection but again this is difficult to diagnose without being examined. We would suggest that if you are worried then you should call your local maternity unit and be seen so that if your need any treatment then this can be given. Hope this helps, Take Care, Tommy's Midwives x

  • By Kokii (not verified) on 13 Nov 2018 - 09:01

    hi,today is my due date but I don't feel any pains,these period pain like pains just come and go.Shall I be worried?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Nov 2018 - 10:19

    Hi - Your due date is an estimated due date (EDD) - so not a definite date your baby will come. Some baby's just prefer a little longer in the womb and can be born up to 2 weeks after their due date.
    Period like pains are a good sign that you may be getting ready - also keep an eye on baby's movements and if you notice any changes contact your local maternity unit for advice.
    best of luck.

  • By Laura (not verified) on 9 Nov 2018 - 22:36

    Hi. I’m 34 weeks pregnant and I had my show on Wednesday, since then I’ve been having period type of pains and pain in my vagina. What does this mean?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 12 Nov 2018 - 16:37

    Hi Laura
    At 34 weeks, it is best to get yourself checked over as soon as possible at your local hospital maternity unit. You are not term (eg over 37 weeks) so if your body is trying to get you into labour, your baby will be born prematurely.
    The fact you are also having pains in your stomach and vagina, means that you could be at risk of premature birth. Please get seen as soon as you can - like now if possible. All the best, Tommy's Midwife

  • By Soliel (not verified) on 3 Nov 2018 - 18:47

    Hello I am due on the17th of November and my obgyn schedule a c section for the 6th if November but the pain is constant is that sign of labour should I go to the hospital are stay until the date I was told to go

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 5 Nov 2018 - 14:53

    Hi Soliel
    If you are experiencing pain - then you need to go to hospital right away to be reviewed. Do not wait until your booked c/s date. Please go as soon as possible. All the best, Tommy's Midwife

  • By Amina (not verified) on 27 Oct 2018 - 20:57

    I'm 38 weeks now,BT I have pain in my back n my lower tummy.can't sleep well at night n even turning is a problem,is this a labour pain coz the first scan Say's I'm due on 16 Nov n the last on 3rd.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 29 Oct 2018 - 15:30

    Hi Amina
    You need to go to your local maternity unit for urgent review. Abdominal pain in pregnancy is not normal and needs to be checked by an obstetric doctor and midwife . Please take good care of yourself
    All the best, Tommy's Midwife

  • By Iye (not verified) on 27 Oct 2018 - 20:29

    My doctor said i should come on monday, that is 39 weeks 6 days for induction. But I would have prefer him to do membrane sweep, he did that in my last pregnancy and labour started. Should I allow him to induce me or I should suggest for membrane sweep? Because I have no complication.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 29 Oct 2018 - 15:28

    Hi Iye
    You can always request for a sweep before your induction of labour if you would prefer to try this. Also have a read of the link below about Induction of labour and what this entails. Your doctor may have suggested this for a medical reason , so have a discussion with them if you are unsure
    https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/labour-birth/induction-labour-information-about-having-labour-induced
    Tommy's Midwife

  • By Taiybah Hussain (not verified) on 22 Oct 2018 - 01:24

    Hi there this is my very first pregencey and am due in 6days and all I'm getting is lower back pains and pains in the lower place in the stomach! What does this mean?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 22 Oct 2018 - 15:10

    Yes, this may be the start of labour. If you are still feeling good movements from your little one and you have no vaginal bleeding, it is reasonable to stay at home if the pains are coming and going. If you are concerned, please call your midwife to discuss. Take care x

  • By Soujanya Gujjar (not verified) on 25 Oct 2018 - 11:32

    Hello Dear,
    There’s nothing to panic as these pains are common when we are approaching due date but just ensure timely contractions and hav ample rest... as v both are sailing on the same boat n my due is on 1st nov... good luck babes

  • By Nobuhle (not verified) on 15 Oct 2018 - 23:24

    Hello
    I would like to know that should I be worried or how long should I wait because sometimes my womb become more painful and my back sore after few minutes I am feeling okay everything is back to normal ... Now the baby is kicking a lot sometimes I felt like my womb is stretching.

    Please help because now I'm starting to be worried it's my first born and I'm 21 years old.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 22 Oct 2018 - 15:17

    Hi Nobuhle, In the UK we would consider inducing you if you are 2 weeks overdue. Perhaps you can talk to your doctor or midwife to decide what to do.

  • By Spogmai (not verified) on 4 Oct 2018 - 09:55

    Hi I am 37 weeks pergnant I want have Labour in 38 or 39 weeks what should I do and what’s effective for normal labour and I have back pain and have like period pain ?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 8 Oct 2018 - 16:02

    Hi,
    It is unusual for labour to be induced early without a clinical reason. Mostly it makes the labour longer and increases the risks. If you feel there is a clinical need to bring the labour on please talk to your midwife.

  • By Elizabeth (not verified) on 1 Oct 2018 - 23:23

    Hi my foetus is 35weeks and this is my second baby....I had my first baby 41weeKS and 2days..though I was induced I never had labour pain but right now I was not comfortable waist pain from back and lower abdominal pain which are signs of labour... my question is that is it possible for my second baby to come earlier

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 4 Oct 2018 - 14:41

    Hi Elizabeth, Thank you for your comment.

    Babies can come at any time, they don't have to necessarily be your second to come early. What is important is that if you are still having this abdominal pain and backache then we would advice that you call your maternity unit to be checked over in case you are going into labour. Hope this help, take care, Tommy's Midwives x

  • By Adeola (not verified) on 2 Sep 2018 - 14:32

    Hi, this is my first time and am feeling a lower abdominal pain and I saw a mucus discharge this morning... those that mean am going to labour...

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 7 Sep 2018 - 12:01

    Hi Adeola,
    Having some cramps and show maybe a sign of labour and your body preparing for the birth. If the cramps become painful, you have any bleeding or think your waters have broken or any concerns about your baby's movements then speak with the hospital straight away.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

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