How will I know when labour has started?

This is a common worry for first-time mums, but once labour really gets going you'll definitely know.

The early signs of labour are:

  • A show (the mucous plug at your cervix comes away and appears as a pinky-brown jelly-like blob or in pieces)
  • You might feel pains that feel like strong period pains (these are the start of contractions)
  • You might have pain in your lower back that comes in waves.

You may find that your waters break, in which case you know that labour is, or soon will be, under way, or you might start by feeling contractions. These will be different from the practice, Braxton Hicks contractions that you may already have had. They feel stronger, deeper and more painful. Look out, too, for waves of backache, as some women find that this is where they feel their contractions.

Once labour has started, your contractions will become more regular and won't go away! When you are having a contraction every five minutes (and last 30-60 seconds), call your midwife, birth centre or hospital labour ward if you are giving birth there. If you have chosen a home birth, the midwife will come to you.

If this is not your first baby, or you are likely to have a quick labour, your midwife may advise you to call earlier than this.

If you're still not sure whether you're in labour, phone the labour ward or your midwife. They are used to dealing with false alerts so don't worry.

Read more about the symptoms of labour

Read more

Last reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.

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  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 10 Feb 2017 - 14:08

    Hi again sorry to be a pain but I posted the other day about feeling really bad and irritable. Well it's getting worse I have my midwife in the morning tomorrow but I just don't want to eat I'm struggling to keep drinking aswell I'm still having irregular cramping pains like braxtons hicks. I'm not sleeping much for the last two nights just can not get comfy anywhere. I just don't know what to do.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 Feb 2017 - 16:09

    Please do not be sorry we are here to help and support you. I am unsure where your other post is however I am sorry to hear you are feeling so rubbish. It is great that you are seeing a midwife tomorrow, it is important to talk to her about how you are feeling at the moment. If you can try just drinks sips of water and snack on light foods that can help. I assume that you are more than 37 weeks pregnant, if you are less than this then I think you need to contact your maternity unit for review. Please monitor your baby's movements and if you notice any change or reduction then again please contact your maternity unit as soon as possible, also if your waters break or you have any bleeding. Try relax in a warm bath or shower too, that can help for some. Take care

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 19 Oct 2016 - 06:22

    iam 40week pregnant , now a days my breast was very smoother and small?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Oct 2016 - 14:31

    Hello Anvitha, are you concerned about your breasts not being large enough to feed your baby? I'm not sure whether this is your question but the size of breasts rarely affects ability to breastfeed.
    Please do get in contact again if you need more information.
    Tommy's Midwives

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 25 Jun 2016 - 09:37

    i have lower back for few days and cramps I'm not sure what's happening

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