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 Nothy (not verified) on 19 Jul 2018 - 15:13

    Am 38 weeks pregnant.and I've been feeling some back pains in my lower abdomen and also in front from last night till now.am confused whether is labour or what.this is the first time it happened

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Jul 2018 - 16:29

    Hi Nothy, Thank you for your comment.
    As you are 38 weeks pregnant now, labour could happen at any time but as you have been experiencing abdominal pain and back ache for a while now then we would suggest that you call your local maternity unit to be checked over so that you are reassured as to what these pains are and receive pain relief if needed. Hope this helps, Take Care, Tommy's Midwives x

  • By Angeela (not verified) on 19 Jul 2018 - 01:01

    Hi m 38 weeks pregnant and it's my second baby. I m not able to sitting or sleeping because of itching and too much pain in my back and right leg.plz help me out.i had try lots of medicine which doctor has given me.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Jul 2018 - 15:09

    Hi Angeela, Thank you for your comment.
    We are sorry that you have not been feeling very well with your itching and back ache recently. With regards to the itching keep wearing loose clothes and try an keep as cool as you can in this warm weather. It may be worth seeing your Dr again as they can prescribe you a cream that may help with the itching?
    If you itching is more on your hands and feet then this may be a sign of Obstetric Cholestasis which is a condition in pregnancy that can effect the liver so again please see a Dr if this is not getting better. Please go to this link for more information https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy/complications/obstetric-cholestasis

    With regards to your right sided leg pain, again it may be beneficial for you to call your local maternity unit, pregnancy does put you at an increase risk of blood clots in your legs so again if you are still experiencing leg pain please call the local labour ward so that you can be seen. I hope that this helps, Take Care, Tommy's Midwives x

  • By Happy (not verified) on 17 Jul 2018 - 05:19

    Am 38 week now..but l experience back pain l can't stand for more then 5 min.. I feel uncomfortable when sitting. To night when sleeping my l feel pain in my back and it start when pregnant is 35 week so l can't understand if is my labour sign

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 18 Jul 2018 - 12:28

    Hi Happy
    It is very common to struggle to get comfortable when trying to sleep in the last few weeks of pregnancy. Try making yourself a little nest of pillows to support you as you lay.
    But i would like you to go to be reviewed at your local hospital for your back pain. Whilst this could be simply down to the baby pressing on your nerves, it could also be a sign of a urine infection which may require antibiotics. So please go to be seen today if you have not already done so.
    All the best
    Sophie Tommy's Midwife

  • By alethea scheun (not verified) on 28 Jun 2018 - 12:39

    Im 38 weeks now , i have some back pain, i have pain on my bladder , i have pains feeling like period pains but doesnt go away , when going to the toilet its painfull to urinate .. Is this labour or baby preparing for labour?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 29 Jun 2018 - 11:33

    Hi Alethea,
    It is difficult to say for sure however by the symptoms that you have described then it is important to check whether you have a urine infection as this can cause back pain, painful urination and lower tummy pain. Either you can make a GP appointment or speak with your midwife to see if they can see you. If you start to get some tightenings, any bleeding or watery discharge, any concerns about baby's movements then do go to your maternity unit. If we can support you further then please do be in touch.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Noucy Tsa (not verified) on 26 Jun 2018 - 17:42

    Hi..am 19 and am 36 weeks pregnant..I have been experiencing back pains at night I can't even sleep..and feel like my tummy is getting bigger..and I go to pee a lot at night..I wake up more than 10 times.Is that normal? please help.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 28 Jun 2018 - 11:37

    Thank you for your message
    Congratulations on your pregnancy. It's very common to want to wee a lot especially in the last few weeks of pregnancy when the baby is pressing more on the bladder as the head starts to engage.Please contact your midwife or GP if you notice any signs of a urine infection-pain/stinging/burning sensation on passing urine or if you notice any blood in the urine
    Many women also have back pain at this stage as the baby is growing bigger and putting more strain on your back
    I have attached some links with more information for you:-

    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/backache-pregnant/


    https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/symptom-checker/painful-urination-pregnancy

    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/common-pregnancy-problems/#peeing-a-lot

    However please contact your midwife if you are worried that the back pain is worsening and there all the time(or coming and going like labour pains)as this could be sign that your labour is starting .
    Always contact your midwife if you are worried the baby is moving less than normal, there is bleeding or you think your waters have broken, you think you are in labour, you have severe abdominal pain, severe headaches, vision problems,severe itching or any other concerns
    Hope this helps
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Romana (not verified) on 25 Jun 2018 - 05:17

    Hi, I'm romana and 39 week pregnant..but still there is no sign of lobour..i feel too pressure on my lower abdomen ..i can't sleep at night last few weeks..is that OK?
    I'm worried about my lobour..when it will happen?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 27 Jun 2018 - 13:17

    Hi Romana,
    How are you? Please don't worry that you haven't gone into labour yet babies arrive in a wide time frame from 37-42 weeks so there's plenty of time still and with first babies they are usually born 7-10 days after the EDD (estimated due date) this is just a guess date.
    It is normal to feel pressure as your baby head nestles into your pelvisand sleeping is challenging in late pregnancy anyway.
    I don't know when your labour will start but it usually builds up gradually and you will be aware of contractions that most women feel in their back, abdomen or top of their thighs.
    Have you had a chance to go to any classes or discuss signs of labour and when to call the hospital with a midwife?
    Please do give us a call if you're worried or have any questions over the next few weeks as you wait to meet your baby. We are here 9-5 weekdays on 0800 0147 800

    Wishing you a safe journey into Motherhood
    Anna-Tommy's Midwife

  • By Jane (not verified) on 23 Jun 2018 - 13:52

    Am pregnant the midwive said I will deliver 27th July but the ultrasound says I will deliver 3rd July .am confused please help

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 25 Jun 2018 - 15:54

    Hi Jane. Sometimes a doctor or midwife will tell you the latest date that you would deliver if you went to 42 weeks. This might explain the discrepancy. We know that only 4% of babies will come on their due date but we use the work 'term' to define a pregnancy between 37 and 42 weeks. Hope this helps

  • By Meredith (not verified) on 25 Jun 2018 - 17:03

    I am on baby number 3 and I've learned to follow what the ultra sound says . With my daughter I was notified by the ultra sound tech that the due date given by the doctor was a month off. The doctor / midwife is not looking at the baby to be able to tell you how far long you really are .

  • By Magda (not verified) on 21 Jun 2018 - 12:58

    Hi
    I am 39 weeks pregnant. Feels pain at my back mostly night time. Whole right side paining difficult to walk swallowing in legs. Too much discharge when I wake up early morning. Is this a sign of labour?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 21 Jun 2018 - 16:33

    Dear Magda,
    It is difficult to tell what is going on without asking you a few more questions. If you are unsure then do make contact with your midwife or else do be in touch with us.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Folasade (not verified) on 18 Jun 2018 - 18:34

    Am 39weeks and 3days Now... Always feel pain just like menstrual cramps, is it possible that am gonna give birth soon

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 21 Jun 2018 - 16:31

    Daer Folasade,
    Some cramping can be a common sign that your body is getting ready for labour, but it is difficult to know exactly when this will happen. If the cramps worsened or are painful, you have any bleeding or notice baby's movements change then do contact your midwife straight away.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Zina (not verified) on 15 Jun 2018 - 14:24

    Hi, am 35weeks and I hardly sleep in the night. Each time I lie on my side I feel baby's weight on d particular side am lying and it's usually too heavy for me. But my right legs pains me so much that most times when I sit or lie for long, I find it difficult to walk. I find it difficult to turn around on the bed. What could be wrong with my right leg. Am so worried. Does it mean labor is coming or that I won't be able to push.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 18 Jun 2018 - 14:36

    Hi Zina, Sorry to hear that you are so uncomfortable. Not long to go now before you deliver. Have you tried putting a pillow under your bump to make yourself more comfortable? This discomfort may go away but if it doesn't or it gets worse, talk to your midwife or make an arrangement to see a physiotherapist or osteopath.

  • By Tasha (not verified) on 11 Jun 2018 - 23:03

    Hello,my lmp was on 5th september n my edd is today...all i can feel is so pain from the pelvix is that a sign of labour ??? My right leg it paining a lot n even sometimes it hard to walk could that be a problem ?? First time mom week 40

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Jun 2018 - 11:27

    Hi Tasha
    It sounds like your body is trying to get ready for labour.But If the pain in your pelvis is very bad (this could be pelvic girdle pain, which is very common in pregnnacy, then you should go into the hospital to be reviewed by a midwife/doctor asap - just to put your mind at ease and be given some ways that you can help this leg/hip/pelvis pain
    All the best
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

  • By Fredrika (not verified) on 4 Jun 2018 - 11:55

    I'm 34 weeks first mom to be and I have pain in my lower stomach mostly at night whn I'm sleeping. Pain In my leg joint. Is it posible to give birth early

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 6 Jun 2018 - 12:10

    Hi Fredrika
    Any abdominal pain, at any gestation of pregnancy needs to be reviewed by a midwife and obstetric doctor as soon as possible at your local hospital maternity unit (don't forget to take your pregnancy notes with you.) Also, pain in the legs can be caused by lots of pregnancy related changes, but do also need to be reviewed by an obstetric doctor. So if you have not already been seen since you sent this message, please take yourself into be reviewed. All the best, Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

  • By Joyce (not verified) on 2 Jun 2018 - 06:54

    Hello, I am 34 weeks and this my first pregnancy very worried about the signs of labour, as I sometimes feel the pain at the upper back and would think maybe the time has arrived, which signs must i look for in order to go to the hospital?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 4 Jun 2018 - 14:58

    Hello, Have you arranged any ante-natal classes? Often classes begin at about 34 weeks and will tell you all you need to know about when to go to hospital. If at all in doubt please call the hospital for advice.

  • By Vanessa (not verified) on 23 May 2018 - 16:20

    The midwife say l will birth on 11or 17 of may

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 24 May 2018 - 12:10

    Hi Vanessa, Thank you for your comment.
    It sounds like you have been given an estimated due date of around the 11th -17 may. This is just an estimation and babies can come earlier, on or after these dates. If you are concerned then please call your midwife, sometime women can go a week or two over due and then may need help getting in to labour. Your midwife will be able to give you more reassurance or you can always call the maternity unit for further advice. Hope this helps take care, Tommy's midwives x

  • By Sheena (not verified) on 15 May 2018 - 21:08

    Hello I have pain in lower stomach when walking only really when active but ok when sit down .
    38plus weeks 7th baby

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 16 May 2018 - 14:53

    Hi Sheena, Thank you for your comment.
    Any pain in the abdomen needs to be checked out. As you have this pain on walking, it may be that you are suffering from pelvic girdle pain, this is when the ligament of the pelvic bone soften in pregnancy and this can cause instability in the pelvis. As this is your 7th baby and you have now reached 38 weeks, it would be advisable that you call your local maternity unit about this pain and just be checked over. Hope this helps, take care, Tommy's Midwives x

  • By colleen (not verified) on 9 May 2018 - 13:13

    my back has a pain it comes and go I can't sleep am team june

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 May 2018 - 14:55

    Hi Colleen
    Pain in your back can be caused by lots of things, but it is really important that you get it checked out as soon as possible.
    It can be caused by urinary tract infection which may need antibiotics to be treated. It could be due to muscle pain, due to the weight of the pregnancy, which is quite normal. So please do get checked at your local maternity unit as soon as you can with your pregnancy notes- just to rule out anything that needs treatment and for peace of mind :)
    All the best
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

  • By Annah Bafedile (not verified) on 9 May 2018 - 09:58

    My midwife told me that I may give birth on the 10 of may or 29 of may so which one is right because yesterday I hard back pain that started at 18:30 til 18:45 but they come and go is that fulse pain and which day I can expect my baby because my pelvic can't take the pressure this is my fourth baby and am 35 years any advice

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 May 2018 - 15:10

    Hi Annah
    Your due date is a rough guide, not an exact science. Your baby is term anytime from 37 weeks gestation and can be born anytime from then onwards. If you wish to go through this in more detail, feel free to get in touch via email or telephone.
    All the best
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife :)

  • By agnes (not verified) on 2 Apr 2018 - 11:13

    Am pregnant and Having back pain through out the night and same times during the day. Please help.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 5 Apr 2018 - 15:15

    Hi Agnes-thank you for your comment. Back pain is very common in pregnancy and can get worse as the pregnancy progresses. Pregnancy hormones make the ligaments in your body become softer and stretch to prepare you for labour. This can put a strain on the joints of your lower back and pelvis, which can cause back pain.
    However if the back pain is suddenly more severe or is coming in 'waves' similar to contractions or if there are other worrying symptoms such as bleeding then you should contact your maternity unit urgently for advice.
    I have attached 2 links with more information and advice to help the pain that you may find helpful-
    https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-insider-blogs-0/aches-and-pains
    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/backache-pregnant/

    Take care
    Tommy's Midwife

  • By Christiana onyemachi (not verified) on 2 Mar 2018 - 18:34

    Stomach pain At my Ieft tommy

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 5 Mar 2018 - 13:07

    Hi,
    From your message it is unclear what sort of pain you are getting and how long this has been going on for. If you are having pain then I would advise for you to call your midwife or maternity unit to talk through what you are experiencing. Please also monitor your baby's movements closely, if you have any concerns such as movements have reduced then do call your maternity unit straight away. Best wishes, Tommy's midwives

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 12 Nov 2017 - 08:17

    Am 38 weeks pregnant and i can't sit for 10mins ,i feel pain is that normal?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Nov 2017 - 15:44

    If you have pain at 38 weeks please call your maternity department and speak to a midwife. They are there to support you 24 hours a day.

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