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.

Wondering what to expect from those first twinges? Find out what contractions really feel like.

Read more about the symptoms of labour

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

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  • By Trendah (not verified) on 19 Sep 2018 - 05:50

    Am 38 weeks now and I have these pains which appear to be irregular in my vagina.sometimes I can't even move ..went to see my doctor and she said its false labour advised on taking paracetamol but it does it work...please help

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Sep 2018 - 13:07

    Hi Trendah,
    Paracetamol may help a little with the pain but unlikely to take the pain away. If the pains continue and you are worried then do contact your maternity unit for advice and a review. If you have any bleeding or concerns about baby's movements then go straight to the hospital.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Bunmi (not verified) on 17 Sep 2018 - 16:10

    Am 38 weeks pregnant and have been having severe menstration like cramp and stooling since my 37 weeks. is these something tobe worried about or its normal

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Sep 2018 - 13:01

    Hi Bunmi,
    Period type cramps and some loose stools can be a sign of your body preparing for or being in early labour. If you have any pain, bleeding, think your waters have broken or any concerns about your baby's movements then do ring the maternity uni straight away.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Queen (not verified) on 8 Sep 2018 - 14:02

    Hi I'm queen I'm 40weeks full and it my due date, my water broker yesterday but today I feel string pain in my back and front abdomen but only when I'm sitting plz help

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 12 Sep 2018 - 10:17

    Hi Queen
    Our website is not available for urgent queries-please contact your maternity unit as soon as possible if you think your water has broken. Hopefully you have had your baby by now!

  • By Helen (not verified) on 8 Sep 2018 - 11:41

    I have been having pains in my abdomen and pain in my back for something but yesterday it was as if I want to see my menstrual flow but my water have not broken help please 37 and six days

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 12 Sep 2018 - 09:53

    Hi Helen
    Back ache and period like pains can be signs that your labour is starting or that you are in early labour. If the waters break, there is any bleeding, you start to have regular painful contractions, the baby is moving less or you experience headaches, blurred vision, severe itching,abdominal pain or any other concerns then you should contact your maternity unit as soon as possible for further advice

  • By Jay (not verified) on 31 Aug 2018 - 20:59

    I hv been having periods like cramps for de pass two days after losing my mucus plug 4 days earlier but de cramping is not getting more intense. Am 41 weeks exactly today

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 7 Sep 2018 - 12:06

    Hi Jay,
    Sometimes you an have cramps that can last for a few days or even weeks. It is likely you have had your baby now but any concerns then do ring the hospital for advice.
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Marj (not verified) on 25 Aug 2018 - 22:36

    hi im 1day over due today. i dont feel anything yet like back pain. , except im having a hard time to go to sleep, i have this pain that when i lay down im having a hardtime to turn from left to right, and i always felt that i like to poop but nothing is coming out, and i fart alot. but right now i continue to walk, im little bit worried since this is my first baby. i think the baby is fine i can feel the movement. my husband wants me to wait 3days from my due date. any suggestion?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 29 Aug 2018 - 13:04

    Hi Marj
    It is very common to go over your due date with your first baby.
    I know that it is difficult to sleep in the 3rd trimester - but you could try sleeping on either of your sides with a pillow between your knees to support your hips. Turning over can be difficult- but just take your time.
    Being constipated is also very common - try to drink 2-3 litres of water a day and eat plenty of leafy greens and vegetables and eat a diet high in fibre to make it easier to pass a stool. You can also buy over the counter stool softeners that are safe to take during pregnancy - so your local pharmacist can assist you with that.
    If you are ever worried that babies movements have reduced, then please go right away into your maternity unit to be seen and the baby monitored. It is very important that you do not wait and leave it if you are worried. Please take care and feel free to call our helpline directly Mon to Fri 9 am to 5pm if you need advice.
    All the best
    Tommy's Midwife

  • By Kayla (not verified) on 12 Aug 2018 - 22:23

    Hey there I am 34 weeks an some days my bay has dropped I get tightening belly an vagina pains like period like cramps on an off what could it be!?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Aug 2018 - 14:52

    Hi Kayla. Please call your midwife if you have pain. If the tightenings are not painful these may be Braxton hicks contractions and are normal in pregnancy.

  • By Foluke (not verified) on 8 Aug 2018 - 20:52

    I am in 41weeks of pregnant I have back pain and abdomen pain it only last for some minutes please help me out

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Aug 2018 - 14:49

    Hi Foluke
    If you are concerned about pain at this gestation please call your midwife for advice. Take care

  • By Babalwa (not verified) on 6 Aug 2018 - 12:18

    Hi..I have been feeling leg cramps since morning but they come and go..this only happens when I wake up but if I lay on my bed I can't feel due date is 26 August...this is my second this a sign of labour or?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 6 Aug 2018 - 16:33

    This doesn't sound like a sign of labour but is quite common in the late stages of pregnancy. Try to keep mobile if you can and try some leg exercises too to increase the blood flow. Raising your legs up when you are sitting should also help. It's not too long to go now, most symptoms usually go away after your pregnancy. Take care

  • By Christina (not verified) on 3 Aug 2018 - 10:39

    Hi I am 38 weeks and confuse .my vigina produce a jelly like mucus .I don't know what does it mean or is it early labour or what I'm confuse

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 3 Aug 2018 - 16:54

    Hi Christina,
    It sounds like it could be part of your show, sometimes it can have a small amount of blood in it too. If you have any watery loss, tightenings, bleeding or concerns about baby's movements then do call the maternity unit straight away.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • By zippie (not verified) on 31 Jul 2018 - 13:17

    hi, i am 39 weeks now...i have been having lower abdominal pain which goes around my lower back. it comes and goes again i'm experiencing breath difficulties and when taking a short walk of about 20 steps i feel so tired where am forced sit or support myself with something...plz help

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 31 Jul 2018 - 15:57

    Hi Zippie
    Any abdominal pain, at any gestation of pregnancy needs to be reviewed in hospital by a midwife and doctor. So please take yourself into be reviewed now if you have not already done so. It is possible that your body is trying to get itself into labour but you'd need to go in to be sure. All the best
    Sophie Tommy's Midwife

  • By Mariam (not verified) on 9 Jul 2018 - 18:09

    Am 37 weeks with some days, am having severe back, waist and abdominal pains, it comes and goes, my water hasn't broke yet, is it time for labor

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 12 Jul 2018 - 12:45

    Hi Mariam,
    It could be that you are in labour, you may have had your baby by now! If you are having severe pains then if you haven't already, do speak with your maternity unit. Do be monitoring your baby's movements closely, if you notice any changes, particularly if they they slow, then call your maternity unit straight away.
    Good luck!
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Regina (not verified) on 9 Jul 2018 - 14:26

    Am in my last month and my back is paining me nd severe stomach pain it will come and go please what is that?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 9 Jul 2018 - 16:20

    Regina, I think that you are in labour. This is quite normal in your last month and is a sign that your baby is coming. Please contact your midwife and let her know what is happening.

  • By Sammie (not verified) on 8 Jul 2018 - 12:20

    37 weeks pregnant, had previous 38 week and 35 week deliveries. I've been having period type.pains for a few days, lower back pain.. abdomen tightening and loose stools. Stabbing pains in cervix. Period pain comes with tightenings. Only lasting 20-30 seconds every 20 minutes or so... my first labour was silent.. waters broke and I had been contracting (shown on monitor) but they were painless.. and my second labour contractions just started every 3 minutes and midwife broke waters. I haven't experienced this slow.. painful... type yet and am wondering if it could be labour or just normal?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 9 Jul 2018 - 16:26

    Yes these are symptoms of labour but if it has been happening for a few days I would advise to go to your maternity unit for assessment. It is unusual for this type of 'latent phase' in a mother who has had two previous deliveries although not unheard of. Best to get checked out to be sure. Take care

  • By Goriola (not verified) on 3 Jul 2018 - 12:29

    I am 37weeks now.... And have been feeling dizzy and vomiting since two days ago.... I dnt no maybe is labour sign

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 4 Jul 2018 - 15:43

    Hi Goriola
    Feeling dizzy and nauseous isn't usually linked with going into labour. I would like you to be seen at your local hospital by a midwife/doctor. Whilst you are there, i would like you to have a blood test to check your iron levels as having a low iron level can make you feel very light headed and dizzy and sometimes even nauseous. If your iron level is low, they may put you on iron tablets until 4 weeks postnatally.
    Please do go to be seen as soon as possible!
    Take good care of yourself! Not long to go now!
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife :)

  • By phindile (not verified) on 24 Jun 2018 - 22:35

    Hi! Im 32 weeks having pains for about 4days now but today the are quit stronger.and the baby movement is painful also but my dr did mc donald stitch due to my previous early labour and i also have fibroid should i be worried.or should i relax till my next appointment thanks

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 27 Jun 2018 - 12:00

    Hi, I hope you have seen your Dr now as I am responding to your post 36 hours after you posted it? With your history of premature labour and a stitch in situ you need to be seen urgently and your team wilkl assess whether your pain is due to premature labour or your fibroid. Really hope you and your baby are ok.
    Warmest wishes
    Anna-Tommy's midwife

  • By Past due date n... (not verified) on 4 Jun 2018 - 22:58

    I am 2 days past my due date and i have not had any sign of labour except that i am always at the loo, loweR back pain sonand i am struggling to breath

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 6 Jun 2018 - 12:31

    I 100% recommend that you go to your maternity unit asap today if you have not already been seen since you sent this message, to be reviewed in view of your shortness of breath and your lower back pain. They need to rule out a number of things in relation to both of these symptoms quite urgently.
    Please don't forget your pregnancy notes!
    All the best
    Sophie,Tommy's midwife

  • By maureen (not verified) on 4 Jun 2018 - 14:27

    hi, am 40weeks pregnant having severe back pain and abit of pains at the abdomen and also difficulties in walking. could this be a sign of labor?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 6 Jun 2018 - 12:35

    Hi Maureen
    Back and abdominal pain (if they are contractions) can both be a sign of labour, so please do take yourself into your maternity unit as soon as possible as you will need to be reviewed by a midwife and obstetric doctor. Don't forget your pregnancy notes! All the best
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 31 May 2018 - 08:34

    Hey I am 41 weeks but no signs of labour the doctor said they will induce labour tomorrow.. What could be the problem?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 1 Jun 2018 - 10:40

    It is usual that for a low risk uncomplicated pregnancy, induction is offered about 1-2 weeks after the due date. This is mostly because the chance of a stillbirth starts to increase beyond this time as the placenta is becomes less likely to work properly. It should always be your choice as to whether you would like to be induced or to carry on the pregnancy with monitoring. When you have the discussion with the doctor they should explain any risks involved in both induction and carrying on a pregnancy so that you have the information you need to make the decision that is right for you.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Alicia (not verified) on 9 Apr 2018 - 14:55

    I have been getting cramps that is so painful since this morning its been going on whole day. Goes and comes. I need advice pls. I'm over my due date. 42 weeks today and they have booked me for Thursday to start an induction. I'm so confused its my first baby.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 Apr 2018 - 09:35

    Hi Alicia
    It does sound like your body is going into labour yes with your regular cramps that come and go - these sound like contractions, which is especially likely as you are now past your due date. Fingers crossed that you will not need that induction of labour! Please, if you have not already done so, go into your hospital to be reviewed by a midwife and obstetric doctor as soon as possible.
    Good luck with everything
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

  • By Susan (not verified) on 10 May 2018 - 19:20

    And if the scan Show you're supposed to have your baby on 6th May n when you see doctor says that you're supposed to have on 12th May which One is true

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 11 May 2018 - 10:50

    Dear Susan,
    Your due date would always be the one that is given when you have your dating scan at about 12 weeks of pregnancy, this is the most accurate time to date the pregnancy. Could it be possible that your doctor was discussing the other date in the context of being induced? your due date is only estimated however if the pregnancy is going well then it can be very normal to go on up to two weeks after your due date. It maybe worth just checking with your doctor to make sure it is clear what your care plan is.
    Best wishes,
    Tommy's midwives

  • By caren (not verified) on 8 Apr 2018 - 12:37

    I have been having severe back pains and abdominal pains for a week.I find it so difficult to stand and 38weeks pregnant. what could the problem be?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 Apr 2018 - 09:38

    Hi Caren
    It sounds like you really need to go into hospital to be seen urgently by a midwife and obstetric doctor with your pregnancy notes. Since you are now full term, it is possible that you are having contractions on and off, which can be felt in your lower back as well as the abdomen. It is also possible that you have a UTI which needs antibiotics as lower back pain can be a sign of this, as well as any itching,stinging or burning when you pass urine. Difficulty in passing urine or a strong odor can also be indicators of UTI.
    So please do go into be reviewed asap today.
    Good luck
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

  • By ADA (not verified) on 1 Apr 2018 - 20:00

    I Am 38 Weeks 3 DayS, I OBServed MucuS From My VAGINa Each Time I Clean After URiNaTiNG.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 3 Apr 2018 - 16:41

    Hi Ada
    it sounds as if your mucous plug may have gone which could mean that soon your body will be trying to get you into natural labour. This is normal and nothing to be worried by. But it would also be a good idea to call your hospital maternity unit and tell them so they know they you might soon need to come in once contractions have started.
    Good luck!
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

  • By Danielle (not verified) on 21 Mar 2018 - 20:59

    I’ve been having bad back pain and cramping in my lower abdomen since Friday when I started losing my mucus plug he’s dropped is it possible early stages of labor?? 37wks 1 day

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 22 Mar 2018 - 15:36

    Hi, Thank you for your comment.

    As you are 37 weeks, there may be every chance that you are going into labour. If you are still getting abdominal pain after all these days then it would be advisable that you are seen at your local maternity unit so that they can check you over to see if you are going into labour, any abdominal pain in pregnancy should be assessed. Good luck and we hope that all goes well, Take Care Tommy's Midwives x

  • By Modupekenny (not verified) on 12 Feb 2018 - 20:10

    Hi, am on my 38weeks, over a now av been av abdomen pain down to my vigenal what does dat mean

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 14 Feb 2018 - 11:02

    Hi Modupekenny
    Abdominal pains, esp at 38 weeks, could be an early sign of labour- either Braxton Hicks or actual contractions.
    Please do take yourself into your maternity unit traige/labour ward to be reviewed asap.
    All the best
    Sophie,Tommy's Midwife

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