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.

Learn more about what to expect from Braxton Hicks contractions on the BabyCentre website.

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.

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 more about what to expect when your waters break here.

Read about exercises to get your baby into a good position for birth.

Read more about labour and birth

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    There are quite a few pain-relief options available and it’s good to know what they are before you go into labour.

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    Assisted birth

    Even if labour has got off to a good start, it can sometimes slow down or problems may arise. If so, you may need some help to deliver your baby safely. These procedures are called ‘interventions’.

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    Caesarean section

    A caesarean section is an operation where an obstetrician makes a cut in your stomach and womb and lifts your baby out through it.

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    Induction of labour

    In most pregnancies, labour will start on its own but in some situations your labour may need to be started artificially. This is called 'induction’ of labour.

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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